Golf Has a Problem Here’s the Solution

Professional golf has a problem right now, a big problem. The rules of the game melded with the complexities of video review to create, to put it kindly, a mess.

In the process, Lexi Thompson was deprived of a major championship she was well on her way to winning and this year’s edition of the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s signature event, will forever be known as having had the most controversial finish in the 123-year history of major championship golf.

Let us say up front, the LPGA made the correct call be penalizing Thompson four strokes. That’s how the rules read and Sue Witters, the LPGA’s vice president for rules and competitions, and Heather Daly-Donofrio, the organization’s chief communications and tour operations officer were bound to enforce those rules, no matter how unsightly the situation appeared to observers.
The problem the sport has, (and by the sport, we mean, all the major tours, in the U.S. and abroad, along with the USGA) is its inability to anticipate the consequences of utilizing video replay while at the same time incorporating input from outside agents (i.e. television networks and/or television viewers) into the rules enforcement/application process.

That circumstance is not unique to golf. The four major American team sports all utilize video replay to varying degrees.  All encounted unexpected consequences along Replay Road. That genie is out of the bottle forever.

But in the case of a team sport, the decisions that are reviewed are instantaneous, a last-second-shot in basketball, a bang-bang play at first-base baseball, goal-no goal in hockey, etc.

In golf, the nature of the sport requires decisions be made, with or without video replay, on events that may have occurred minutes or even hours before.

Most importantly, in a team sport, every player is in view of an official or a television camera. In golf, the competitors who are most successful, popular, or prominent are doubtless on camera more often than their peers, which undermines the principles of equity and fairness which are the sport’s foundation.

Now, add to this recipe the introduction of an outside agent, a television viewer who, unlike a rules official, may have a vested interest in the outcome of a competition. The identity of individual who touched off the Thompson incident by e-mailing the LPGA remains unknown as of this writing. We know absolutely nothing about them or their motives. But their action raise some troubling questions.

Did this individual have a grudge against Lexi Thompson? Were they perhaps turned down for an autograph?

Was this person a fan of another player in the field and did they have the misguided notion they were ‘helping’ their player by injecting themselves into the competition?

Was the actor connected in way to a company or organization involved with the sponsorship of the LPGA or an LPGA Tour player?

Did this individual have a betting interest in the outcome of the ANA Inspiration? We found at least one sports book that accepts wages on the LPGA, specifically on who will lead the official Money List at year’s end?

Any of these scenarios, but especially the last one, should concern not just the LPGA but anyone connected to any professional tour which televises its events.

Even if a player is 100 percent innocent of any wrongdoing, the mere fact that their actions are being reviewed for a possible rules violation would be enough, in many instances, to distract him or her. And that’s the edge that a gambler is looking for.

The Rules of Golf were largely written well before the introduction of replay technology into the sport. They must now be amended to accommodate the reality and ramifications of that technology.

The necessary changes cannot wait until the next rules revision in 2019.  Changes need to be made now, starting with the Masters this week, and then next week at the PGA Tour stop on Hilton Head Island and at next week’s LPGA Tour stop in Hawaii.

What happened in Palm Springs last Sunday must never be allowed to happen again. We’re not saying that video review should not be a part of golf. But there should be a definitive protocol on how it may and may not be used, as is the case with team sports.

So here is our suggested protocol, based on the procedures utilized in other sports.

A video review official shall be assigned to each official tournament round. The video review official will be responsible for monitoring the video feed from the event’s official television partner. They shall have the power to initiate a video review if they believe a rule may have been breached.

 An on-course official may initiate a video review if they have reason to believe a rule may have been breached.

 A competitor may initiate a review if they have a reasonable doubt about their own actions. A competitor may not initiate a video review based on the actions of a fellow competitor.

 No video review may be initiated or requested by an outside agency. This includes the event’s official television partner or anyone other than a rules official assigned to the event, or the player themselves.

 A player shall be notified as soon as reasonably possible if they are the subject of a video review, and the reason(s) for that review.

 No penalty will be accessed following a video review unless there is indisputable evidence that the player’s actions violated the Rules of Golf. The final decision shall be made by the video review official.

 For the purposes of video review, the competitive round shall be considered concluded 30 minutes after the last competitor to finish their round signs their scorecard and leaves the scoring area. No video review pertaining to that round may be initiated beyond that time. If a review has been initiated within that 30-minute window the Committee may take whatever time it deems necessary to render a decision.

 Once a decision has been made following a video review, the competitor(s) involved shall be notified as soon as it is practical to do so.

 It is a fundamental principle of golf that the players police themselves. It is this principle that sets golf apart from other sports. No rational person would suggest that those who earn a living playing the game cannot be trusted to adhere to its rules,

But the availability of video technology is a reality in today’s world. Used properly, that technology can diffuse controversial situations rather than complicate them.

