Originally created 12/29/04

The debate over soggy fairways continues

The LPGA Tour met two weeks ago for an annual review of its policies, and it included what commissioner Ty Votaw described as a "full airing" of an issue that comes up with regularity - how to play in wet conditions.

The LPGA came up with lift, clean and "replace" a few years ago when the ball was picking up mud. That's slightly different from the PGA Tour, which allows its players to lift, clean and "place" the ball within one club length.

"I hope our officials didn't fall in love with that rule," U.S. Women's Open champion Meg Mallon said at the season-ending ADT Championship in November. "A lot of times, you're replacing the ball right in front of your pitch march, and that affects your next shot."

Pitch marks cannot be tamped down unless they are on the green.

Barb Trammel, vice president of tournament operations for the LPGA Tour, said changing the policy to get relief from a pitch mark in the fairway might be perceived as skirting the rules.

"Just to play preferred lies for that instance is not a reason do it," Trammel said.

Allowing players to put their hands on the ball is always a touchy subject. The USGA never allows that in its biggest championships. Tom Meeks, the senior director of rules and competition, is famous for calling it "lift, clean and cheat."

But the tours sometimes have no choice because of wet conditions and the need to finish a tournament that week so they can move on to the next stop. Still, some players wonder why the LPGA Tour doesn't follow the PGA Tour's lead and allow the ball to be placed within one club length.

Annika Sorenstam wants to see a policy similar to the European tour, where players lift, clean and place their balls within the size of a scorecard.

"That's just enough," Sorenstam said. "We don't have to do a club length. We're not trying to improve our lies, we just do it to clean the ball. Mud is so unpredictable."

Votaw declined to discuss which, if any, policies were amended. He said the panel looked at alternatives to lift, clean and replace and "there were issues pro and con for each."

Trammel added, "When we started this, players thought it was great because we were playing more by the rules. As time goes on, we're getting more comments about going back to placing the ball. If we do make a change, it would be based on what we feel we can reasonably do within the language of the rules."


SPORTS NUTS: Fred Couples was on the practice range during the Target World Challenge, going through his usual routine - hit a few balls, stop to talk sports.

The Arizona Diamondbacks had made the only big move at that point in baseball's winter meetings by signing Russ Ortiz. The Seattle Seahawks faced a must-win game against the Minnesota Vikings. He wondered if the New York Giants would win a game with Eli Manning at quarterback this year.

Then Couples paused and asked a question.

"You think other athletes sit around and talk about the PGA Tour the way we do about them?" he said. "Like, 'Oh, I can't believe they're still playing at that course.'"

Couples looked around at his silent audience, smiled and shook his head.

Then he went back to hitting balls.


NO MATCH FOR WORLD RANKINGS: The World Match Play Championship in England and the Target World Challenge each have 16-man fields and criteria for qualifying, but only the World Match Play gets world ranking points.

That's a sore spot with Colin Montgomerie, if only because he doesn't believe any match-play tournament should get world ranking points.

"You go down to La Costa, there's 64 guys, you can score 60 and lose," he said. "You'd have beaten the other 62 guys in the field and you can go home. But some guy scores 75 and wins, and he gets more points than you. That's not right. I don't think there should be world points for match-play tournaments in any situation."

The World Match Play at Wentworth only started getting ranking points this year because it has strict qualifications and is part of the European tour schedule.

Montgomerie is a past champion at Wentworth. He has never made it past the third round at La Costa in the World Golf Championship event. That's not the point.

"I can go around at La Costa and not break par one round and win every game," he said. "What, and I get 100 world points for playing rubbish? No, no. But I can also play fantastic and lose."


HOUSEBOAT: Ever since he turned pro in 1996, Tiger Woods wanted to build a dream house using only the money he earned in golf tournaments. He went over the $55 million mark this year - that does not include appearance money or sponsorship deals - and finally has his house.

Only it's not a house.

"That's what the boat was," Woods said of "Privacy," the name of his 155-foot yacht. "Everything I buy, everything that I own, is from my earnings on tour. That's the way I wanted it to be, that I earned it."

According to Powerboat and Motor magazine, the yacht cost $20 million.


JAPANESE SENSATION: LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw rarely gives a scouting report on teenagers, but he couldn't help but notice the buzz in Japan over 19-year-old Ai Miyazato.

"She is a delightful young woman who has captured the Japanese public's imagination in much the same way as Michelle Wie," Votaw said. "The ratings for the Japan LPGA are higher by double than the Japan PGA Tour."

Votaw said this during the LPGA's season-ending ADT Championship. Later that week, Miyazato won her fifth event of the Japan LPGA, and TV ratings dwarfed the men's event in Japan that week - the Dunlop Phoenix, where Tiger Woods led wire-to-wire for his first stroke-play title of the year.

Miyazato has not said when she will bring her game to the United States, although she has qualified for the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March.


STAT OF THE WEEK: The winter break from golf lasts 25 days from the final putt at the Target World Challenge (Dec. 12) to the opening tee shot at the Mercedes Championships (Jan. 6).


FINAL WORD: "I'm a has-been, but I'm not a never-was. At least I had my moment in the sun." Ian Baker-Finch.


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