ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia Tournaments Manager Graeme ‘Scotty’ Scott travels from Ireland to Memphis in the US to sit on the Rules Committee for the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational where once again slow play, weather and a rogue shot from Bryson DeChambeau set the tone.
WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational – Pre-tournament
What a difference a decent night’s sleep makes! After finally making it into Memphis from my original location in Belfast following delays and a missed flight, I met up with John Paramor (who had started his flights 8 hours after I did) and we were transported to our hotel in Germantown.
Getting to bed by midnight allowed me 7 hours sleep before getting ready to head out to TPC Southwind for my first look around.
JP and I were the two international Tour officials for the week with the other six officials coming from the PGA TOUR.
During our first drive around the course, I met up with Cameron Smith who, as always, was in good spirits. He did liken the conditions to that of Queensland and so he feels very much at home.
In terms of the Rules, there is not a great deal of potential situations out on course but it was certainly useful to receive some heads up on certain areas from the guys who have worked here at the St Jude Classic. Receiving this information gives you the chance to prepare and review in the days leading into the tournament.
At 1.00pm we attended our first site meeting and this was an opportunity for everyone involved in the tournament to be introduced to each other and receive some specific feedback from the various departments.
Our second sweep of the course in the afternoon allows us to have a much closer look at specific areas on each hole, including checking out the proximity of TV and shotlink towers to the greens and which of the penalty areas will come into play.
The major appointment for us on Wednesday morning was the Rules Committee meeting at 11.00am. This had a different structure to the meeting at The Open the week before as it a decision-making time for finalising the Local Rules that we wanted to employ for the tournament.
Prior to the meeting JP and I had another sweep of the course to make sure that we were familiar with, in particular, the areas that we would be covering each day and also the situations that we were to discuss during the meeting. During this sweep I caught up with Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Cam Smith who were playing their final practice round together.
Two key discussion points at the meeting were bare areas on some fairways and how we would deal with them, and whether or not we should apply the opposite edge option for the red penalty area on hole 18.
We decided to create a local rule whereby relief would be granted from bare areas on fairways under Rule 16-1 for lie of ball only, but relief could only be granted by a Rules Committee member. Also, due to mainly historical reasons, we agreed to provide opposite edge relief for the red penalty area on hole 18 because this may assist us with maintaining pace of play.
Once we decided on the Local Rules we completed a final course inspection. Once this was done I was able to take advantage of the opportunity to go and visit Graceland, home of The King, Elvis Presley. In the vast majority of cases, we go to golf tournaments and only ever see the airport, hotel and golf course and so this was awesome. Being a huge music fan, the experience of touring Graceland and checking out all the Elvis memorabilia, including his two private jets, was really enjoyable and a welcome break from golf.
In view of there being a field of 63 players due to the late withdrawal of Shane Lowry, the first tee times on Thursday and Friday were a very hospitable 11.20am. The draw was structured as a two tee start in three balls at 11-minute intervals.
WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational – Rounds 1 & 2
The weather forecast for the week was very un-Memphis like with light winds, tolerable temperatures and showers predicted for the weekend. Apparently, at this time of year, it is oppressively hot with thunderstorms predicted each day.
One of my tasks this week was to follow the lead groups on the front nine to ensure that the pace of play remained on schedule while also assisting with any rulings that are required.
It only took three holes before I got called for assistance. A club damaged in the normal course of play. Once the situation was resolved I located myself on holes 5 and 6 for the day. There were very few rulings throughout the round but I did have to time a group for three holes until they were back in position.
Friday start times were the same as round one but a half-flip was applied to move the players around and change which tee they started from. Once again I was assigned to the lead groups off the first tee and the holes 5 and 6. Maintaining the pace of play with the early groups was important and this resulted in some groups being warned and then subsequently timed.
There were a number of rulings throughout the round and these were mainly related to abnormal course conditions caused by the heavy rain the previous week.
It was great to see Cam Smith featuring at the top end of the leaderboard after 36 holes.
WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational – Rounds 3 & 4
The change to the weekend format meant a change to the routine that JP and I had established for round one and two.
With the first tee time being 7.45am for round three, this meant that I needed a 5.30am alarm to enable me to get ready, have breakfast and travel to the course in order to be there one hour before tee off.
I was still assigned to the lead groups off tee 1 and so effectively I was going to follow the one ball and the first two ball around to my area of holes 5 and 6. With the last tee time being 12.50pm, this meant that there would be close to 5 hours of tee times at the weekend.
While assisting with a number of rulings each day, the other key part of the Rules Committee’s duties is to ensure that pace of play is adhered to. I would have to say that in the main the pace of play was pretty good this week but some groups did have to be timed. Here on the PGA TOUR they still use the official warning system rather than the monitoring system that both we in Australia and the European Tour use.
When doing your job of informing a group that they are out of position, some players can get very irate and try to point the finger at one of their fellow group members. This week I encountered nothing but politeness and acceptance of the issue from some of the highest-profile players in the game at the moment. There was no dummy spitting or placing the blame elsewhere but rather acknowledgement that they needed to play faster and action to remedy the problem.
One of the biggest discussion points during the week amongst spectators and officials alike was how lucky the tournament had been in terms of the weather. Memphis is notorious for being both hot and humid at this time of year which can also result in electrical storms. Saturday was very similar to Thursday and Friday, with a high of around 28°C and a gentle breeze to stop it getting too humid. There are also quite a lot of trees on the Southwind course which meant it was pretty easy to find a bit of shade to hide under.
Unfortunately, Cam Smith was unable to retain his spot at the top of the leaderboard, but he was replaced with fellow Aussie Marc Leishman who had a hot finish to his round, placing him in the penultimate group for the final day.
Due to the importance of the TV broadcast times, keeping pace of play on time is essential at these events. When establishing what the pace of play times should be, statistics from previous tournaments at the course are used and the last tee off time is calculated relative to when the broadcast will conclude. As it turned out, we probably finished a little early on Saturday and as a result the starting times were put back by 10 minutes for the final day.
The Sunday forecast came through and even the light showers that had been earlier predicted for the afternoon were now going to miss us and so our lucky streak in terms of weather was due to continue. It was a little hotter but nothing to unbearable and perfect practice for what I expect to encounter when I travel to Darwin next month with the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
With the 63 man field we once again had a one ball to lead us off at 7.55am and, given that it was the final day, I was pretty sure that the early groups would get around quickly, enabling them to head away during the afternoon.
Other than an early ruling with Bryson DeChambeau which saw his tee shot on hole three almost slam dunk a plastic rubbish bag but rather come to rest on the bottom of the bag, I had few other enquiries to deal with.
However, the Rules Committee were very much on top of pace of play and so there was a lot of radio talk ensuring that everyone knew exactly what was happening both before and after their section of the course.
This was the first time ever that Rory and Brooks had ever been paired together and the anticipation of this duel meant that the crowds would be out in force for the afternoon.
Although all of the groups were through my section of the course a little after 2.00pm, I was then re-assigned to a new area on the back nine to ensure that we could attend to any rules situation promptly and without someone having to battle the crowds to get to it.
I could see from the leaderboard that Leish was making a run at Koepka and was only a matter of a few shots back when he came through hole 12. A bounce-back birdie at 14 after failing to get up and down out of the bunker at 13 kept him near the top of the leaderboard but Koepka seems to thrive on these high profile tournaments and never really seemed in doubt down the stretch.
It was a nice touch to the tournament to have five of the children from St Judes hospital be next to the 18th putting green for the final five groups to replace the pin flag and greet the players. A number of the players had visited the hospital during the week and this had undoubtedly left a lasting impression on them.
Play finished exactly on schedule with the final group playing in 3 hours 50 minutes.
The last two weeks have been a fantastic experience and I continue to learn new things at each event either in terms of officiating, performing the role of tournament director or structuring a tournament.
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