Forgive Me, USGA: I Used my Cell Phone on the Golf Course

Forgive me, USGA, for I have sinned. If I could, I would call a penalty on myself for violating one of your rules — though I’m not sure how many strokes it would cost me for using a cell phone on the course during U.S. Open competition.

The truth is, I’m not really repentant. The crime was worth it, and I’d do it again. It’s just too compelling to use a mobile device to get information you can’t get otherwise, and to enrich the experience of watching something live. For many reasons, live golf is a perfect atmosphere for second-screen access and instant communication. There’s lots of downtime in between the action, perfect for catching up on what’s happening on the rest of the course, or for sharing our experience with absent friends. Or for keeping up with work while we’re sneaking away to watch golf.

So it’s you, not me, USGA, who needs to change. Soon. So that all the fans who love golf enough to show up in person can share my secret pleasures from Friday, which included being able to watch play on the 14th hole, live, while sitting alone in the sun on the side of the 17th fairway.

Let it be noted that I committed this crime using the USGA’s own very fine U.S. Open app. And its wonderful live video feature. How can I comply with your rules when your very own programmers have built such a beautiful HD-quality viewing mechanism? It was just too good to resist.

To be clear, as a media member I was authorized to have a cellular device on the grounds — under the stipulation that I use it only in the media tent. Why did I not comply? Basically, because, USGA, you have an information-gap problem. In other sports like baseball, teams are putting in advanced digital access because they are worried about competing with the couch — they don’t want fans to stay home because the experience there will be better than the ballpark.

At the U.S. Open you may not have that problem, since golf’s best test will almost certainly always be a sellout, like it was this week in San Francisco. And I get it that you want to go old-school and not have electronic scoreboards everywhere you look. But the quaint stuff only goes so far. The simple biggest problem I saw out on the course Friday was that many fans — your patrons — had no friggin idea who was in the lead, who was in the hunt, or where particular players were on the course. And that took away from the experience.

Couch potatoes at home or distracted folks at work had much better info at their finger tips or laptop screens — while watching online at home in the morning I was loving the Playtracker scoring feature on the U.S. Open website, which showed in a graphic view of the course who was playing which hole, and what their up-to-date stats were. And the USGA’s Open Twitter feed is fabulous, providing up-to-the-second info and compelling links. At Olympic we were stuck looking at small scoreboards that were hard to see in the setting sun.

At one point, standing alongside the 17th fairway we all had no idea whether Tiger birdied or bogeyed No. 7, and when the scoreboard changed his stats you couldn’t tell if the “1” was red or green because of the way the sunlight was hitting the board. Luckily someone wearing one of those earpiece radios came by and set us all straight. But the future of live golf shouldn’t be a bunch of zombies all listening silently. Give us some easy to understand rules, and let our cell phones be free so that we can view and share information to enrich our on-site experience.

I get it that overzealous picture-taking fans, like those who ticked off Phil at the Memorial, are to be avoided. But why not try some clear, simple rules with clear penalties? Say, anyone who doesn’t turn their ringer sound down and takes an audible picture gets escorted off the grounds — just like belligerent drunks. You don’t let the few over-imbibers keep the rest of us from enjoying a cold beer; don’t let bad cell users keep the rest of us from being able to stay connected to stats and views during the inevitable downtimes between groups.

Nobody cared that I was transgressing Friday, probably because I was discreet and know the simple trick of turning my volume to vibrate. I have faith that most other golf fans will similarly comply — hell, several people in the group I was around on 17 even turned around to stop a USGA cart that was loudly headed up the path while Tiger was trying to make birdie. Real golf fans get it, that players want quiet to do their thing. So why not try tricks like a ban on cell-phone pictures around tees and greens? And set up some “Tweet tents” or Wi-Fi zones far away from sensitive action areas? Not only will that keep sad, unconnected fans happy, but I smell a Starbucks sponsorship. Make this something where everyone wins.

If you need some help, I am happy to volunteer to be part of a research committee to determine what fans want to do, and how the experience can work for everyone. It was heartening to talk to USGA officials this week and hear that they understand that people want to use their digital devices while at competitions. Let’s hope this happens sooner rather than later, so my days of crime can come to an end.

USGA Continues Pioneering Online Coverage of U.S. Open

Eleven years ago, as the U.S. Open forged into its second century, the United States Golf Association simultaneously catapulted into new media technology.

