Sep 20

Penalties, Round Two

More Thoughts About Penalties After the Ben Crane Incident

I read this morning that the fossilized USGA is finally modernizing the rule book. Naturally, I must temper my criticism of the grand old institution, as it really does do everything possible to preserve the integrity of the game. However, the weirdness of some of the rules must have come from a time when men didn’t have as much to do. It must have been written in a day where kilted members could sit around making 18 rounds of golf as tortuous as possible. And, theologically speaking, it was politically incorrect to call penalties on God, so we golfers down below were forced to bear them ourselves, even if we had nothing to do with it.

More research has taken me past the Ben Crane debacle, in which he amassed eight strokes worth of penalties for having sticker dots on two clubs to assist in data monitoring – although none was present. But about those modern updates by the USGA, including Decision 34-3/10 and limitations on video evidence. I hope that it will include “limitations on video evidence as seen by 20 handicappers sitting on couches far away.”

What I have learned since is that the USGA doesn’t rule the world. I knew that, but had never thought of it very much. Consider the case of Ryujii Imada at the Mission Hills Star Trophy event in China. Finding soft conditions, he moved his ball one club length away, which is generally the right thing to do over here. In China, however, the rule is one score card length away. That’s a matter of several inches at best, not a club length. Officials asked Imada how many times he had improved his lie so far in the round. He guessed at about 13, every hole he had played to that point. With a two-stroke penalty assessed retroactively, that came to 26 strokes worth of penalties. Imada finished with a 97 – ouch. That’s why we all have to be aware of ‘local rules’ if we’re going to go traveling.

Ray Floyd had an interesting time of it in the ’87 Players Championship. It’s not unusual for caddies to go on ahead, and Ray’s went forward about the distance he expected his guy to end up, and a few yards over into the rough. He put the bag down facing the tee box, and sure enough, Ray hit his drive into the bag. That’s two strokes right there. Later in the round, there was a rain delay, so Ray asked Seve Ballesteros if he could hit a few practice balls during the wait. It was no problem with Seve, but Ray apparently violated Rule 32-2C. That’s a “no practicing in a no-practice area” infraction – another two strokes.
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I cringe at the Jeff Maggett story of ending up in a bunker in the Masters, and having the ball hit him in the chest when he punched it out. Rule 19-2b came into effect, which effectively says that if the ball causes a concussion or worse, it’s your fault, and it’s your penalties. After all, you hit the thing. Oh, and being rushed to the hospital brings the slow play rule into effect – or is it, “leaving the course during play is an instant DQ?”

Brian Davis tried to hit a shot out of the water, and ran afoul of a ‘disturbing the environment’ rule. Apparently, you can stand in the water and give it a try, but if you cause the slightest rustle, it’s penalty time. Davis nicked a reed, and felt the wrath of the USGA. On that note, I have to ask – Why isn’t causing ripples disturbing the environment?

David Wicks had the strangest water hazard story of all. You have to continue to the next hole with your original ball, but Wicks couldn’t find it. On the way to the tee, it fell out of his pocket, hit his shoe and bounced into the lake. The rule being what it was, he prepared for deep sea diving and went in after it. He found twenty other balls, but never found the original. Another two strokes. I’m surprised that they didn’t hit him with multiple penalties, a DQ and tour suspension.

As I said, the USGA is doing a great job of preserving golf’s integrity, but there are a handful of things that elicit a giant “Oh, please!” Balls falling out of pockets, hitting one’s self…that sort of thing. Get rid of those penalties, and the overseer of pro golf will begin to look like a rational institution again. Then people like me won’t write silly things about them.

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