The 18: Golf failed at the ANA Inspiration

The 18 is a look at eighteen stories from the previous week or so in the world of golf, and they will usually be on stories that I didn’t dedicate a full post towards. Expect a combination of thoughts, GIFs, images and anything else that caught my eye from the past seven days. Some will be longer thoughts, and others will be no more than a line or two. This week will be a little shorter than normal with a few links at the end, as I’ll have a separate post coming tomorrow with thoughts on the Masters.

The 18 will (hopefully) run every Tuesday. You can catch up on previous versions of The 18 right here.

1. As I watched the ANA Inspiration over the weekend, the one thing that immediately struck me was the quality of the leaderboard. Minus Lydia Ko, the LPGA’s biggest names were at or near the top of the board on the weekend, which is exactly what any professional tour wants on the final couple of days, particularly in this case at the LPGA’s first major championship of 2017. This should have been a great weekend for the LPGA Tour, and a sort of warm up for the golf world that will be focusing solely on Augusta and the Masters for the next seven days. Unfortunately, it was anything but a great weekend because of another rules fiasco, this time involving Lexi Thompson and one that cost her a major championship victory, eventually won by So Yeon Ryu.

Now, it should be noted that the ball was definitely not placed back in the exact same spot as it was before. Not that it would have mattered on a putt of that length anyway, but that is a penalty and I don’t have a problem with the two strokes being assessed in that instance. There are two problems though with how this was handled.

The first was that this was something that was noticed by a viewer roughly twenty hours after it actually happened. I don’t really have a good answer on what the statute of limitations should be on this sort of thing because obviously a penalty is a penalty regardless of how long ago it happened, but it feels wrong to me that this was allowed to happen so long after the fact. What would have happened if this viewer, who probably had a load up their VCR to watch the recording, had emailed as Thompson was approaching the 18th green with the lead and ready to win the tournament? Would they have stopped it? Would the LPGA have taken the tournament away from her after she had jumped into Poppie’s Pond? Viewers being referees and impacting tournaments is one of the worst things about golf.

The second thing is that this wasn’t just a two-stroke penalty. Thompson was actually penalized four strokes because she signed for an incorrect scorecard after the round. That’s right: the scorecard that was correct at the time when she signed it, was deemed incorrect because of a penalty that no one knew existed at the time she signed it. Common sense would have said, “assess the two-shot penalty because of the infraction and move on”, but when it comes to the rules of golf, common sense pretty much never comes into play. I talked about this last year with the Anna Nordqvist situation, but the big problem here is that because every single shot from every player can’t be shown on TV, the leaders and the more popular players are always going to get the short end of the stick.

For all of the talk about growing the game, this is the kind of situation that does the exact opposite. No one felt good about the way this ended, and that’s because people know it was wrong. ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg summed it up best after Ryu won in the playoff.


2. There are two things that shouldn’t be lost in this whole fiasco: the first is that So Yeon Ryu played an amazing week of golf, and unfortunately for her, this tournament will always be remembered for the ruling that cost Lexi her second major championship, and not that Ryu is now a two-time major winner. I’m not saying that anyone should feel bad for Ryu, but it’s one of those things where she’ll probably never get her due for this, and that feels a little wrong.

The second thing that shouldn’t get lost is the way that Lexi handled the whole situation, both in her play and her demeanour. After being told that she was being penalized, Lexi was understandably upset. With tears coming down her face, she went out and birdied the thirteenth to get back within a shot and when she needed another birdie on the 18th to force a playoff with Ryu, she hit two of the best shots under pressure that I can remember.

She peppered a drive down the middle of the fairway, giving her a shot at going at the par-5 18th in two shots, and then smashed her approach to 18 feet. She didn’t hit the eagle putt, but her birdie forced the playoff. It would have been great theatre if the situation was just that Lexi was trying to chase down the leader, but when you add in everything that happened, it took it to a completely different level.

After it was all over, Jerry Foltz conducted a great interview with Lexi, who handled herself in a much better way than anyone could have expected given the situation and on Monday, she posted the following on Instagram.

Let me start by congratulating So Yeon Ryu on her playoff victory yesterday at the ANA Inspiration. She fought extremely hard and played amazing golf. I don’t want anything that happened yesterday to take away from So Yeon's victory. The LPGA rules officials made a judgment call at the moment, and we as professional golfers must accept it, no matter how painful it is. What happened was not intentional at all, I would never do that purposely. And I hope everyone knows that. I want to thank the amazing fans out on the course for all their support. Their cheering helped get me through those last 6 holes. Hearing all the fans cheer me on after every shot, going to every tee, truly brought tears to my eyes every time. I also want to thank the fans around the world who have reached out to me to offer their support, and for being there for me in this difficult situation. Your support means so much to me ……. I'm so blessed to have you all as my fans. I love you all and the game of golf, and I look forward to seeing all of you very soon.

A post shared by Lexi Thompson (@lexi) on

It was all very, very impressive.


3. When the Dustin Johnson situation happened at Oakmont last year, I thought Fox did a great job explaining everything to the viewer and giving the USGA the skewering that they absolutely deserved. The same thing was true when Fox covered the U.S. Women’s Open last year, and this time around, I really thought Golf Channel/NBC did a fantastic job with a difficult situation. Mike Tirico and Judy Rankin in the booth were tremendous down the stretch, as was Foltz. It felt like there was the perfect amount of explanation, criticism and sympathy, and I’m not sure that it could have been handled any better.