It was only one hole with one announcer at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. But the occasion — live streaming (webcasting) — was a gateway for fans who weren’t in attendance or watching on television to still view the country’s national championship.

“The technology was there, but no one in sports at that particularly time was doing a webcast, especially at the major event like the U.S. Open,” said Bill Lacey, USGA Manager of Digital Media Development. “We had great fan appeal and that’s what led to the first webcast.

“The reason it was one hole and one announcer? It was all new to us. We were learning the technology. It was on the fly, basically. It was the USGA dipping our toes in the water.”

The first webcast, while experimental, occurred at the par-3, 175 6th hole of the 101st U.S. Open. The announcer was Roger Twibell, and the new adventure worked.

“We had about 200,000 streams, and we felt like it was an affirmation that this was something,” said Jessica Carroll, the USGA Managing Director of Information Technology and Digital Media, of the initial webcast.

Video streaming of the U.S. Open has steadily expanded since its debut. Two holes with two announcers were involved for two years, then bonus coverage on certain holes was featured.

Five years ago, “marquee” coverage of certain groups of golfers began. In 2008, for the Monday 18-hole playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines near San Diego, Calif., the site’s live stream “broke the Internet,” according to Lacey.

“We did 650,000 concurrent streams,” he said. “And basically one of the Internet backbone providers went offline the traffic was so heavy.”

Now, online audiences for golf are big and getting bigger, with the PGA claiming a half-million to a million streams for each one of the tournaments it operates its Live@ bonus coverage. The USGA, Carroll said, is seeing similar growth in online video consumption.

“Overall, if we’re looking at the broad spectrum, it’s just a constant upstream,” she said. “I don’t remember specific numbers from last year, but this year we’re up 100 percent.”

The second and final day of online-only marquee group coverage of this year’s U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco is scheduled at 7:44 a.m. and 1:18 p.m. Friday (both Pacific Time). The morning time will feature the group of Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. The afternoon threesome will be Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson. The online coverage is also available via the U.S. Open mobile device app, in either the Android or Apple iOS version.

It’s yet to be determined what, if any, online coverage will be over the weekend. But according to the USGA, the big online watchers are those still at their own offices during the workweek.

“Our audience is really an audience at work; they don’t have access,” said Lacey. “They’re in their offices and they can’t watch the U.S. Open. But it’s going on while they are working. We went to where they are. They’re at their desks and we stream right to their desks.”

The U.S. Open is currently the only USGA event with a webcast. And while there are no current plans for additional events, it’s inevitable with continued increased Internet viewership and the advancement of other social media applications.

“When the stream goes on, people are staying on,” said Carroll. “It’s almost like they want to spend the day with us. They really stick with it. I think that’s just kind of an interesting concept. They become part of the U.S. Open experience, even though they’re not physically here.”

James Raia is a California-based journalist who writes about sports and leisure. Visit his golf site at

U.S. Open Online Ditches Rory-Luke-Lee Group, Will Show Furyk-Sergio-McDowell Instead

For its online-only coverage the USGA has been featuring “marquee” groups, starting Thursday morning with the Tiger-Phil-Bubba pairing and then switching to the “world top three” group of Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald in the afternoon. Those two groups were supposed to switch places on Friday, with the top three group as the morning show and the Tiger squad later in the day.

But apparently the Thursday afternoon group’s disappointing performance has caused an online switch, as now the USGA says it will feature the group of Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell Friday morning. We first heard about the switch in a late Thursday tweet from the main USGA feed:

I guess the switch makes some sense, since McDowell is tied for second after a 1under 69 Thursday, with Furyk only a stroke back at even par and Me, Sergio, still not out of it at 3-over. McIlroy (77 Thursday), Westwood (73) and Donald (79) might have gone south Thursday, but I think it would have been interesting to see them go for broke Friday, trying risky shots to maybe make the cut. At about 11 p.m. Thursday we are trading DMs with the USGA Twitter operators trying to figure out who made this call. Will update this post as we learn more but — if you were hoping to see a Rory comeback online Friday, you are outta luck.

Watching Golf this Week: Many Ways to Watch the U.S. Open

Why is this post a little late in delivery? Because I’ve been spending the morning watching the U.S. Open live, on a window that’s open just to the left of the one I’m typing on. I could go over to the couch and watch ESPN’s live coverage, which starts at 9 a.m. Pacific time today and Friday. But I like the online focus, which today is following the Tiger-Phil-Bubba group from start to finish.