 

Rick Woelfel resides in Willow Grove, Pa. near Philadelphia. He has covered golf for more than three decades. He also umpires various levels of softball and has previously worked baseball, basketball, and football. He is the author of Clearly Seeing Replay which was published in Referee in January of 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

A Dark Day for the LPGA

The LPGA Tour has egg on its face right now, whether the organization realizes it or not. For that matter, so does the entire golfing industry. The finish to the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s signature event, was the most controversial finish to a major championship in nearly half a century, since the 1968 Masters when the championship was claimed by Bob Goalby after Roberto De Vicenzo signed an incorrect scorecard,

Let’s be clear; the LPGA rules officials on duty on Sunday enforced the rules as written as they were required to do. Lexi Thompson was penalized ex post facto for not replacing her ball properly after marking it on the 17th green during Saturday’s third round. She was then zapped with an additional two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard, thus losing four shots to the field during Sunday’s final round.
Anyone reading this knows what happened; Thompson went from two shots clear of the field with six holes to play to two shots behind, rallied to get herself into a playoff before losing to So Yeon Ryu on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Ryu is a fine player but her victory is tainted due to circumstances beyond her control.

According to Golf Channel broadcasters, Thompson’s penalty was accessed after an e-mail from a viewer pointing out the infraction. I have a huge problem with that and the LPGA, the PGA Tour, and the United States Golf Association should as well.

Video replay has been part of sports television since 1963 and was first used as an officiating aid in the old United States Football League in the mid 1980s. Today it’s a staple in every major sport, including golf.

But golf is different, in that rules officials incorporate information from television viewers into the decision-making process. I don’t know how this practice got started but it has always been an invitation to trouble.

I recently authored an article for Referee that detailed the history of video review. We made sure to include a section on golf; the piece was written in the aftermath of the controversies at last year’s U.S. Open and Women’s Open. In our view, the USGA and Fox, it’s broadcast partner mishandled both of those situations. But what happened Sunday in Palm Springs was worse.

I have no issue with rules officials using video to make decisions. But they should not, accept phone calls, e-mails, or smoke signals from television viewers under any circumstances whatsoever.

The reason is obvious. The officials assigned to tour events are trained professionals, who are knowledgeable in the rules of golf. Equally as important, they have no emotional or practical stake in the outcome of the competition.

That can’t be said of the person who contacted the LPGA on Sunday who, as of this writing, remains anonymous. Are they an avid fan? Someone with a rooting interest in the outcome? Someone perhaps trying to score points in fantasy golf?

It doesn’t matter. They had no business interjecting themselves into the competition and their e-mail, if that’s what it was, should have been deleted immediately.

The use of video replay in golf brings with it extraneous issues because of the nature of the sport. Football and baseball are played in stadiums and every player theoretically is on camera.

Golf however is contested in 18 different venues. Action is going on in all of them simultaneously and players who are more prominent or successful are under the watchful eye of the camera more frequently. Which is all the more reason for rules issues to be left in the hands of trained experts, not in the hands of those with grandiose ideas of self-importance.

How should the LPGA Tour (and the PGA Tour for that matter) handle video reviews? Essentially the way the four major team sports do so now and assign an official to ‘Replay Central’ during an event. The official’s sole job would be to monitor the telecast and be alert to any potential problems. If there is a questionable situation the official could ask the network to provide them with the appropriate video for review. The official in question could theoretically work from home or from tour headquarters and receive information from the player involved or rule official(s) on site if needed.
But first, every administrative body should adopt a local rule saying that outside communications concerning rules issues will no longer be allowed or accepted.  That rule needs to be put in place NOW. It may be too late to prevent what happened at the ANA Inspiration. But hopefully what happened Sunday will show the higher ups from every governing body the error of their ways.

 

 

 

 

Rick Woelfel is based in Willow Grove Pennsylvania. In addition to covering the LPGA Tour for more than 30 years he has officiated four different sports and still works various levels of softball

Women of Navy Preparing for a Greater Mission

We produced the following piece for the Women’s Sports and Entertainment Network on the women’s basketball team at the United States Naval Academy.

Navy lost the Patriot League title game to Bucknell on Sunday, 79-71 in overtime but the lost does not diminish the accomplishments of this group of women who shared the experience of what’s its like to be an athlete at one of our service academies.

This piece means a lot to us. We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed working on it.

Navy will play at George Washington Friday, March 17 in the opening round of the Women’s NIT.

 

http://www.wsenetwork.com/women-of-navy-preparing-for-a-greater-mission/

 

 

Navy will compete in the Women’s NIT. The field for that tournament is to be announced Monday night

 

Inkster Wins Legends Opener

Sun City, AZ—Juli Inkster fired an 8-under par 64 Sunday to score a four-shot win in the Walgreens Charity Classic, the Legends Tour opener for 2017.