4. 14-year old Lucy Li finished tied for 70th in the event, mostly because she posted a 78 in the third round, but it was super impressive to watch her play and hang with Michelle Wie over the first two days. I love the high finish in her swing, and she didn’t look out of place at all against much more accomplished competition.


5. I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the Shell Houston Open on the weekend, but obviously Russell Henley went deep on Sunday, posting ten birdies and catching Sung Kang. I always talk about how good all of the players are at this level, and that when they get hot, they’re essentially unstoppable. Henley is the perfect example of that, as he’s definitely not the most consistent player out there, but his performance on Sunday isn’t the first time that he’s done this sort of thing before. He blitzed the field at the Sony back in 2013, posting three 63’s to win by three shots and breaking the tournament scoring record by four.

Full highlights below.


6. The strokes gained leaderboard from Houston, with all stats courtesy of Data Golf.

  • Off the Tee
    • Best: Luke List (+1.555)
    • Henley: (+1.070)
    • Worst: Steven Bowditch (-3.336)
  • Putting
    • Best: Russell Henley (+3.126)
    • Worst: Kelly Kraft (-3.308)
  • Tee to Green:
    • Best: Rickie Fowler (+3.102)
    • Henley: (+1.799)
    • Worst: Rich Berberian Jr. (-5.735)
  • Approach:
    • Best: Lucas Glover (+1.713)
    • Henley: (+0.588)
    • Worst: Bill Lunde (-3.490)
  • Around the Green:
    • Best: Brendon de Jonge (+1.615)
    • Henley: (+0.141)
    • Worst: Brett Stegmaier (-4.209)

7. I like that the PGA Tour is going to test out rangefinders in an attempt to speed up play, but much like Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, I really don’t see how this is something that’s actually going to be a tangible benefit. If you just enforce the rules properly, and not just on a 14-year old kid playing in the Masters, the players will speed up.


8. On the Grayson Murray/Kelly Kraft vs. Byeong hun An/Thomas Pieters stuff: there are, without question, issues with the way the Official World Golf Rankings are calculated, and some players do shoot up the rankings by playing well in lower tier events. However, those players still have to play well to move up, and the idea that anyone can just pick up and go to Europe or Asia and have success is patently absurd. Sure, Brooks Koepka went down that path and has come back out on the other side as a much better player, but for every Koepka, there’s a dozen other guys who haven’t done as well. If Murray and Kraft, or anyone else, thinks that they can go somewhere else and win without issue, they should absolutely do that, but I feel like they know that’s not the case.

Trying to figure out a system that properly ranks players from dozens of tours is probably never going to happen, and as much as I have criticized the OWGR in the past, I haven’t seen anyone come up with a solution that’s infinitely better than what is already in place. Some of the other stuff that Murray has said and since deleted, particularly where he talks about not being able to pronounce An’s name, is disgusting and he deserves every bit of criticism that gets sent his way.

For a more thorough piece on the issue, I recommend Ben Coley in Sporting Life.


9. Last week, I was roughly 97% sure that Tiger wasn’t going to play the Masters, but obviously with him, you can never really say that you’re 100% sure on anything. There was still part of me that thought he would convince himself that he could play and do well, but thankfully, that didn’t happen and we won’t see him in a playing capacity at Augusta this year.


10. A few weeks ago in this space, I talked about the “new Golf World” and how I was rooting for Jaime Diaz and his crew to put something great together. The more quality golf content that’s out there for fans and media is a good thing, and it doesn’t matter where it comes from or what form it takes as long as it provides good value to the consumer. This is where we get to this piece in Golf World/Golf Digest from Ed Sherman that has generated a lot of conversation on Twitter since it was published last week.

If you’ve read any stories in the last decade on the decline of the newspaper industry, you’re likely not going to be too surprised with what you read in the link above. It sucks, and I wish it was different, but the golf beat is far from the first one to be affected here as companies struggle to adapt to a more digital focused future. As it relates to this piece specifically, it was hilariously one-sided in that no one from golf’s “new media world” was quoted, yet blogs were slagged as being part of the problem.

This, to me, is the larger point against the piece. We can talk about how Golf Digest churns out a lot of clickbait type pieces, but ultimately, it’s unfair to ask these questions without mentioning the fine work that many people do online, some of which is for little to no money. In the last year, the No Laying Up podcast has interviewed Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Bones, David Feherty and others, while the other places that Kevin mentions have done great work covering the game as well. To not even bring that up in a piece about golf media is poor.


11. On the flip side of that, I enjoyed this piece by John Huggan and Dave Shedloski littered with anonymous comments on the big players in the field this week. I definitely don’t agree with all of the comments from the players, especially since it seems like everyone thinks there are no good putters out there, but I found myself nodding my head quite a bit while reading it.


12. Rory and Nike announced a new contract last week, apparently for ten years.


13. Ben Coley’s player by player guide for the Masters is an excellent read, and absolutely worth your time.


14. Also worth your time is this quick Q&A that Brendan Porath of SB Nation did with Gary Player on the Augusta grounds. I’m here all day for any kind of Player related content, and this piece is the exact reason why.


15. Really interesting work by Data Golf on ranking players on the PGA Tour across multiple years. Turns out that Tiger Woods was pretty good at golf.


16. My favourite thing from this week was Ryan Lavner’s look back at the 20th anniversary of Tiger’s win at the 1997 Masters.


17. Just want to leave this here because, well, it’s obvious why I want to leave this here. J.R. is the best.


18. Your random GIF for the week is Phil Mickelson with an awkward smile in Butler Cabin while being announced as the low amateur for the week.

 

 

 

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