Unlike the Masters online coverage — where you had choices of different groups or different holes — the US Open online video is one group at one time. But there are so many ways to get U.S. Open coverage, from the ESPN overload on Thursday and Friday — which is sandwiched around a couple hours of NBC coverage Thursday and Friday — that you won’t go lacking.

Since this is the first U.S. Open we’ve been able to cover live, it’s been an incredible learning experience to see a course like Olympic up close and personal. Check out our previous links for info that will help you with your viewing. We’re also big fans of the U.S. Open site itself, since it has a plethora of info (live scoring, archived video interviews, and a new feature called “Playtracker” which shows a live view of the groups on the course, with stats for each player in each group. (This would be cooler if it had a live view of where the players were on each hole, like a visual Shot Tracker. Maybe next year?)

So far, we haven’t seen many glitches with the live online video — like the Masters coverage there are intermittent stops and stalls but we’ve found that when that happens, it’s easy to just close the old window and re-open a new one. Since I had to stay home this morning for work and family reasons I wasn’t able to use my press pass to watch the golf up close and personal — but I bet I have a better seat than most press folks there, because the blanket coverage of the marquee group has been phenomenal, and I can sip coffee and sit in my comfy office chair while watching. Enjoy the great weekend of San Francisco golf!

Here’s where to follow the action:


(all times Eastern)


Thursday, June 14 — ESPN, 12 p.m. — 3 p.m.; 5 p.m. — 7 p.m. NBC, 3 p.m. — 5 p.m.
Friday, June 15 — ESPN, 12 p.m. — 3 p.m.; 5 p.m. — 7 p.m. NBC, 3 p.m. — 5 p.m.
Saturday, June 16 — NBC, 1 p.m. — 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 17 — NBC, 1 p.m. — 7 p.m.

Radio this week is via the U.S. Open app, or the U.S. Open website.
1 p.m. — 7 p.m., Thursday-Sunday

See above. Live online at, Thursday and Friday, following a “marquee group” in the morning and afternoon. Morning tee times around 7:30 a.m., afternoon tee times around 1

No shot tracker this week — hard to believe, but true.

The USGA is doing a great job with its Facebook page. Like.

US Open — The official Twitter feed for the championship is active and great, with lots of links, live info. Add it to your feed now.
Geoff Shackelford — well known golf writer — go back in his timeline this week for some great videos showing the holes on the Olympic course. Maybe the top golf Twitterer out there, especially when it comes to analysis/insight.
Golf Channel — official Golf Channel feed
@PGATOUR — official PGA Twitter feed
@StephanieWei — great golf writer who is a Twitter fiend. Works hard and long every day, and also has great insider views, via Instagrams.

If you haven’t had your fill of Olympic info, you’ve been on another planet. So far the overall view we like best was the Sunday special in the San Francisco Chronicle, where beat writer Ron Kroichick interviewed Ken Venturi for a hole-by-hole breakdown of the course. The official Open website also has an extensive hole by hole page with flyby views, etc. etc.

Rory McIlroy, the boy wonder.

The columnists and writers at the San Franciso Chronicle do golf right.

1. Jason Dufner, 1,735 points
2. Hunter Mahan, 1,477 points
3. Tiger Woods, 1,404
4. Zach Johnson, 1,386
5. Bubba Watson, 1,372

See the full standings for the FedEx Cup points list.

1. Luke Donald; 2. Rory McIlroy; 3. Lee Westwood; 4. Tiger Woods; 5. Bubba Watson.
See the official World Golf Ranking list.

Tiger Doesn’t Like Fans With Cell Phones, Either

Tiger Woods offered an unsolicited opinion on fans with cellular phones, telling ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi that if the Tiger-Phil-Bubba pairing was done in a regular tour event — where fans are allowed to have cell phones this year — “it would have been brutal.”

Rinaldi, who we think interviewed Tiger after his mass press conference Tuesday (we saw Rinaldi waiting for Tiger outside the press tent, and Tiger is in the blue sweater/blue shirt he wore to that press conferece), asks Tiger about the marquee pairing of himself, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, a trio certain to attract the balance of the gallery at the Olympic Club during Thursday and Friday rounds.

If you watch the video (which is under the USGA auspice, and not ESPN even though ESPN’s Rinaldi is doing the interview) Tiger says the pairing should be “fun, a lot of fun,” and then adds the caveat which is a non-subtle dig at the PGA’s cell-phone friendly policy.

