Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Once again one of golf’s major championships was marred by a rules incident. What’s your take on the retroactive ruling that penalized Lexi Thompson four strokes and ultimately cost her a victory at the ANA Inspiration?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): As per my blog this week, I’m dumbfounded that this ruling was made and applied. First of all, spectator calls (either on-site or via TV viewing) should be disallowed, period. How many other players might have made the same minute infraction, but it wasn’t on television, and therefore wasn’t called? In my view, the rules gang should have ignored the viewer’s email. But the rule itself is moronic… penalties should be assessed if there was a clear intent to cheat, which is an arbitrary call, yes, but surely can be applied with common sense. And then, to add another two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard when no one knew the scorecard was incorrect… well, that’s right out of Monty Python.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Well, I know this won’t be popular, but it was clear that she did not replace the ball in its original spot. She’s been playing competitive golf for well over a decade so this shouldn’t have been an issue. That said, I do not like the fact that a penalty can be called the following day. I think the rule should have some statute of limitation, after which the score cannot be changed. It could be before the first person tees off in the next round, end of day, four hours after the final putt is dropped by the field, etc. This rule definitely needs to be reviewed. But if you think golf is the only sport that has issues with rules/officiating, watch some basketball, hockey, football, or soccer. If you need an example, how about 1999 Dallas vs Buffalo, game 6, triple OT of the Stanley Cup Final? Brett Hull’s foot was CLEARLY shown to be in the crease as the puck went into the net, hence should not have been a goal by the rule as it was written, nor the Cup awarded to Dallas that night.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): The entire incident was a disgrace! This call-in/email-in nonsense needs to stop. You can’t have viewers/gamblers calling in from home and affecting the outcome of a tournament! Either have an official on-site whose job it is to watch the coverage, identify these microscopic infractions, and let the players know before they sign their cards OR let the players referee themselves in instances like this. Plus, it was a gimme putt! I don’t believe there was any intent on Thompson’s part and it’s not like she moved the ball a foot. It was a half-inch, at most, and it ended up costing her four strokes! That punishment did not, at all, fit the crime and Thompson got screwed out of a major.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Outrage, that’s what I feel. I’m so sick and tired of losers in their parents’ basement calling in thinking they are the coolest golf nerd around, calling out a pro on a rules violation they see on TV. How many times do you think someone marked their ball in a slightly different spot on the green during the tournament? Probably dozens of times, but since they weren’t on TV, they don’t get penalized. It’s a disgrace, and it irks me to no end. I was very impressed by the way Lexi handled it and played so well right after the ruling. Would have been sweet justice if she could have made that eagle putt on 18 to finish it off. I kind of feel bad for So Yeon Ryu, who I’ve always liked as a player, but I feel she will be the Stewart Cink of this tournament – winning a major, but nobody remembers her because everyone remembers who finished second for some reason (see: Watson, Tom )
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: So many stupid things came into play, but let’s start with Thompson marking her ball in the first place. Like tens of millions of other golfers, I wasn’t watching Saturday. But replays clearly show that there was no need in the world of sport for her to mark her ball — however badly — for a one-foot putt. Talk about pace of play! We should all be like Hadwin and step up and sink the gawd-damned thing! And it was a terrible placement, even if unintended. She came in from the side, not behind the ball, and clearly gained some advantage or something different (even if subconsciously) from not replacing the ball in front of her coin. That is a two-stroke penalty, well earned. BUT, she didn’t call it on herself and no one in the group including walking officials and scorers, talking heads in the TV booth, noticed either. Done and done. The LPGA should never have even considered the email from a viewer (what vested interest lies there?) 22 hours after the infraction. And even if the serial blunderers of the august body decided the two-stroke penalty should be applied retroactively, there is absolutely no justification for the extra two for signing an incorrect scorecard. That is insanity. The LPGA Tour desperately needs a young American to win a Major.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): That was gut-wrenching to watch and beyond stupid. I appreciate the LPGA trying to “get it right” but it’s the responsibility of the players, walking officials and scorers to do the job. Couch potatoes need not apply. If something gets missed, it gets missed. Happens all the time in other sports and there is no retroactive judgement based on fan intervention. The Rules of Golf are supposed to be equitable but there is nothing equitable about leaders playing under a different set of rules than the rest of the field because they get more TV time. You have to give Lexi a lot of credit for the way she handled it though and still almost pulled off the win.
