Top Ten Golf Stories of 2017

Woods Comeback…Again: A WD in Dubai in February. Another back surgery in April. A DUI arrest in May with a follow-up treatment program. Tiger Woods’ came back to golf in December for an 18-man exhibition that had some in the media and some of his fans in a frenzy of expectation and speculation. The facts are Woods looked physically fit, seemed to have positive attitude and played fairly well though his short game obviously needs some work if he is to achieve his goal of besting Jack Nicklaus’ major record.

Rollback or Bifurcation: Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson say it’s true. Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis agree. The golf ball goes too far. Woods certainly never said this when his prodigious length was blowing away fields and Johnson, whose is even longer, admitted a restricted flight ball would be to his advantage. But as savvy, knowledgeable and vested in the game as these gentlemen are there’s a problem. Neither the available data nor a logical appraisal of the facts support their contention. This however hasn’t stopped them from proselytizing a rollback of ball performance or the creation of the equally objectionable alternative, separate equipment regulations for professionals, i.e., bifurcating the rules.

TMaG Sold: It took a year but Adidas AG (OTCMKTS: ADDYY) was finally able to find a buyer for TaylorMade Golf, Adams Golf and apparel-maker Ashworth. Purchaser KPS Capital Partners, a private investment group, payed $425 million, less than half of the 2016 sales figure and it could turn out to be a bargain. If KPS does as expected and applies the classic turnaround remedies–cutting costs, growing sales and refocusing management– they could recoup their investment by selling the company or taking it public in maybe as few as three years,

Lexi Thompson: Lexi Thompson, the best American player on the LPGA Tour, was penalized four strokes costing her the ANA Inspiration after a television viewer sent an email about a possible infraction the day before. There was lots of official mumbling, something about fair application of the Rules of Golf, but in December the USGA announced effective Jan. 1, no more viewer call-ins or emails about possible rules infractions will be allowed. Many think this reasonable application of common sense is long overdue. Golf now is in line with other sports where the official’s job is to officiate, and the viewer’s job is to view.

Presidents Cup Rout: The U.S. President’s Cup team captained by Steve Stricker beat up on Nick Price’s Internationals by such a lopsided margin the U.S. actually was one-half point from clinching the win before the final day singles matches. Two takeaways—first those who criticized Striker for picking Phil Mickelson were wrong…again. Lefty earned 3 ½ points and, as he has done in the past, was an inspirational leader for the team. Second and more importantly for the future of the Presidents Cup, continued U.S. dominance has made it essentially an exhibition masquerading as a real competition. This needs to be fixed before the Presidents Cup becomes totally irrelevant to players and fans, if it hasn’t already.

Callaway Surges: During the past three years Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) took over TaylorMade’s dominant sales position in woods and irons with products such as the technically innovative Epic driver. Callaway’s irons have been first in sales for over two years and for the past four years they have been the fastest growing major golf ball company. Company sales for 2017 are expected to be approximately $1.035 billion up substantially from the $871 million in 2016.

PXG Success: Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) may not be a major factor in the equipment business but owner Bob Parsons has a real success story he can boast about for this new and somewhat edgy club company with really expensive equipment (the basic driver costs $700). PXG rang up $38 million in sales for 2016, its first year in business, which was great but 2017 looks spectacular. Parsons told Dave Dusek of Golfweek, PXG will have sales of $100 million for the year but more astonishing, make a profit which may be a record for an upstart club company.

PGA Tour Shake Up: Ever mindful of the futility competing for fans attention with the NFL, the PGA Tour has some big changes coming in the 2018-2019 season. The PGA Championship will be played in May rather than August and The Players Championship now in May moves to March. The shakeup includes reducing the FedExCup Playoffs from four to three events allowing the Tour to finish before the NFL season kicks off plus provides some room for schedule tweaks in Olympic years.