Inkster finished the 36 holes at Grandview Golf Course at 12-under par 132. Michele Redman was her closest challenger, finishing at 8-under par 136 after a closing 67. Betsy King finished in third place in the field of 47 at 137 after a 69. First-day Barb Moxnes was at 138 while Tish Johnson was at 139.

 

 

1 Inkster, Juli -12 68 64 132 $30,000.00
2 Redman, Michele -8 69 67 136 $18,000.00
3 King, Betsy -7 68 69 137 $13,560.00
4 Moxness, Barb -6 67 71 138 $10,830.00
5 Johnson, Trish -5 70 69 139 $8,550.00
T6 Jeray, Nicole -4 69 71 140 $6,156.00
T6 Johnson, Christa -4 70 70 140 $6,156.00
T6 Mucha, Barb -4 68 72 140 $6,156.00
T9 Dunn-Bohls, Moira -2 73 69 142 $4,959.00
T9 Jones, Rosie -2 68 74 142 $4,959.00
T9 Kane, Lorie -2 71 71 142 $4,959.00
12 McGann, Michelle -1 68 75 143 $4,537.00
T13 Ammaccapane, Danielle E 73 71 144 $4,047.00
T13 Bartholomew, Jean E 74 70 144 $4,047.00
T13 Figg-Currier, Cindy E 71 73 144 $4,047.00
T13 Nause, Martha E 70 74 144 $4,047.00
T13 Rinker, Laurie E 74 70 144 $4,047.00
T18 Burton, Brandie +1 73 72 145 $3,541.00
T18 Grimes, Lisa +1 74 71 145 $3,541.00
T18 Hurst, Pat +1 71 74 145 $3,541.00

 

Peyton Jones Feature

By Rick Woelfel

Originally published in Bucks County Courier Times 1-26-17

 

Peyton Jones’s first season at Penn State was supposed to be a season of transition, a time to adjust to being in college and being a collegiate goaltender. Things didn’t turn out quite that way for the Holy Ghost Prep graduate.

“Probably in March, Coach (Guy) Gadowsky called me,” Jones recalled. “He said ‘Don’t release this to anyone yet, but I just wanted you to know before you saw something on the Internet “

Veteran goalie Eamon McAdam, a Perkasie native, had opted to pass up his final season of collegiate eligibility to sign with the New York Islanders. The opening created an opening for Jones who is now the Nittany Lions’s starter in goal.

He and his teammates, including sophomore defenseman Kevin Kerr, another Holy Ghost Prep graduate, will take the ice at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night against Princeton in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff. Game time is 7:00.

Jones, who played two seasons with the Lincoln (Nebraska) Stars in the USHL before coming to Penn State, has had an impressive freshman season. In 19 appearances, all starts, he has put together a 2.30 goals-against average with a save percentage of .908 while helping Penn State to a 16-3-2 record. The Nittany Lions are ranked fourth in the country in this week’s USCHO rankings after being ranked number one last week. They are 5-2-1 in the Big Ten.

“I just try to go every night out and focus on doing one and one job only,” Jones said, “and that’s stop the puck and not let anything get in the way of me doing that.”

Jones has grown since he left Holy Ghost Prep. He’s listed on the roster at 6-4 and 210 pounds. But while his size is an asset, so is his demeanor. To put it mildly, goaltenders as a group tend to show their emotions rather openly, but Gadowsky praises Jones for his well-honed ability to control his emotions.

“He’s never really acted like a freshman,” Gadowsky said, “at all. In fact, his demeanor when things get frantic is very mature, very senior like. He’s obviously and extremely gifted athlete but I think is best quality is just how calm his head is and how even keel he is. In high emotional times, positive or negative, he’s very even keeled, very calm and I think that’s really the most impressive thing about him.”

To be sure, Jones had to make some on-ice adjustments when he arrived at Penn State. Opposing players are bigger, stronger, and older, since most have played a year or two of junior hockey before enrolling in college. And they are mature as hockey players.

“Everyone in the NCAA is definitely a lot stronger,” Jones said. There are definitely bigger guys. Guys are stronger and they’re much better with their sticks in front of the net. I’d say the game is a little bit faster, especially Big Ten play.”

Jones is looking forwarded to playing in front of friends and family Saturday night. “It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “I’m pretty fortunate, my family gets to come up and watch nearly all my games at Penn State …. (But) I have aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents who haven’t really been up to watch me play live so that will give them an opportunity to do that. I have a lot of friends back home.”

 

 

Women’s Golf Report Returns

Women’s Golf Report has returned in podcast form. The inaugural edition,  featuring host Rick Woelfel and his guest, LPGA T&CP professional Cindy Miller is now available at the following link

http://www.buzzsprout.com/64464

 

Over the course of the program, which runs 16:15, the pair discuss a number of golf-related topics, including things golfers can work on  during the winter month s well as steps newcomers can take to have a  good experience with the game, regardless of what they shoot.