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HIT THE DAMN BALL!

A 40-second shot clock is coming to the European Tour

The European Tour will test a 40-second shot clock next June at the 2018 Austrian Open, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

Practically speaking, there won’t be a play clock behind the green ala basketball or football (or the GolfSixes event earlier this year). Instead, a referee with a stopwatch will follow each group.

A player won’t be penalized for a first offense. Instead, he’ll get…you can guess? A yellow card! Each additional offense will cost a stroke.

“WHAT A BRILLIANT IDEA, AND LONG OVERDUE,” LEE WESTWOOD SAID.

It seems the 40-second limit will only apply to “traditional” shots and won’t be ticking while a player is considering how to play from the edge of a water hazard or some such. It’s also unclear when exactly the clock starts ticking.

ANDY SULLIVAN SAID, “IT UNDERLINES HOW LONG 40 SECONDS IS TO PLAY A SHOT AND HOW RIDICULOUS IT IS THAT ROUNDS TAKE SO LONG.”

The European Tour first unveiled the shot clock concept (with a literal shot clock) at the GolfSixes competition in May. Paul Peterson ran over his allotted time and was hit with a one-stroke penalty at that event.

The PGA Tour, which last year handed out its first slow-play penalty since 1995, hasn’t disclosed any similar plans.

Seemingly all professional golfers not named Jason Day want to speed up play. However, one would expect plenty of blowback if this constraint is widely adopted.

One thing’s for sure, the Austrian Open, perhaps for the first time ever, becomes must-watch golf.

Well, they’ve certainly earned this with their slow play. When you watch golf on television anymore and they pick up the conversation between player and caddie, you would think they are discussing how to cure world hunger. – The Head Fanatic

Randall’s Rant: Backstopping needs to be stopped

Randall Mell

GolfChannel.com

Tony Finau nearly turned a simmering debate on the PGA Tour into a powder keg Sunday at the Safeway Open.

If Finau wins in Napa Valley, this growing suspicion that players are using fellow competitors’ golf balls as “backstops” while pitching and chipping blows up.

If Finau wins, the issue wouldn’t easily be dismissed today as a skirmish waged on the game’s fringe by rules geeks and conspiracy theorists.

If Finau wins, this debate explodes into a question of whether there really is something calculated in players failing to mark balls that they leave so close to the hole. It erupts into more volatile suspicions that this is becoming an accepted practice that corrupts the spirit of the game.

For those who missed it, Finau was two shots off the lead when he hit into a greenside bunker at the 12th hole at Silverado Resort’s North Course. After Jason Kokrak chipped up to about a foot behind the hole, Finau didn’t wait for Kokrak to mark his ball. He blasted a bunker shot that Finau estimated was going to race 25 feet or more past the hole. Instead, Finau’s ball collided with Kokrak’s, stopping 2 feet from the hole.

Finau saved par, and he eventually caught the leader before fading to finish solo second behind Brendan Steele.

If Finau won Sunday, he would have been left to answer questions about his intent playing out of that bunker at the 12th. He would have found himself answering the kind of questions that could have unfairly clouded his second PGA Tour title.

“I used the rules to my advantage, I guess, not knowing,” Finau said afterward.

It was important for Finau to throw in those last two words, his “not knowing,” because without those words this blows up even with a second-place finish.

Without those words, Finau faces questions about whether he was knowingly setting up Kokrak’s ball as a potential backstop, if he needed one.

To be perfectly clear, and fair to Finau, he did not violate the Rules of Golf. Nobody can impugn him that way based on how this unfolded.

But Finau could have and should have eliminated even the appearance of impropriety. He should have insisted Kokrak mark his ball.

While there is no rule that required Finau to direct Kokrak to mark his ball, the rules can be slippery here, as they so often are.

Rule 22-1 frames potential violations in these situations.

The rule states that if a player believes a ball may assist any other player, he may mark the ball, if it is his ball, or he may direct the ball to be marked, if it’s not his ball.

There’s also Decision 22/6.

That decision states that if players agree not to mark a ball so that it can be used as a backstop, those players should be disqualified.

Good luck proving collusion, but that’s exactly what skeptics suspect may be happening on Tour, even if it has evolved without some formal conspiracy. They believe there may be a standard practice developing where creating “backstops” is the implied intention.

More than a trophy hangs in the balance in these situations.

Finau took home $669,000 for finishing second on Sunday. Phil Mickelson and Chesson Hadley finished a shot behind Finau and took home $359,600 for sharing third place.

If Finau had not saved par at the 12th and fallen into a three-way tie for second, he would have taken home $462,933, as would Mickelson and Hadley.

That matters, and so do the FedExCup points at stake.

It should be noted there’s a strong contingent of the game’s followers who believe this is much ado about nothing. These observers believe “backstopping” is primarily unintended as a pace-of-play function, and they don’t want to see the game more maddeningly slowed with excessive ball marking. They believe what happened to Finau was rare, and just rub of the green.

Count Justin Thomas, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, among them.

“It MAYBE happens five times a year,” Thomas tweeted after Finau finished his round. “It’s part of the game, if I want to rush and hit a shot for that reason, it’s my right . . .”

Based on the Rules of Golf, this is simple. It’s wrong to play a shot knowing a fellow player’s ball might easily serve as a backstop if a player deems he might need it. It’s also complicated, because this is all about intent. More than that, it’s about pace of play and the possibly absurd delays taken to require a mark.

So should the USGA and PGA Tour intervene here to help Finau and others avoid igniting a powder keg in the future?

Yes, but not with new rules.

The last thing the game needs is more rules. Backstopping is something that ought to be policed by the players themselves. There’s nothing like shaming in golf as a rules enforcement. Player leadership needs to determine if there’s a problem and solve it within, because intent is too indecipherable to define with a rule.