This year’s Masters is chock full of competing storylines: DJ on a roll, Spieth trying to overcome his 2016 meltdown, Rory looking to complete the Grand Slam, Jason Day returning from an emotional withdrawal at the Match Play, Canadians in the field, no Tiger, no Arnie – and the list goes on. Which storyline do you find most compelling?
Deeks: They’re all valid storylines, so this will be a special Masters, I think. I just hope CBS doesn’t flog the stories to death, and accompany each vignette with that goddam piano. I’m sure they will, and they should, remind us that it’s 20 years since Tiger’s ‘for the ages’ victory, which truly marked the dawn of a new age in golf.
Loughry: I think the storyline is Jason Day. He’s been riding an emotional roller coaster for a while now, and is in prime playing condition. Nobody is cheering against this guy, and I for one hope he gets the green jacket.
Kaplan: Spieth’s return to Augusta after his meltdown on 12 last year is the most intriguing for me. Will he get his redemption or succumb to his mental demons? My money is on redemption … but, either way, I can’t wait to find out!
Rule: Personally I’m excited that three Canadians are in the field, and I hope Hadwin and Hughes enjoy the experience. I’m sure it won’t be their last, so enjoy it for what it is, and if they play well, all the better. I don’t expect any of the three of them to be in contention on Sunday, but you never know. Other than that, it’s exciting that so many of the world’s top players are in good form, so it should be a shootout, and I’ll be enjoying watching the final round from my comfy seat at the Dunvegan Pub in St Andrews!
Quinn: Even against a backdrop with no azaleas in bloom, watching to see if DJ can continue to dominate on the grandest stage will be fascinating. If he wins, he will start a whole new chapter in golf. If he wins by a bunch, he’ll be rewriting the book.
Mumford: Oddly, one of the potential storylines that almost nobody is talking about is the possibility of Danny Willett winning again. Go figure. That said, there are 8-10 players with a legitimate chance, who have experience and have been playing well of late. Maybe that’s the storyline – that there is no clear favourite. However, the one I find most compelling is to see if Jordan Spieth can rebound from the wreckage on 12 last year and contend again. He’s 2nd, 1st, 2nd the last three years. That sequence suggests another 1st.
Augusta National is an exceptional golf course but it’s also a collection of terrific golf holes. Which hole is your favourite to watch and would it be the same one you wanted to play if you could just play one?
Deeks: Yes, since watching my first Masters in 1957 I’ve always loved the 16th hole, and I can’t think of any hole I’d rather play… hundreds of times, over and over again. On my one trip to Augusta in 1982, I spent about three hours spectating from behind that green, watching balls from the tee and being able to tell from the instant they were struck whether they’d be good shots or not. (Best shot of the day that day? Jodie Mudd, within two inches of an ace.)
Loughry: 13 – Azalea. If anyone picks anything else, they’re simply wrong. If anyone picked 12, well that’s a close 2nd, but you don’t get to hit as many shots as me on the par 5. (Well you might hit more, but most of them would be penalty shots as you dump a few too many into Rae’s Creek). I picked 13 because it’s always a pivotal hole in the championship, and a cool dogleg that’s dangerously reachable, with a dynamic green. Try and tell me I’m wrong! I love that hole, playing or watching. It’s a GREAT hole.
