John Renslow: Rules are fine, as long as they’re equitable.
Get Into Golf
Rules of Golf – Rule 1-4: If any point in dispute is not covered by the Rules, the decision should be made in accordance with equity.
Now, recently, we learned that ignorance is not bliss when it comes to the Rules of Golf. Just two weeks ago, Dustin Johnson missed out on a chance to win the PGA Championship after being penalized two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker.
Yet, some rules, even if we know them, likely qualify as legalistic. Case in point, less than a week after Johnson’s oversight, Julie Inkster was disqualified for using a weight on her golf club as she kept loose between holes.
Here is the scenario; making the turn after playing nine holes, the 10th was backed up 30 minutes. This is a long wait for anyone, but for those who are receiving letters from the AARP (Inkster is 50), it might take a while to get things moving again. So, Inkster takes a small weight from her bag (a so-called ‘donut’) and places it on the shaft of her club in order to warm-up following the delay.
She goes on to play the back-nine and completes her round. However, in the tunnel on her way to the scoring room, a Rules Official informs her that she has been disqualified for a breach of Rule 14-3. A television viewer had seen the infraction and alerted tournament officials via e-mail.
We have two intriguing issues here. First let’s look at the rule. According to the Rules of Golf – 14-3; “Except as provided in the Rules, during a stipulated round the player must not use any artificial device or unusual equipment, or use any equipment in an unusual manner; a. That might assist him in making a stroke or in his play; or b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play; or c. That might assist him in gripping the club … Penalty for Breach of Rule 14-3: Disqualification.”
Okay, so Julie is trying to stay loose and puts a ‘weighted training aid’ (aka donut) on her golf club and makes several swings. The Rules of Golf state that ‘the player must not use any artificial device’. The rule is strict, yet the rule is clear.
“The rules staff here made the decision on the rule and we took it one step further and called the USGA,” Witters said. “We would have loved to have some wiggle room on that. But it’s pretty cut and dried. Being the professional she is, there wasn’t much to say once the decision was read.” (espn.com)
There have been a number of situations over the years that will make you feel like a player got the short end of the stick, that life and golf sometimes aren’t fair. When Craig Stadler is penalized for kneeling on a towel, rather than get his pants wet, it just doesn’t seem quite right. When Michelle Wie is disqualified for leaving the scoring area without signing her scorecard, it just seems a bit legalistic.
The real question is; do these actions assist the game? Does the weight on Inkster’s club change her round? Inkster issued a brief statement. “I had a 30-minute wait and I needed to loosen up,” she said. “It had no effect on my game whatsoever, but it is what it is. I’m very disappointed.”
Consider this, if she had pulled three clubs out of her bag, held them together, and made a few practice swings, the result would be the same. She was just looking for some weight, like a baseball player using a weighted donut in the on-deck circle.
Like a poor call from an umpire or referee, you just hate to see the outcome of a game or match decided by a technicality.
Next, the call is made by someone who is not even involved in the match. A bystander e-mails in their proverbial two-cents. Over the last several years, this type of input has impacted a number of players. Is this just?
Imagine, you’re watching Monday Night Football and your team is down by two points. Your kicker sends the ball through the uprights and your team is up by one.
But wait. The official flips open the cell phone. It’s LeRoy in Detroit. There were too many men on the field. You lose. Is this fair?
Since 1744 the Rules of Golf continue to be developed and improved. It would seem that if equity is the goal, a few more changes might be in order.
Every two years, the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in Scotland (writer of the original rules) review the Rules of Golf. Situations just like Julie’s will be scrutinized and perhaps the rule will be amended.
This is good for the game and, if nothing less, equitable.
John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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