USGA needs to address video review after DJ debacle

By Randall MellJune 20, 2016, 4:26 am

OAKMONT, Pa. – Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open Sunday in a stylistic tour de force.

He put on one of the great displays of driving in the history of this championship, blasting his way through Oakmont’s formidable defenses and maybe even more impressively through all the doubts and uncertainties that his past failures on major championship stages created.

Johnson won spectacularly, and it’s just a shame we had to watch his virtuoso performance through the fog of angst and confusion the USGA created in the middle of the round.

It’s frustrating we couldn’t fully appreciate just how masterful Johnson’s triumph was without the USGA clouding our view in a way that threatened to compromise the integrity of the competition.

That’s the shame of how the final round unfolded.

The USGA allowed the final seven holes to be played with the competitors, gallery and television audience uncertain the scoreboard was correct. Based on a video review, the rules committee decided to wait until after the round to rule on whether Johnson should be assessed a one-stroke penalty for causing his ball to move over a putt in violation of Rule 18-2. The putt in question came back on the fifth green.

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The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but this was a quintessential example of how the integrity of perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

The ancient game has a complicated problem in this age of video review and the ruling bodies need to think through a fix.

Before moving on with this point, let’s get this straight, Johnson’s triumph was not diminished by the near fiasco the USGA created. The fact that he was so undaunted through it all makes his performance all the more impressive. He deserves our highest praise.

The problem Sunday was video review and how it is used in golf to enforce the rules.

Video review helps other sports “get it right” in reviewing calls. Too often, video review makes golf feel like it’s “getting it wrong.” Never was that more the case than here at Oakmont.

After Johnson saw his ball move as he prepared to putt at the fifth green, he called in a referee.

Under the old Rule 18-2b, a player was automatically assessed a penalty if his ball moved after he addressed it. Under new Rule 18-2, the player is penalized one stroke only if facts show the player caused the ball to move.

Johnson noticed the movement after taking a couple practice swings to the side of the ball and soling his club. He noticed it move as he began to lift his putter behind the ball, but he did not believe he touched the ball or caused it to move. The referee he consulted found no cause to apply a penalty.

As Johnson played on, USGA managing director of rules and competition Jeff Hall and senior director of rules Thomas Pagel reviewed video of what happened.

“As a committee, when we viewed the tape, we looked at it and said `Given the timing of his actions, it was more likely than not that Dustin was the cause of the movement,” Pagel said.

The application of the new rule is complicated, but the short explanation is the committee doesn’t have to be 100 percent certain a player caused the ball to move. In fact, it merely needs “the weight of evidence” to indicate the player caused the ball to move.

The problem here isn’t really in the assessment of the penalty. It’s in the USGA going to Johnson at the 12th tee to discuss the issue but then leaving without a ruling.

“It was clear we needed a further conversation, and the 12th tee did not seem to be the right place for that,” Hall said.

So the USGA decided to wait for a more thorough review with Johnson after the round.

“We put him on notice that based on the action we saw, he could have caused the ball to move,” Hall said.

So Johnson played on knowing he could be assessed a one-shot penalty.

Pagel said the rules staff also then began informing other players on the course that they were “reviewing a situation” with Johnson “that could cause him a one-stroke penalty.” So as Johnson left the 12th tee, he wasn’t certain if he was 5 under or 4 under. He wasn’t certain if he was one shot ahead of Shane Lowry or tied for the lead. The rest of field wasn’t certain, either.

That matters immensely.

It matters in how Johnson plays strategically, in how those chasing him play. It matters in how aggressively or conservatively both he and his fellow competitors should play.

That’s where the integrity of the competition is impugned.

Imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers down the road from Oakmont driving for a late score not knowing if they need a touchdown or field goal to win because they’re not sure the scoreboard is right.

Imagine fans not knowing exactly what they’re cheering for.

“This isn’t right for anyone on the golf course,” Rory McIlroy tweeted. “If it was me, I wouldn’t hit another shot until this farce was rectified.”

Jordan Spieth was just as indignant.

“This is a joke,” he said.

After Johnson finished, the USGA did meet with him again and did decide to assess a one-stroke penalty. Johnson made sure it didn't matter building himself a cushion.

There’s no intent here to say the USGA rules staff wasn’t trying to do the most honorable thing.

“At the end of the day, it’s about getting it right,” Hall said.

But that’s the big problem for golf with video review.

If you wait too long to get it right, did you really get it right?

They don’t wait until the game’s over to review a call in the NFL or Major League Baseball or in the NBA. Golf’s different, but it’s not that different. The integrity of the game hangs in the balance when you wait until it’s too late to get a call right. Golf is too often too late when it comes to catching violations on video review.

It’s time to fix that so we can more fully appreciate the tour de force efforts of today’s best players.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.