The USGA’s inability to organize a lemonade stand, much less conduct a golf tournament, aired its ugly head yet again on Sunday over it’s inability to reasonably administer the rules or do anything remotely close to right during a playoff between Anna Nordqvist and Brittany Lang. If the last two men’s US Opens weren’t damning evidence of the utter incompetence on display from the USGA, yesterday’s playoff has to permanently disqualify the USGA from conducting professional tournaments.
Shall we count the screw-ups?
1) Despite playing just south of San Jose, California, the USGA and Fox decided to play all four rounds in threesomes with a 2-tee start. It’s not the first two days that are the issue, but for no reason than to accommodate television, the weekend rounds met the same fate. Unless storms were forecast (and they weren’t), there’s no reason to do this. The tournament finished by 4pm PT (if Fox can’t commit to allowing twosomes playing holes 1-18 in that order on the weekends, they should get out of the business of televising golf). The men would have never been put in this circumstance. What next- why not have a goddamn shotgun start with foursomes?
2) Pace of play. If the USGA is going to enforce the rules, then enforce all of them. This includes pace of play. Granted, it’s partially on them for having threesomes, but at some point, the women need to stop with this never-ending pre-shot routines and having caddies spending seemingly forever in lining up putts. To put a group on the clock and then not enforce a second bad time…if we’re doing that then what other rules are we going to ignore? Not that the men aren’t exactly speed demons (looking at you, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day). Either you enforce a shot clock, or a time par (miss it and everyone in the group gets a stroke penalty), or we’ll have more 6-hour rounds.
3) Different standards. The women’s US Open has rightly gone to a 3-hole aggregate score playoff (this week’s Open Championship has a 4-hole playoff, the PGA Championship has a 3-hole playoff, the Masters is sudden death). As countless others have opined, the idea of the men having an 18-hole playoff the next day is ridiculous. It is shameful to send tens of thousands of fans home on Sunday night without a winner. A 3 or 4-hole playoff (with time built in) allows this to happen. For an organization that talks about gender equality, they’re conducting their national championship with entirely different standards for no reason (and if I were running tennis the four majors would play best-of-five sets for the championship for the women (like the men)).
4) Diana Murphy. You literally have one job on Sunday…make a quick speech and hand the trophy to the winner. Maybe lay off the booze until afterwards, or maybe buy some index cards and before you go to the podium, have someone who is sober and has a brain WRITE DOWN the name of the winner, the runner-up, and the low amateur. This is THEIR moment, not yours. Your job is to literally not be an incompetent jackass, and so far you’re 0-for-2.
5) The Playoff Penalty. I do find it curious that in PGA Tour events, we rarely, if ever, see issues like this pop up. There was one earlier this year with Camilo Villegas at the Hilton Head event, and an official came out, made a ruling, and they got on with things. Why is this so difficult? As I see it, there are two issues going on:
a) As TSN’s Mark Zecchino pointed out, the grounding the club in a hazard rule was designed to prevent players from building a stance. It was never designed to determine if a player grazed sand that would need HD cameras and super-slo-mo technology to determine if the club touched the sand. Looking at the replay, while there’s no doubt (using HD cameras and super slo-mo technology) that Anna Nordqvist grounded her club going off of the letter of the rule. Intent? No chance in hell. Put it this way- if I was playing a match I would never call that penalty, nor would I want my opponent to call it.
b) Timing. Until golf goes to an NRL-style bunker or a tennis-style review that can be instantaneous, we’re left with farcical means of letting players know. If there was a question, the rules official should have stopped play (they were in a playoff so it wasn’t like they were holding anyone up) and taken a look. I watch NRL games and the official reviews are pretty well done (as a fan, you can see what they’re reviewing and the camera angles they’re using along with the dialogue between them and the match official). However, critics complain about what can/can’t be reviewed and how far back in the play they can review. See below:
What you can’t have, in any sense, is a player not knowing if he/she is going to be penalized, nor can you have their competitors not knowing the result. What made Nordqvist’s penalty worse is that the USGA waited until she hit her third shot (but not her competitor), so there wasn’t an equity of information. The technology exists to make these rulings fairly quickly. Either you embrace the available technology or you don’t, but you can’t have it both ways. Either use it, or don’t.
As I have said repeatedly, it’s time for the USGA to turn things over to the PGA Tour, European Tour and LPGA/LET Tours to run. The idea of having rank amateurs as officials simply isn’t good enough. Even in tennis (closest comparable), while the lines people might be locals, the chair umpires are from the ATP/WTA tours. Known entities. The player challenge system in tennis is seamless, takes less than 10 seconds, and is handled electronically. Ball is in or the ball is out. Simple.