Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Golf Odds and Ends

By Kevin Beane

Last week, the European Tour played their last event of the calendar year. It was Joburg Open (Joburg being the colloquial term for Johannesburg, as in South Africa).

What's appealing about this particular tournament is that it is tri-sponsored by three tours: the prestigious European Tour, but also the Asian Tour and South Africa's Sunshine Tour. Basically, all full members of each tour get to play, and it's a great way for players on the lesser tours to try to earn a trip into full-member status on the European Tour by winning. I've always been a fan of this rags-to-riches multi-tour sponsoring.

As a result of the three-tour involvement, a whopping 240 players took part. That is gigantic for a professional golf tournament.

In the end, one of the lesser-tour players did indeed take it down. This time though, it's particularly an out-of-nowhere story. The winner, Shubhankar Sharma, hadn't even won on the Asian Tour before, of which he is a member. His most prestigious wins have come on the PGA Tour of India, which doesn't even receive Official World Golf Rankings points.

He's a name to remember because he's only 21, and for a young player in such deep waters, he showed an incredible amount of poise: zero bogies over the final three rounds, though everyone was gunning for him after he took a five-shot lead into Sunday. That usually makes players of Sharma's age and status melt.

* * *

Check out Alan Shipnuck's piece on the tragedy of Wayne Westner. His was a name I heard a lot in the '90s, and I am surprised to discover he won just twice on the European Tour.

I may have remembered him as more decorated than he was because of the 1996 total beatdown he and Ernie Els laid on the field at the 1996 World Cup of Golf. At the time, it was a prestigious tournament, and the Westner/Els pairing won it for South Africa by a staggering 18 strokes. If it had been a traditional format, Westner and Els would've finished No. 1 and No. 2.

At any rate, he was a fascinating man gone too soon.

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There have been a number of times in the annals of televised golf history when viewers saw what they believed to be a penalty, called the tournament officials, and a penalty was duly enforced after a review. Tiger Woods is probably the most famous "victim."

More recently, at the ANA Inspiration, Lexi Thompson was assessed a four-stroke penalty by marking her ball and putting it back on the putting green a few millimeters off from where she marked it. Two of the strokes were for the incorrect placement, and two of the strokes were for signing an incorrect scorecard.

This is to say, she didn't know she was committing a penalty because the penalty wasn't decided until the next day. So, of course, she signed an incorrect scorecard.

She would go on to lose the tournament in a playoff.

It's bollocks all around, but thankfully, two new rules are set to take place next year.

One is, players are no longer assessed an additional penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard based on a penalty that a) they didn't realize they had committed, b) none of the tournament directors assessed until after the scorecard has been signed.

This change is a no-brainer. Thank God for it. No. 1, it assumed malice on the part of the golfer — that they knew they had committed an infraction and cheatingly signed a penalty-free scorecard anyway.

No. 2 is the whole after-the-fact nature of this misbegotten rule. Let's put it in football terms: under previous rules, it was sort of like if NFL brass overturned a Patriots win and turned it into a loss because they didn't march off 10 yards for a holding penalty that was never called, but that officials noted definitely happened on one play when they watched the tape that evening.

The second rule change is a corollary to the first rule, and one I am less enthused about: TV viewers will no longer be allowed to call in about rules infractions.

After reading the above-linked piece, I guess it makes sense. Most of the calls they field are wrong, and tournament officials waste a lot of time fielding such calls and investigating them.

That's fair enough, and good enough for me to support the decision. But before we say goodbye to this bizarre tradition that applied only to golf, I'd like pour one out for the eagle-eyed viewers that were right.

I mean, check out some of the Twitter reactions to the Thompson incident. They smack of "MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS, VIEWERS!"

But a penalty is a penalty is a penalty. No matter the sport, we should strive to get calls correct no matter how we do it (as long as its in a reasonable amount of time) or who is doing it.

If you object to the wrong person making the right call, I'm not sure you can be trusted to make the right call on yourself, which is crucial to the honor system of golf, and one of many things that makes it special.

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