"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Monday, July 11, 2016

MONDAY MUSINGS: THE USGA BOGEYS AGAIN, REPLAY IN PENALTIES, AND WHERE HAVE ALL THE OLYMPIC GOLFERS GONE?

USGA U.S. Women's Open Controversy I: For 74 holes, the Women's Open was compelling and unpredictable, with a wave of terrific Korean players trying to hold off a field that was a dynamic international assortment of wonderful golfers. The tournament was played on the beautiful and challenging CordeValle in the foothills of Northern California near Silicon Valley. The USGA did a great job of setting up the course in a way that rewarded accurate shots, punishing poor ones, without brutalizing the players in the process. When American Brittany Lang bogeyed the seventeenth to set up a playoff with Anna Nordqvist, we were going to be treated to something the men don't do: Award the championship on Sunday with a three hole aggregate playoff. After both players parred the first two holes, or at least we thought they had, a high definition replay of Nordqvist's bunker shot on seventeen showed that she had barely grounded her club in the sand, a clear rules violation. but then things got a bit squirrelly. Even prior to the players teeing off on the final hole, it was apparent that a violation had taken place and that it would result in a two stroke penalty for Nordqvist, potentially  eliminating her from contention. But the eighteenth at CordeValle is a reachable par 5 and if the Swede had known about the penalty before her tee shot, she probably would have chosen to hit driver instead of three wood in an effort to put her in position to go for the green in two. Instead, she wasn't notified until after her third shot. But wait, this gets better. Lang was told about the penalty on Nordqvist before hitting her own approach, creating a clear competitive advantage for the American. In fact, Lang changed clubs after the notification, choosing to play a safer shot knowing that a par would win the tournament.  Now it isn't as if the USGA hadn't just been through a very similar set of circumstances at last month's Men's Open at Oakmont. Dustin Johnson and his pursuers had to play seven holes knowing that a penalty might be assessed for a possible ball movement infraction on the fifth hole of the final round. Fortunately for the ruling body of golf in the U.S., Johnson made the penalty, which was in fact assessed post-round, irrelevant by leaving the eighteenth green with a four shot lead. In the USGA's defense, the two situations were a little different. Nordqvist clearly was guilty of the infraction while Johnson's case was much more subjective. Of course, the consensus of the golf world is that they got the decision totally wrong, even to the extent that Johnson's playing partner agreed that the ball had not moved due to anything that Johnson did. In addition, the timing on Sunday's infraction was tricky in that the playoff was moving quickly and the decision makers really needed to get it right, because the outcome of the championship would almost surely be determined by the ruling. The mistake was in the timing of the notification of the players. One got notified before her third shot, the other after. That's clearly a mistake, and one that easily could have been avoided by better communication and thought. Johnson was able to overcome the bungling and still get his first major win. Nordqvist had no chance and thus lost out on an opportunity at her second major victory. Unfortunately for the USGA, the controversy totally overshadowed what was a great tournament, one that had a great chance of increasing interest in women's golf around the world.

USGA U.S. Women's Open Controversy II: It's impossible to write about the ruling itself without discussing whether high definition cameras should be used in the infraction determination process. Especially for the women, it is an uneven playing field, as there are fewer cameras on the course, with just a handful of groups having television coverage. In Sunday's case of course, both players were subject to the same scrutiny, as they were in the same group in the midst of a playoff. But it seems patently unfair that some players are subject to greater scrutiny because they happen to be on television. I've been playing golf now for over fifty years (I started very young...) and one of the unique aspects of the game is that players police their own adherence to the rules. In some cases, their playing partners are another set of eyes, but it eventually comes down to the player to assess a penalty on themselves. There have been instances through the years where television viewers spotted an infraction, called into the network and influenced the outcome of a tournament. One famous instance was when Craig Stadler used as a towel to kneel on in muddy ground so his pants wouldn't get wet. Well, it just so happens that using the towel could be construed as building a stance, even though his fellow competitors in his group, as well as Stadler himself, didn't see it that way. Unfortunately, the PGA didn't take his side, and to make matters worse, Stadler ended up signing an incorrect scorecard because the ruling was made well after he'd finished his round. Now in the PGA's defense, they no longer take calls from viewers as a basis for a ruling, but they still can use selective camera shots when reviewing possible infractions. I understand that the use of technology is a forward thinking way of officiating sports, not just golf. The difference in golf is that it's spread out over eighteen holes and fourteen hours of inconsistent availability of the very technology used to review a ruling. I say if it can't be consistently applied, then don't allow it. That includes making sure all competitors' shots are equally accessible to camera angles. Would that have changed yesterday's situation? Maybe, especially if during the course of a hole there are instances where the club position at the address of the ball is not fully visible to a camera. So the bottom line for me is it shouldn't be used and rely on the integrity of the players and the sport.

Golfers Already Over Par at the Olympics: Whether it's the threat of the Zika virus, the compressed major schedule due to the Olympics, the fact that it's a Ryder Cup year or just the amount of money up for grabs on the PGA Tour, but many of the golfers eligible to represent their countries at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are opting to stay home. Golf has not been an Olympic sport for close to 112 years and is only approved for two appearances. At this rate, the IOC may pull the plug on any future engagements before the first medal is awarded. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson of the United States, Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Jason Day of Australia have all declined to participate. However, the American team of Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar is still a great representation of American golf. On the women's side, the U.S. will be represented by an impressive trio of Lexi Thompson, Stacey Lewis and Gerina Piller, who qualified with a gutsy top ten performance at the U.S. Open that completed on Sunday. Unlike other sports, the lack of some top players hardly diminishes the product. Point of reference is the World Match Play, when the results never follow the seeding. The difference on any given day between the top ranked player and the one ranked 70th in the world is fairly negligible, especially on the men's side, where most of the AWOL players come from. The subject of golf's place in the Olympics is another topic, one that I'm fairly ambivalent about. Unlike a lot of Olympic Sports, where competitions are limited to annual World Championships or even to the quadrennial Games themselves, golf is already a global game with numerous competitions pitting players from all over the globe.  Add to that the Ryder and President's Cup for the men and the Solheim Cup for the women, and it almost makes the Olympics a redundant affair. On the other hand, it gives these players a chance to play for their country in an environment most will have never experienced. Having attended the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, I can attest, at least from a fan's perspective, the sheer scope and international flavor provided by the two week event. Overall, I don't think the absence of a few top golfers will hurt the competition at all and it actually provides the players that have a true desire to be there an opportunity to represent their countries on the golf course in a way no one alive has been able to do.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first two, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel" and "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and SmashwordsTune into www.WPFLRADIO.com at 8:40 am EST every Friday for my Beyond the Commentary segment on "Lou in the Morning" with Lou Vickery and Jonathan McMath.