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Gorches: Gentleman’s game has ambiguous rules

Updated: May 15, 2013 7:09AM



I love the game of golf. I really wish I had more time to play more rounds at any number of local golf courses.

I have several favorites — Turkey Creek in Merrillville, South Gleason Park in Gary, Robbinhurst in Portage, Indian Ridge in Hobart and Duck Creek in Portage.

Got to play Sand Creek Country Club and White Hawk Country Club once each, and both were great, though my scores weren’t.

I also hate the game of golf because of the ambiguity of its rules that can be illogical, condescending, antiquated and downright frustrating at times.

The Masters is the first major of the year and it’s always a highly anticipated, highly watched event, often with suspenseful endings and some controversy.

The hours between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning illustrated that to a T (or in this case, perhaps to a tee).

The first rules violation came from 14-year-old Chinese sensation Tianlang Guan, who was penalized one stroke on the 17th hole for slow play after being warned earlier. Guan finished at 4-over-par, which ended up on the cut line, but could have been cut had tourney leader Jason Day birdied either of his last two holes.

“In keeping with the applicable rules, (Guan) was penalized … when he again exceeded the 40-second time limit by a considerable margin,” the Masters Committee said in a statement.

Guan explained that the gusty winds resulted in him changing his club at times and that he went over the time limit and respected the decision. But it’s still an illogical ruling to single out the kid when so many players violate the slow play rule, but only adhere to it when an official is watching, basically acting like little kids who misbehave when the teacher isn’t around.

More controversial was Tiger Woods’ two-stroke penalty for an improper drop on the par-5, hole No. 15. It started early Saturday morning when reports coming out of Augusta National Golf Club indicated that Tiger was going to be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Something similar happened to Chesterton’s Marissa Kroeger last September at the IHSAA girls golf state finals at the Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin. She called herself for the mistake, even though no one else saw her commit an infraction.

But after seeing what Tiger did, then reading the wordy rules, I realized I’ve done the same thing at those aforementioned local courses. Here are the rules in question:

26-1 — Relief for ball in water hazard

A. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 (see below) by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.

B. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.

27-1 — Stroke and distance

At any time, a player may, under penalty of one stroke, play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played, i.e., proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.

Tiger’s 15th hole turned out to be the ultimate in bad luck. His approach shot was perfect, headed right at the pin. In fact, it hit the flagstick inches above the ground, then ricocheted sharply left into the water, leading to his drop and eventual penalty.

In a post-round interview, Tiger said he considered the drop zone, but said the area was muddy. So he went back to the location of his original third shot and dropped it “a couple yards” back to supposedly give himself a little leeway. I’ve done that several times — since I’ve hit balls in the water quite a bit — and my impression of the rules of golf is that I can do what 26-1B says: drop the ball “with no limit to how far behind the water hazard.” I’d say weekend hackers in local tourneys often violate this rule unwillingly.

Here’s the funny part: The committee took a look at the supposed violation on Friday while Tiger was still playing his last hole sfter getting a phone call from a viewer, and determined he was within the “as nearly as possible” part of rule 26-1A. But when Tiger was too honest in the TV interview, the committee decided to penalize him.

So honesty really isn’t the best policy after all — at least not in golf.

Last year the USGA changed the rule in regards to a player who unknowingly broke a rule. It’s left up to the committee to decide whether the player should be disqualified after signing his card.

33-7 — Disqualification penalty; committee discretion

A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the committee considers such action warranted.

And that’s what Augusta National Golf Club used to keep Tiger playing, but two shots worse off: “The penalty of disqualification was waived by the Committee under Rule 33 as the Committee had previously reviewed and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round.”

About two hours after the final ruling on Saturday morning, Tiger issued a statement on his Twitter account that ended with: “After discussing the situation with (the committee) this morning, I was assessed a two-shot penalty. I understand and accept the penalty and respect the committee’s decision.”

It’s not the first time Tiger has been part of a USGA ruling resulting in a penalty. In fact, it also happened this year in Abu Dhabi when he was assessed a two-shot penalty for an improper drop.

It’s also not the first or last time Tiger’s been a hot button for controversy. Several players and TV personalities called for Tiger to pull out of the tournament willingly.

Brandel Chamblee, a Golf Channel analyst, ripped Tiger for not disqualifying himself since he knew what he did wrong. Chamblee also said “this is going to be the most controversial thing that follows him around for the rest of his career,” calling it a “flagrant, obvious violation.”

Really? The most controversial thing in the career of Tiger Woods? Forget that failed marriage thing, and the indiscretions that went along with it, or even the whispers of possible connections to performance enhancing drugs thing. Misinterpreting a vague golf rule is more controversial than those?

At least one golf veteran was on Tiger’s side.

Fred Couples, who was in the final group on Saturday, told a Golf Channel reporter, that he thought “this was the greatest ruling of all time.” The USGA implemented Rule 33-7 last year to save players from themselves, and Couples said “it’s fantastic that Augusta National implemented the rule and it’s good for the game of golf.”

Golf is considered a gentleman’s game. Bobby Jones, the founder of the Masters, assessed a one-shot penalty on himself in the first round of the U.S. Open in 1925 on the 11th hole after seeing his ball move when no one else did. Against officials’ wishes, Jones gave himself a one-shot penalty and it cost him the title when he eventually tied after regulation and lost in a playoff.

But some of the rules are outdated and inconsistent. It’s no wonder some people accused the Masters Committee of playing favorites with Tiger because he’s good for TV ratings. There are so many things about golf that turn off the average sports fan. Stories like Tiger Woods and Tianlang Guan need to keep going.



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