The PGA Tour’s administration ought to step in, too, to address whether Thomas is right in his thinking, or whether there is more for players to consider. Fans should know whether the PGA Tour deems Thomas is correct in asserting he has “a right” to play quickly. This isn’t about trying to craft specific language for a new rule. It’s about examining hearts and creating awareness about the importance of even the appearance of impropriety.

There’s no definitive solution here, but if the Tour’s going to implement an integrity program to protect itself from gambling issues, then framing backstopping issues for players that will reduce the possibilities they become a powder keg some Sunday soon is worth flushing out.

There most certainly IS a definitive solution. The players are cheating and they all know it. They are NOT protecting the field with their behavior. In fact, they are doing the exact opposite. There needs to be a rule change.  – The Head Fanatic

Peter Malnati Explains Trump/NFL Statement

Golf Digest

“I was trembling when I hit send but it was worth it to open some minds to the conversation.” – Peter Malnati

Well, then why did you send it, Peter?

Because people like you want to lecture the rest of us on all things large and small.

Last Sunday, while the PGA Tour was getting ready to wrap up its season, Peter Malnati, a 30-year-old journeyman pro who has bounced between the big tour and its minor-league little brother, the Web.com Tour, broke golf’s silence, becoming the first player to openly share his thoughts on President Trump’s “son of a bitch” comment directed at NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem as a sign of protest.

Malnati posted a thoughtful, heartfelt statement on Twitter that said, in part, “So when players take a knee today during the national anthem, and the gut reaction of so many people is to call them a ‘son of a bitch,’ I ask you, what do you stand for? As for me, I stand for freedom. I stand for ‘justice for all.’ I stand for equality, for empathy and for compassion.”

The reaction to the post, particularly in a sport that doglegs hard to the right politically, was more than Malnati was prepared for, even though his statement wasn’t about Republican, Democrat or race. It was about having a conversation, he said.

“I didn’t know the 640th-ranked golfer talking about that was going to explode the way it did,” he told GolfDigest.com on Tuesday. “I got a heck of a lot of blowback. The scope of it all, just wow, I should’ve had the foresight to see. I knew it would be big but I didn’t realize it would be this big.

“The statement wasn’t about getting myself attention but it turned into that. That’s the only regret I have. I wanted the message to get attention.”

It certainly did, with 759 retweets, 1,818 likes and 288 comments for a player who has less than 9,000 followers. Malnati heard directly from several in and around the game, too. The messages were a mix of positive, negative and at times surprising, with some thanking Malnati for saying what he did because they felt they couldn’t. But the latter was among the minority of responses, however, as you might imagine.

Why did he decide to go public with his thoughts in the first place?

“I had seen several in my world, the golf world, with harsh things to say that sort of echoed the words of our president, being very harsh and very negative,” he said. “My objective was, if you can consider what might motivate someone to kneel, if that question was ever asked and considered then maybe we’d come up with a healthy talking point or two. But there was an emotional reaction to ‘son of a bitch.’ People can’t overcome that part of it, and I think it’s important we try to, that we as a society think beyond a gut reaction.”

As strongly as he feels about the topic, though, Malnati said he had “huge” hesitation in posting the statement. He is self-aware and knows his audience.

“I was scared to death,” he continued. “Even though I felt I was extremely clear with my statement, there are people who can’t separate that it wasn’t a statement against the military or the national anthem. I’m so supportive of the military and thankful for the people who fight for our freedom. I was trembling when I hit send but it was worth it to open some minds to the conversation.”

The conversation is an uncomfortable one in golf, however. Few players reacted publicly and when GolfDigest.com reached out to several of them about Malnati’s comments, and the topic at large, almost none of them wanted to touch it, even anonymously or off the record — though Brendan Steele did say it was a “courageous” decision by Malnati to speak out the way he did and that he applauded him for doing so, “supporting him 100 percent.”

The largely deafening silence from most hardly came as a surprise to Malnati, who also understood why his peers wouldn’t voice their opinion out in the open, particularly given how sponsor-dependent the game is.

“How can I blame them?” he said. “I don’t begrudge anyone for not doing it publicly.”

He also wanted to add another point in the aftermath.

“I think it’s important to note the ideas I believe in that are being [supported by] protests by NFL players and others, they don’t affect us in golf,” he said. “We’re a homogenous world.”

So much so that an incident from a couple of years ago struck a chord with Malnati and helped shape his thinking. He was registering for a tournament and was given the registration form by a volunteer. The player next to him, who is black, was informed that caddie registration was outside.

Malnati doesn’t cast blame on the volunteer as being racist so much as the unconscious bias that exists in society, he said. Golf is, by fact, a largely white sport.

“I don’t the think PGA Tour has a problem in that regard, but I played golf at my club this morning and there’s not a lot of diversity out there,” he said. “I think there is a problem. It’s pretty undeniable to say there’s not equal opportunity in golf.”

That said, Malnati wanted to emphasize his earlier statement wasn’t about political persuasion, or race, rather a gateway to larger, underlying issues that have bubbled over. He has just only one regret.

“My words at the end of my statement weren’t an entirely accurate description,” he said. “I kneel to the ideas of greed and hubris and power. Those are the trademark characteristics important to our President. Every action he has made has been about greed and power.

“This isn’t a statement about politics, conservative versus liberal. It’s not about the military. This is about basic human rights.”

Earth to Peter…We don’t care what you think. You are a golfer. Keep your mouth shut and play golf. And since you opened this can of worms, here’s my take: the NFL and its players aren’t just wrong, they’re dead wrong. If a PGA Tour player- ANY player- tries the same crap at a PGA Tour event that Kaepernick has done he will be through as a tour player. It might take a little time but it will be the beginning of the end for his golf career. – The Head Fanatic