Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tiger and the Rules of Golf (Masters 2013)

    I took this photograph 5 or 6 years ago at a golf club immediately
    next to our home (of which I am a member). It's the 11th hole,
    looking north into a beautiful late-summer sky. The man posing
    for me is Bud Chapman, a nearly legendary golfing personality
    here in Minnesota and one of my favorite people. I was working
    that day, for the very first time, as a volunteer rules official for the
    Minnesota Golf Association. That day I was in over my head!
    These days, I love studying the complex rules of golf and, though
    I still don't consider myself an expert, I'm much farther along than
    I was on that beautiful day back then.

Does it make sense to write about golf, and Tiger Woods, and the United States Golf Association’s care-taking of the rules of golf? Not ordinarily, but it might be okay on a lazy Sunday morning.
by Charlie Leck

This is a big controversy for golf!
Golf is usually free of controversy. The rules are so extensive and thorough that just about every matter is covered and we don’t normally worry about cheating issues. Right now, however, by innuendo and not by direct accusation there are a number of players who are suggesting Tiger Woods made such a blunder in violating a rule that he should have withdrawn from competition at the Masters. I think they are dead wrong.

Here’s what happened!
For those few of you who care, but weren’t watching the Masters, here’s what happened. Tiger Woods was playing the 15th hole at Augusta (a par 5). He hit his second shot into a lay-up position and short of Ray’s Creek which flows in front of the green. Let’s say his ball was lying at SPOT A.

From SPOT A, Tiger struck a brilliant shot into the green that likely would have ended up a foot or so from the hole (though where it would have ended up has nothing to do with this rules discussion). The ball struck the flagstick and caromed off to the left and into Ray’s Creek which circles around that side of the green. It was a terrible bit of bad luck (which is one of the extraordinary features of golf). The creek is a water hazard and is so marked by yellow lines painted on the grass. The point at which Tiger’s ball crossed over that yellow line is vital in the rules We’ll call it SPOT B, "the point at which the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard." Tiger now must do one of a few things by rule (rule #26 in The Rules of Golf).
(1)   He may play the ball (under the rules) from where it lies in the water with no penalty.
(2)  He may go back to the spot from which he played the original shot and drop a ball as near as possible to the spot from which the original ball was last played (SPOT A). [The word near is a bit of a cloudy issue here, but rules officials generally regard that as within a 4 inch area no closer to the hole than that from which the original shot was hit.]
(3)  He might also choose to drop a ball behind the water hazard, “keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard (SPOT B) 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.

Is Woods bigger than the rules?
That is basically the question that a lot of folks are raising either directly or by innuendo. Frankly, I think they’re just dead wrong. They think Tiger Woods got favorable treatment by the rules guys and that is not correct. It was the rules administrators themselves who made the biggest error in this non-story and they, rather than Woods, should be blamed.

Tiger blew his drop and it was clearly illegal (against the rules). I sat up straight in my chair as I watched on TV and had two immediately feelings – one, that Tiger was dropping in an incorrect place; and, two, that Tiger must have known something about the rules that I did not. Was he mingling option 2 (above) with option 3, believing he could go back to the original spot and then drop as far behind as he wished? Whatever, he dropped in the wrong place and proceeded to play the shot. I was 99.9 percent sure that he had committed a rules violation!

Here’s where something went very wrong!
Now, after Tiger played his shot and after he finished his round, but before he signed his score card, the rules officials rushed to him and had a conversation with him. Here’s where something went very wrong. After that conversation the rules officials determined that Tiger had done nothing wrong and he was cleared to sign his card that indicated the 6 he had taken on the 15th hole. Bear in mind, now, that there is a penalty of disqualification for signing an incorrect score card. I am very surprised that the officials did not watch the exact videos of the drop itself.

In came the emails and telephone calls!
There are a surprising number of golfers out in TV land who know their golf rules. CBS and the Masters’ rules officials were inundated with calls and emails about the matter and they urged the officials to go and look at the drop on video. Finally, the officials did review the matter on video and they were able to determine that Tiger had indeed dropped the ball in a manner that is not permitted by the rules.

Should he have been disqualified for signing an incorrect score card?
This is the complex issue over which everyone has been getting their underdrawers all bunched up. Should Tiger have been immediately disqualified and eliminated from the competition?

Rule 33-7: The Committee; General
This is a rather new addition to the Rules of Golf. I’ve tried to find out just when and why it was added but I’ve so far been unsuccessful. It’s the first sentence of rule 33-7 that is applicable here: “A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.”
The rules officials who talked to Tiger after his round, but before he signed his card, should be considered, in this circumstance, to be the Committee referred to above. They told him, as I think they should not have, to go ahead and sign his card. In fact, they should all have looked at replays of the drop and they would have been able to see the violation of the rules immediately; and they (the Committee) could have invoked the 2 strokes penalty before Tiger signed his card.

The reason Tiger was not disqualified
Tiger was not disqualified because he followed the instructions of the Committee. Ernie Els may not like it and neither may Brandel Chamblee or David Duval, but Tiger was not and should not have been disqualified under the Rules of Golf. The Committee should have been penalized for handling the situation poorly and lunch should be withheld from them all day today (Sunday).

Should Tiger have voluntarily withdrawn?
Aha! If Shakespeare will forgive me, I’ll say: “That is the question!” I think it would have been masterful if he had (excuse the pun). I think it would have been Bobby Jones like (I’m sorry I don’t have the time to explain that to non-golfers). Yet, this is a decision that Tiger had to make on his own and only Tiger needs to deal with the issue. All others should refrain from making moral denunciations. By the pure rules of golf, Tiger received his penalty of two shots and also by the pure rules of golf he was not disqualified and should not have been.

I will not be shocked this morning if, when I turn the telly on, I find out Tiger has thought through the whole situation and has simply withdrawn from the remainder of the competition. I won’t either be surprised if he tees it up and plays and I will make no moral judgment, good or bad, either way. And, everyone else should refrain from moral judgments also.

“In the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester Country Club, (Bobby) Jones called a penalty upon himself, stating that his ball had moved when he addressed it. Nobody but Jones had seen the ball move, and the ensuing one-stroke penalty put him into a playoff with Willie Macfarlane, who beat him the next day.
“Later, when Jones was praised for his sportsmanship, he bristled.
“‘There’s only way to play the game,’ he said. ‘You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank as to praise him for playing by the rules.’”
                                                                                 [Don Wade, And Then Jack Said to Arnie…, 1991]

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