“Monday Scorecard” is a look back at the biggest stories from around the golf world over the past seven days.
Justin Thomas vs. the USGA
It was a wild week in what’s becoming a year when golf rules are highly scrutinized.
It ended with Justin Thomas feuding with the United States Golf Association on Twitter. But to understand how tensions boiled over, let’s tell the story from the beginning.
First, Rickie Fowler was assessed a one-stroke penalty last week due to the knee-high drop rule, then he mocked the silliness of it with multiple gestures this week, garnering plenty of laughter from bystanders.
Fowler called out the rule for looking “unathletic” and said it’s not doing golf any favors when people are laughing at how ridiculous the players look. He also added that fellow pros “loved” his performance.
Next, veteran PGA Tour player Alex Cejka was disqualified from The Honda Classic for using an illegal greens-reading book, as it didn’t conform to the new size and scale requirements laid out in the 2019 rule changes.
Ironically, he was referencing dated material. The greens at PGA National were redone in 2018, so his “illegal” book likely wasn’t providing any benefit, making a disqualification seem harsh.
Then, Adam Schenk was handed a two-stroke penalty on Saturday morning for an incident that occurred the day prior. He was slapped with the infraction for having his caddie stand behind him while Schenk took his final stance. That’s illegal, and it’s already been a hot topic in 2019.
Here’s what cost Schenk two shots:
After the PGA Tour made a statement explaining the retroactive penalty, Thomas got involved, replying with a sarcastic hashtag and mentioning the USGA.
Enter the USGA, the popular punching bag among Tour players. The association appeared to be fed up with the continuous complaints.
In a tweet, the USGA was critical of Thomas for canceling several meetings:
Those comments left the No. 4 player in the world feeling hurt.
“It’s a little shocking,” Thomas said, according to Golf Channel’s Randall Mell. “…It was a little upsetting just because it was inaccurate.”
USGA senior managing director of championships John Bodenhamer said he has arranged to meet with Thomas and other players regarding the rules, which takes the story out of the public eye… for now.
So what’s next? The players need to do two things.
First, they need to learn the rulebook, even if players think the new rules are “terrible.” Sure, the knee-high drop and greens-book infractions don’t make much sense, but the caddie-alignment rule was implemented to prevent players from doing exactly what it says.
Proper alignment is an important skill, which became negated, especially on the LPGA Tour, when caddies stood behind the player right up until a swing was made. The rule obviously comes with some grey area, but infractions can be easily avoided if players and caddies pay attention.
Secondly, players need to stop making the USGA the lone scapegoat. The R&A and PGA Tour also spent years shaping the new rules of golf. Most importantly, for players like Thomas, it’s Tour officials who are interpreting the rulebook and making the final decisions – so singling out only the USGA is unwarranted.
On the other hand, whoever runs the USGA communications department’s Twitter account should probably have the password changed on them. Publicly calling out an elite Tour player is an unprofessional approach for any organization. It’s a situation that should have been dealt with offline.
While it’s unlikely this is the last rules debacle of 2019, as players now feel the need to lash out at every rule, the pending meeting between Thomas and the USGA is hopefully the first step toward ending the power struggle between golf’s governing body and the players.
If this subject looms into June, the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach will be more about the rules feud than the prestigious tournament.
Score: USGA – bogey. The organization tried to stand up for itself, but using Twitter as the platform is deplorable.
Justin Thomas – double-bogey. By all means, speak your mind. But at least be able to handle the push back if you’re constantly berating the USGA.
Mitchell pulls off the upset
For much of the week, off-course chatter about the rules overshadowed The Honda Classic. But on Sunday afternoon, PGA National hosted a thrilling finish golf fans would be lucky to receive every week.
Although the tournament didn’t have the strongest field, the cream certainly rose to the top, as Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler poured in late birdies to share the clubhouse lead with only a few groups left. Even 56-year-old Vijay Singh was in the mix to create history as the Tour’s oldest winner until the final few holes.
With golf fans rooting for everyone but him, 27-year-old Keith Mitchell crashed the party. He was also at 8-under and needed a birdie on the par-5 18th to seal his first PGA Tour win.
After knocking a wedge to 15 feet, Mitchell proceeded to drain this life-changing putt:
The win was his first at any professional level since a mini-tour victory in 2016.
Mitchell – who broadcasters mistakenly called Kevin multiple times during the week – mentioned in his press conference that he drew extra motivation for the victory from a newspaper headline that read “No name leads Honda.”
It’s safe to say he’s no longer a no-name player after his gutsy performance on Sunday.
Score: Birdie. A win like Mitchell’s is truly special, as it impacts his life in a way that doesn’t compare to, say, Dustin Johnson winning his 20th tournament. And shoutout to old-man Vijay for nearly pulling off a miracle.
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