Kaplan: I love the whole course so much! My favourite hole to watch is 16, but if I could only play one hole, it would undoubtedly be iconic #13. Aside from appeal of the 1500 azaleas that line the hole, it seems like 13 best suits my game as a lefty. A slight butter-cut off the tee, followed by a 3-Wood over Rae’s Creek to approximately 10 feet while the crowd goes nuts! At least, that’s how it goes for me in my dreams …
Rule: This is an easy one for me. The 13th is such an amazing golf hole, a perfect risk-reward par 5 that delivers scores from 3 to 7 or more. I hope they don’t ruin the hole by putting the tees too far back from where it is now. It delivers so much drama every year. Visiting the property for the first time last year, I fell in love even more with that hole, and it would certainly top the list of holes I’d play if given the chance.
Quinn: Speaking of azaleas, my favourite hole is Azalea, the par 5 13th. (Played a replica in Texas and it was as much fun as I’d imagined.) The 13th provides all the options off the tee for most players — now guys like Bubba, Rory and DJ don’t have to draw it around the corner but can bomb it over the trees and leave a wedge in — and a green that responds dramatically to the perfect second shot, while rejecting anything even slightly misplaced. Layups don’t leave an easy shot to that green either, brilliantly guarded by the creek and beautiful bunkers. And no putt is a gimme as Phil proved in 2010, missing his eagle from three feet after that miraculous 6-iron second off the pine straw around the tree at the top of the hill. Would love to play the 16th with the Sunday pin, but I could play Azalea all day.
Mumford: One of the things I love about Augusta is its convoluted greens. Their slope is incredible and some of them break two or three different ways. Putting any of them would be a blast. Augusta is made for heroic shots but none more so than an attempt to get home in two shots on #15. That hole has obliterated a back nine charge for many contenders over the years (Seve) and turned one leader into a joke when he layed up (Chip Beck). The shallow green has a huge false front rolling back into the pond and over the back is almost an impossible up-and-down. For most players a good drive leaves them a mid iron to the green yet hitting it in two is still no guarantee of birdie. The green is wickedly sloped. I love to watch it and would love to try it.
Time to crank up the old prognosticator: Who’s in the mix on Sunday afternoon; is there a dark horse (long shot) contender and who takes home the Green Jacket on Sunday night?
Deeks: I’m on medical marijuana at the moment, so I’m seeing a tie on Sunday afternoon… Mike Weir and Jose Maria Olazabal. Olie wins with an ace on 12. Canada turns back to planning its euphoric 150th celebrations. Otherwise, I’m guessing Jason Day’s time has come.
Loughry: I think Day or DJ will be right there come Sunday, I’ll splash in Rahm and Spieth too if their putters are working. My dark horse would be Lee Westwood. Good God I hope this man wins. A second would be Hadwin, but a near impossible task as a first timer to win there against world class players.
Kaplan: Here’s my best guess as to who’s on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday: Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Thomas Pieters, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson and Branden Grace. Adam Hadwin and Martin Kaymer are my dark horses and I expect one of Spieth or McIlroy to be wearing the green jacket come Sunday evening.
Rule: Well, it’s tough to think that the winner will be anyone other than DJ, Spieth or Rory, but there are always surprises. Those three will almost certainly be in the mix on Sunday, or at least 2 of them, but if I were to add a darker horse to the mix, I would say Louis Oosthuizen, who generally performs well at Augusta, and will be right there on Sunday. My sentimental pick is Westwood, who does so well in the year’s first major, with six top-11 finishes in the last 7 years! But sadly, his putting will let him down on Sunday, as always.
Quinn: Hard to imagine DJ not being there late Sunday, along with Spieth who is now over last year’s 12th hole meltdown, and Rory. The not-too longshot whose game is hot and fits Augusta National is Jon Rahm but Rory should complete his personal grand slam.
Mumford: I think Sergio and Jon Rahm are in the mix until late Sunday afternoon but ultimately it comes down to a two man race between Spieth and McIlroy. Adam Hadwin is my longshot pick because newlyweds always play well at the Masters. (I just made that up but it could be true.) Mostly, I like Hadwin because every facet of his game is solid and he makes so many long putts. In the end, however, I think Rory better wear something that goes with a Green Jacket.