Eagle-eyed rules freaks, or simply upholding golf’s honor?
January 28, 2011
In the last two weeks, professional golfers experienced at least two chances to second-guess whether wall-to-wall television coverage of their tournaments is such a great idea.
During the Sony Open event in Hawai’i, Camilo Villegas boogered his chip shot up a slope toward a green. As the ball rolled slowly back toward him, Villegas absent-mindedly stroked the turf with his club, in the same area where the ball eventually came to a stop.
A sharp-eyed TV viewer became sufficiently incensed that the folks officiating the tournament came to learn about the obviously inadvertent rules violation. Unfortunately, by the time they did, Villegas had already signed for what became an incorrect scorecard. That disqualified the popular South American touring pro.
Last week, Irish pro Padraig Harrington accidently brushed his golf ball as he retrieved his ball marker on the seventh green of the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. Harrington felt that the ball hadn’t actually moved forward, however, and so he let it go.
Once again, however, a golf fan watching the tournament on television saw things differently, and called it in.
The fan was right, albeit to the most modest extent possible. As noted by Kevin Garside of the London Telegraph, “[t]he ball rolled about three dimples before falling back a dimple and a half.” In checking after Harrington signed his scorecard, the rules officials stared at the slow-motion replay for a while, before agreeing that Harrington’s original opinion about the ball’s eventual location was simply mistaken.
The three-time major winner was then disqualified.
As one might imagine, this and similar TV-based rules issues are causing a stir on the professional tours. While no one appears to be searching for ways to excuse the kinds of penalty strokes that Villegas and Harrington incurred, something just doesn’t seem right about having couch-bound golf fans calling in with their claims, and having such a huge impact on the competition.
Garside reported that the Royal & Ancient of Scotland folks are considering another way to respect the fact that the rules were violated, while taking into account the inevitable time-lag between detection and enforcement. For example, the penalty strokes could be counted, and the scorecards automatically adjusted, without further penalizing the golfers with disqualification for signing the incorrect scorecard.
That sounds like a rational revision. When the Golf Rules were first adopted, no one ever thought about television, or slow-motion photography, or how millions of eyes could be watching every golfer’s strokes.
That’s because there was no television, no cameras, and the onsite fans typically numbered in the hundreds, at most.
I don’t think anyone should seriously consider changes that would significantly affect one of the finer traditions of this game, in which honor and an adherence to the rules is respected. Nonetheless, there should be a way to deal with good-faith differences of opinion about whether a rule was violated, without the draconian addition of a disqualification coming in the next day, due in part to the miracles of modern communications technology.
So how about if the ball marker doesn’t move the ball, and the ball moves anyway?
Ironically enough, a recent USGA Ruling of the Day addressed a related situation to that which befell Harrington.
A player replaces his golf ball in front of his ball marker on the putting green, without touching the marker. A gust of wind moves the ball closer to the hole, before the marker is removed.
According to the USGA, the golfer should not put his ball back in the still-marked spot. As they put it, “a ball is in play when it is replaced, whether or not the object used to mark its position has been removed.” Therefore, he should play the ball where it now lays—after removing the ball marker, of course.
Nice guy finishes first, but did anyone notice?
January 21, 2011
PGA Tour Pro Mark Wilson had a bit of a down year in 2006. He ended up in 156th place on the money list, well below the 125th place required to ensure his Tour playing status for the next year.
Nonetheless, Wilson’s $444,300 or so in earnings was a nice piece of change. So when the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund asked the Wisconsin native to contribute, the money was there.
Wilson’s $30,000 contribution stunned the organization, and has not been matched since by any other contributor.
Based on Wilson’s playing history since he made that donation, I like to think that karma is real, and there are occasional rewards here on earth for folks like him for the good that they do.
Wilson went on to retain his PGA Tour playing privileges in the 2006 Qualifying event. He has since gone on to win three PGA Tournaments, in 2007, 2009, and most recently last week in the Sony Open in Hawai’i.
Who says nice guys finish last?
That said, Wilson is one of the relatively anonymous PGA Tour pros, whose performances on the course are not often followed by thousands of devoted fans—unless he’s in a pairing with one of the matinee idols of this era.