“It’s something I don’t think we all would enjoy that much in a regular tour event, with the new camera policy,” Woods said. “It would have been brutal. But here they’re not allowed in, so this will be a fun pairing.”

After overzealous cell-phone fans bothered Mickelson at the recent Memorial tour stop, the issue has come to the forefront — with even the USGA saying they are looking at allowing cell phones on course during tournament days, though not this week. Perhaps the PGA and the USGA need to look overseas to the British Open, where there is a clear, smart and civil list of guidelines that should probably eliminate 99 percent of problems.

For us colonists, it might help to have really big signs near tee boxes and greens, saying “turn your damn phone off” or something to help people remember. And in the meantime, the pros who are playing a game for millions of dollars of other peoples’ money should remember that it is the fans, and the sponsors who want to reach golf fans, who line their pockets — so maybe the golfers, who text like madmen on the course when they are practicing, can cut normal folks some slack.

Not-so-Mobile Sports Report: U.S. Open Notebook, and The Beast that is No. 16

A quick disclaimer: Even though we are Mobile Sports Report, where we are “aggressively covering the growing intersection of sports, mobile technology and social media,” at our hearts we are sports fans first and when given entree to an event like the U.S. Open, well we just can’t help ourselves. So here is a not-so-necessarily Mobile Sports Report notebook on fun and interesting stuff we saw and heard at The Olympic Club so far this week:

The Beast that is No. 16

If you are tired of the pros regularly turning par 5 holes into a driver-wedge-eagle, you are going to love No. 16 at the Olympic Club. From some new back tees the hole will play 670 yards long, the longest ever U.S. Open hole. Our quick video taken today from the approximate middle of the hole looks way back toward the tee, then swings toward the green, not really doing the left-curve banana justice.

Do the players like it? Doubtful. With only two par 5 holes on the pros’ scorecard, No. 16 is the first and it will mess with the head of the average tour pro, who when he sees a “5 par” starts thinking birdie. There were all sorts of dire predictions about 16 today, with some players guessing it could serve up the highest scores all weekend. Masters champ Bubba Watson at his press conference said that during his practice round Tuesday he teed off from the back tees and hit driver-driver, “hit two perfect shots,” and still ended up 60 yards short of the green.

The last word went to Phil Mickelson, who was asked after his formal press conference if he thought 16 was unfair.

“Unfair? I’d never say it’s unfair,” said Mickelson. “It’s just not a good hole.”

But No. 17 May Be Worse

After the brutally long No. 16 the Open field will be confronted with No. 17, a seemingly “easy” par 5 at only 522 yards. Though the distance shouldn’t keep some from hitting the green in 2, what will really vex the players is the hole’s slope — it is banked as steeply as the curves at Daytona, dropping some 20 to 30 feet from side to side. The picture here doesn’t do it justice, looking up from the right side of the fairway. It’s safe to guess that a lot of drives that land in the fairway will end up sliding down into the rough, where it will be almost impossible to reach the green in two.

The 17th fairway at Olympic Club, looking up from the right hand side. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

And getting to the green isn’t necessarily the final chapter here. The green slopes left to right too, and the chipping area behind the right edge of the green is shaven smooth, meaning that mis-hits to the right side — or even too-strong putts from the left — may end up 30 to 40 yards down the hill in a small group of trees, where you can’t air a chip back up because of the branches and you can’t bump one up because the ball just keeps rolling back down. When you are watching on TV or online, watch for train wrecks at 17.

BONUS UPDATE: Check out the videos of balls rolling off the green, courtesy of Stephanie Wei.

Text, text, text

One surprising fact learned during watching some practice rounds today: Pro golfers are texting fiends, often typing away on their mobile devices up until they hit a shot, and then again right after. After admiring the low, bullet trajectory of Charl Schwartzel’s second shot on No. 16 we looked back and before the ball had even landed Schwartzel had his device out and was typing away as he walked up the fairway. We saw other golfers texting on the tee box, right up until their playing partner was in his backswing. Who says it’s the fans who are the only over-cellular culprits?

Only in San Francisco…

Would you see a Deadhead tie-dyed t-shirt with the U.S. Open logo. Wonder if it comes with a free medicinal license? So far in our limited wanderings around Olympic we haven’t caught a whiff of San Francisco’s favorite treat, and we ain’t talking about Rice-a-Roni. But you can bet more than a few of these will sell this weekend.