KAPALUA, Hawaii — The PGA Tour might be taking another step toward connecting players with television viewers.
Several years ago, it asked players in contention on the weekend to allow for TV interviews before their rounds, usually as they were arriving or leaving the practice range. Now they are looking for volunteers willing to do interviews on the course during their rounds.
It's in the experimental stage at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, and the willingness to take part depends on the player.
Brooks Koepka, the reigning PGA Tour player of the year, nixed the idea last year in Shanghai but said he might be OK with it now.
"Don't they do that on the Champions Tour?" he asked.
Justin Thomas? Not so much.
Thomas talks plenty during his round, usually to himself or with caddie Jimmy Johnson. The idea of stopping for a quick interview was not appealing to him.
"I've just been asked about it," he said. "I said, 'No.' It's not me. I do a lot of self-talking. That's mine and Jimmy's time, whether we're talking about whatever, or even the next shot. For me, there's no benefit. It's only going to make me look worse."
Such interviews are not likely to occur in the final round, and PGA Tour officials are sensitive to the timing of the interviews. A quick spot with Dustin Johnson after his 432-yard drive came within 6 inches of the cup last year at Kapalua might be ideal. Right after a three-putt bogey from 10 feet might not be.
Marc Leishman has experience doing on-course interviews when he plays in Australia, and he didn't mind the concept.
"If they do end up having them, my advice would be to have someone who has played on tour to do it, to be a little sensitive of the questions and the timing of the interview," Leishman said. "But anything where you can be more accessible to the viewers is a good thing. We want to bring more people to the game. It might be a way to give more insight to what we're thinking at the time."
Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, isn't likely to be among the candidates. He said he has not been approached by the PGA Tour about his willingness to do short interviews in the middle of his round. But he made it clear where he stood.
"I've been approached in Europe because they've done it for a couple of years," McIlroy said. "And I've said, 'No,' every single time."
Two days before the new year, Bubba Watson already was trying to bone up on the news Rules of Golf.
Some of the pins at Kapalua are set on slopes over the weekend, and Watson had video taken of a putt on the par-3 eighth green in which he purposely hammered it past the hole, and then watched it trickle down the slope and into the cup. His caddie, Ted Scott, tended the pin on the putt. As it rolled back toward the cup, Scott wasn't sure whether to put the pin back in the cup. He finally did just as the ball went in the hole.
Watson posted it on Twitter and asked the USGA: "Is this a penalty? I'm an amateur when it comes to the new rules."
In this case, the answer would appear to be yes. The decision to remove (or tend) the flag stick, or leave it in, must be made before the stroke.
It's an example of what awaits for 2019, at least the early part of the year after a five-year project to simplify the Rules of Golf. The result was the biggest overhaul in history, and one change is that players can leave the flag stick in the cup while on the green, with no penalty if the ball hits the pin.
Bryson DeChambeau has said he will leave the pin in, even on short putts. Justin Thomas could not imagine leaving it in under any circumstances.
"I wouldn't be able to take myself seriously," Thomas said. "I just feel like it would be very, very weird."
The PGA Tour put up a large poster illustrating some of the basics of the new rules. Among them is dropping a ball from knee height while standing, instead of dropping it from shoulder height. Players now can repair damage to the green — spike marks, indentations, etc. — without penalty. There is no longer a penalty for a double hit, or if a shot comes back and hits the player.
Rules officials attended a seminar in December to get up to speed. Players still have some work to do.
"I know a few of them," Rory McIlroy said. "I don't know many of them. Putting with the flag stick in. Tapping down any imperfections on your putting line. I think some people might get carried away with that."
Brandt Snedeker said he typically goes over the Rules of Golf every few years for reminders, especially on relief from various objects. "When you hit it crooked like I do, you get a lot of drops. I need to figure out the right way to do it," he said.
Snedeker is mostly glad that accidental ball movement on the green is no longer penalized. He said that twice in majors, his ball slipped out of his hand and hit his ball marker, which cost him a one-shot penalty. That won't be a penalty now.
He was most curious to see how the changes would affect the pace of play, whether it was time spent repairing greens or simply not knowing the new rules and wanting to call in officials to be sure. But he says he plans a crash course over the next few days.
"I want to know before I get out there Thursday and make sure I don't do something stupid and cost myself a penalty shot," he said. "You know how it works in theory. But until you actually do it under pressure, you don't know how it's going to work out."
Justin Thomas has two days between the end of the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the pro-am at the Sony Open, enough time for him to fly from Maui to Santa Clara, California, watch Alabama play Clemson for the national title, and then get back to Honolulu.
Thomas, who won a national title in golf at Alabama, won't be going to the game.
The thought did cross his mind.
"There were a couple of scenarios that would have made it possible, but it's too much," Thomas said. "It would have involved someone being here who had a plane that I could have swayed into going to the game, and he provides the plane and I provide the tickets and then I go back to the Sony."
Would that have been a player who made a late decision not to play at Kapalua?
"Yes," Thomas said with a laugh.
Maybe someone who knows the area near Levi's Stadium because he went to Stanford?
Another laugh, without ever mentioning Tiger Woods by name.
GARY GEARS UP
Gary Woodland won for the third time in his career in 2018 and is more excited than ever about the new year.
"I'm starting to putt good," Woodland said. "And that changes everything."
What brought him to Kapalua for the third time was his victory in the Phoenix Open. What made him so confident was a tie for 67th in the British Open. That was the week he began working with putting specialist Phil Kenyon.
One moment that stood out was Saturday after the CJ Cup in South Korea. Woodland recalls talking with Kenyon after a mediocre putting round and telling him, "I feel like I'm going to make everything." He shot 63 in the final round and was runner-up to Brooks Koepka.
"That's the feeling I have," he said. "Like at the British, I had 33 putts every round, I never felt like it was going to come around. Now, even when I don't have good putting days, I know I can make putts."
A new year brings equipment changes, none bigger than Justin Rose's. He has signed a deal with Japan-based Honma. ... Brooks Koepka experienced something new during his six weeks off. He went to the wedding of Austin Johnson, the brother of Dustin Johnson. "My first wedding," Koepka said. ... Satoshi Kodaira, who won at Hilton Head last year, will be hitting the first shot of 2019. ... Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed are the only past champions at Kapalua who qualified for the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas have won each of the last four years, the longest active streak on the PGA Tour.
'It's not like I'm out there practicing like, 'OK, this shot is to get to No. 1 in the world.' It's just part of the process." — Justin Thomas, on trying to get back to No. 1.