This year’s media buzz about the PGA Tour, for example, has been split between interest in the 20-something young guns, such as Rickey Fowler, and whether some of the veterans like Vijay Singh or John Daley will be returning to the winner’s circle.
Wilson is one of the current 30-somethings that don’t seem to generate any notoriety, good or bad, at least by comparison.
That’s a shame, because Wilson’s steady play is a great example for the rest of us, who watch the pros in hopes of picking up a useful hint or two for our own games.
Wilson is allegedly one of the short hitters on the Tour, managing a modest 289 yards off the tee. However, he’s also one of the more accurate drivers, with an average of 74% of his tee shots ending up in the fairways. If you know that the Waialae Course for the Sony Open is one of the tighter layouts the pros face each year, that number is even more impressive. He’s also very good around the greens, as shown by a chip-in birdie in his last round at the Sony.
The weather conspired against Wilson gaining any major new publicity boost from his latest win, at least while the tournament was underway. Thanks to a rainout on the first day, Wilson and the others were forced to play 36 holes on the last day. He only had an eight-minute cushion between the end of his third round and the start time for his final 18 holes.
The tight schedule also meant there would be no re-juggling of the starting times for the last round. It’s hard to build up any TV excitement under those conditions.
These challenges didn’t faze Wilson, however. He finished the third round one stroke ahead of everyone else, and finished two strokes ahead in first place with a 16-under total.
Wilson’s post-round interview with the Golf Channel showed that he enjoyed his win immensely, not least of which because the victory qualified him for the Masters Tournament this spring. When he had his prior wins, Masters Tournament rules did not provide this bonus.
Wilson also said the victory would open up his schedule opportunities for the rest of the year, given that he was running out his current two-year exemption for his 2009 victory.
He’s still involved with the Cancer Fund, too. Wilson makes a donation for every tournament cut he makes, and boosts the pot more when he makes a top-30 finish.
Wilson may not make the Nielsen ratings jump whenever he’s onscreen, but with his charity work, I think he’s certainly a star.
More snow, so more golf reading
January 14, 2011
Last week’s column discussed the chance that more snow or other wintry conditions would block any golf being played in the Cape Region anytime soon.
Based on what happened since, I should explore my new career potential as a Weather Channel on-screen meteorologist.
This coming week doesn’t look much better for playing outdoors, but at least I still have more golf books to read and recommend.
The past couple years have seen explosive growth in the digital book trade. The Amazon Kindle, Apple’s iPad, and several other digital book readers compete by format for the eyes of millions of avid book-buying customers.
Thus far, I’ve limited my iBook readings to the freebie selections, such as the classics of Jane Austen or P.G. Wodehouse. I have not sought to obtain review copies of digital golf books, although dozens of titles are now available.
Nonetheless, I know I won’t try to download one kind of golf book--the classic coffee table picture books.
After all, how could a Kindle or iPad hope to recreate the full sensory experience of a four- or five-pound, 9 by 12 or 12 by 12 heavy paper extravaganza of absolutely gorgeous golf photography?
That’s why I was so glad to receive a review copy of True Links—An Illustrated Guide to the Glories of the World’s 246 Links Courses (Artisan; $40 SRP). Based on our home scale’s measurement, it totals 4.8 pounds of pure visual delight.
George Peper and Malcolm Campbell collaborated on this book, and they had the proper pedigree to apply to the task. Peper is a former longtime editor-in-chief of GOLF magazine, while Campbell is a former editor of Britain’s Golf Monthly magazine. The two writers also have many other golf books and periodicals to their credit.
This book is a master study of the archetypal golf courses, now called links or linksland. Most folks think first of the famous Old Course at St. Andrews, in Scotland, as their prime example of these layouts. It certainly meets the three basic minimum conditions outlined by Peper and Campbell to meet the definition.
First, the terrain should be close by the sea, with offshore winds capable of blowing sand onto the course, with hard and fast fairways, as natural-looking as possible, with minimum tree cover, and with what the authors describe as a light “environmental footprint on the land.” Cliff-top courses such as Pebble Beach predominantly failed to meet this definition because blowing sand normally can’t scale the heights.