Major Winners: Sergio Garcia finally won a major and appropriately it was the Masters. Long-hitting Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open, also his first major, doing it in fine style and Jordan Spieth had another multiple win year capped off with the Open at Royal Birkdale. Then there was Play of the Year Justin Thomas who began the year with a 59 in the Sony Open and finished with five wins including the PGA Championship. Each of these players has his own compelling story and next season it should be even more exciting with the return of Tiger Woods.

LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan had quite a year: In the Solheim Cup, the American squad beat up on Team Europe and subsequently Whan offered to aid the financially struggling Ladies European Tour. He had to cancel the Alisport Shanghai tournament from a lack of proper permits and then had to shorten the Evian Championship major to 54 holes from a lack of dry weather but caused an eruption of controversy. Hall of Famer Juli Inkster then rattled some cages with her outspoken contention corporations are unfairly depriving the LPGA of a fair share of monetary support. But when the player’s dress code was modified social media and some conventional media were exposed at their mean and bitchy worst.

An Old-Fashioned Attaboy

In the past there have been a number of times I have been critical of golf’s rules givers, the United States Golf Association and R&A, but today they deserve an old-fashioned “attaboy.”

The reason is they promptly came up with a fix to what many viewed as a ludicrous situation, namely the four stroke penalty given to Lexi Thompson during the ANA Inspiration. The USGA and R&A modified the Rules of Golf to address an obviously inherent unfairness.

Decision 34-3/10 of the Rules of Golf, which takes effect immediately, limits the use of video in accessing potential rules infractions. The announcement has caused an eruption of comment on the Internet from both the knowledgeable and, as one might expect, also those who are evidently clueless. Though the Internet is a tool we have come to rely upon it’s also provides a ready forum for the uninformed.

But setting that aside and in case you’ve been otherwise occupied, Lexi Thompson was on her way to winning the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year, when during the third round she marked her ball on the green but inadvertently replaced it one-half inch from the original spot. A television viewer pointed this out in an email to LPGA.com the next day and after reviewing the video the LPGA rules committee assessed Thompson a four stroke penalty.

Officials informed Thompson of the penalty on the 13th hole of the final round and what was a three shot lead at the time became a one shot deficit. Thompson eventually lost the championship in a playoff.

The outcry by everyone from fans to players to those who can’t tell a birdie from a bogey was tremendous. Tiger Woods even got into the discussion condemning the whole idea of officiating from a sofa.

Though the USGA said no particular case prompted their action it’s more than coincidental Decision 34-3/10 came just three weeks after the Thompson penalty. In addition of course, there was the other well publicized incident during the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open playoff when Anna Nordqvist was hit with a two shot penalty after high definition, close up, slow motion video showed her club grazing a few grains of sand.

Now under Decision 34-3/10 officials have two ways to judge the use of video in determining if a penalty is to be accessed. First is the so-called “naked eye” standard which simply means if high definition video is needed to see a potential violation then reasonableness dictates there is no problem. The other part of the decision also uses the reasonableness standard to judge the location of a drop or ball placement.

The lords of Far Hills and St. Andrews evidently got a lesson from the situation surrounding what’s called the “DJ Rule” last year. During the 2016 U.S. Open Dustin Johnson was penalized when his ball laying on a green rolled about the width of one dimple and it was judged more likely than not he caused the ball to move. However Rule 18-02 was rewritten done less than six months later and under the same circumstances should a player cause the ball to move inadvertently it could be replaced without penalty.

Is the new “Lexi rule” in Decision 34-3/10 perfect? No, and it may be modified in the future. But critics and naysayers should take into account the obvious. The game is not one of perfection nor played in a controlled environment. There always has been and always will be room for judgement, equity, reasonableness and fair play.

Reasonableness and reasonable judgement…how refreshing and we didn’t have to wait for the usual four year cycle of rules rewrites.

Unfortunately what has been lost in all the noise over the unfairness of the Nordqvist or Thompson incidents, is congratulations to the USGA and the R&A for doing something in a competent and timely manner.

An “attaboy” well earned.