Second, the turf should be primarily sand or sandy loam, covered by a mixture of hardy bent grass and fescue varieties, and fast draining. The authors’ choice of turf minimums eliminated many potential southern candidates, such as Kiawah.
Third, weather factors have to be relatively stable year-round, at least in a few significant respects. Keeping the course generally unsheltered from the elements is critical, because that makes the winds a constantly changing factor in deciding how to play the course. Those same winds must also keep the fairways hard and fast. If the course is subject to winter closure or required temporary greens in the “offseason,” however, that factor argued against its inclusion.
Based on these elements, Peper and Campbell made their admittedly arguable choices. To my mind, however, the debate should be limited to whether any other links or links-like courses should have been added to their collection. What they show in this beautiful compilation is beyond challenge.
My favorite chapter is devoted to St. Andrews, the only links course I’ve ever seen for myself. I am willing to concede that my own familiarity with it played a role in my ranking. The other chapters, which describe the courses accompanied by lovely images, certainly have their charms as well.
This is a delightfully heavy book to set on one’s lap, reading its prose and marveling at its pictures as a roaring fire in the hearth warms the living room. If playing golf is not an option right now, this book is a fine alternative.
Winter golf reading
January 7, 2011
Thus far, this new year has not been nearly as inviting for playing golf in the Cape Region as I would prefer.
My first inkling that this might be the case occurred December 26, when during a post-Christmas ride back to the area we drove smack into a total blizzard white-out, just below Milford.
By next day, we had between 12 and 15 inches of snow in our neighborhood, enhanced by some truly impressive drifting. I took advantage of my driveway shoveling opportunity to work on my weight shifts and full-body twisting, over the course of a few hours.
Post-blizzard thaws generate their own playing time delays, so golf outdoors doesn’t look likely for another week or so at best.
There’s plenty of golf to enjoy in the meantime, however, as long as it takes place between the pages of a good book or two. Fortunately, a few publishers sent me a half-dozen new editions for the winter doldrums, so I’ll have something to write about our favorite game.
I’m nearly finished reading Ben Hogan’s Short Game Simplified, by Ted Hunt (Skyhorse Publishing; $16.95 SRP). The subtitle suggests that careful study and practice will show the readers “the secret to Hogan’s Game from 120 yards and in.” I am hoping this will prove to be true.
For most golfers, the large difference in skill between our playing skills and those possessed by professional golfers is to be found in the short game. They can snuggle their approaches in closer, hit out of traps more effectively, and chip to gimme range more consistently than the rest of us.
Ted Hunt suggests that we can all learn to improve these parts of our game, by emulating one of the acknowledged masters of the sport.
Hunt first gives the uninitiated a short biography of Hogan, tied together with a well-done synopsis of the swing Hogan described in his best-selling Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.
He then breaks down the elements of Hogan’s swing, beginning with putting. From there, Hunt explains how to use those same elements in the next part of the short game, chipping, the bane of my own golfing existence.
If I can transfer this part of the book’s suggestions into my own game successfully, I will become yet another Hogan disciple.
Hunt then brings the reader along to show how to apply these same fundamentals to longer pitches, three-quarter iron shots, and full swings with short clubs. Later chapters go into further detail to describe different kinds of greenside maneuvers, such as running chips or high-lofted approaches that stop quickly.
Another chapter toward the end is devoted to golf exercises, many of which can be performed at home in the dead of winter. Snow is no excuse.
The book is amply illustrated with photographs and foot/ball location diagrams that should be very helpful to the visual learners among us.
I look forward to finishing this book and applying what it says to my winter game—weather permitting.
What a pal
A recent USGA Ruling of the Day shows us that sometimes our competitors can be a little too helpful, perhaps out of a more desperate need to win than we might appreciate.
Golfer A tees off on a par three, but believes his shot is either lost or out of bounds. He therefore plays a provisional ball, which (naturally) goes in the hole. He understandably has no desire to go look for his first ball, but Golfer B decides to go look for it anyway.
According to the USGA, A’s second shot becomes the ball in play as soon as he can retrieve it from the hole, as long as A’s first ball is not already found in bounds within five minutes of Golfer B’s search for it.
I’d like to see this happen in real life, if only to see how fast some folks will run from the tee box to the green.