Rules change in the golf world, and some unfortunate habits as well
The governing body of golf and its rules didn’t call me personally to tell me the news. However, they made it perfectly clear that I am no longer welcome to call in with my replay observations about anyone’s golf game. Apparently, the players and the course officials are the experts, and I am not. There was also a concern that I might favor a favorite player over a less favorite player. Now, it’s official. I can’t decide the Super Bowl or the Masters with my remote, sitting on my recliner. This all comes a little late for Lexi Thompson, who would have had double the good year otherwise. From now on, though, neither Lexi nor anyone else on the tour will hear about a multiple stroke penalty on something they did several holes or a round ago. Neither will they be disqualified from signing an ‘incorrect’ scorecard after going to the tent with what they thought was the latest information. The rules have been changed. It took a little while to update them, but it’s done.
Some golf writers blame what they refer to as the ‘demise’ of golf to becoming mired in ancient rules formulated by the overseer of the game. I agree with that view on a few points, but some go on to overhaul the game by throwing out its history, and encouraging a more robust style of public behavior. One suggests that we are “shackled” to Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan. Personally, I don’t feel shackled at all. I love golf’s history, and I love the quasi-reverence with which the old greats are approached. I love their stories and accounts of famous duels on 18 or cliff-hangers that come down to a single putt. I hold their technical advice in high esteem as well. Tour players still study and value them, so why shouldn’t I?
Another writer claims that the dignity and courtesy of the game doesn’t reflect the 21st century, and should also be updated. I agree, it doesn’t reflect the present. But, if I may add a second thought, it shouldn’t. I’m not objecting to a fist pump or a victory yell, as the author suggests. A fist pump is a reasonable physical reaction to a great moment. Jones and his group had counterparts to the gesture, although whether the understated Hogan did is unclear. Some people believe that manners and courtesy are fake because they don’t really reflect life the way it is. Life is, to some, barbaric, crude, and primal, so every human expression should reflect that. For me, men’s tennis was ruined for a time in this way. It became a reflection of certain players’ reality and life view, not mine. The dignity and courteous behavior of professional golf is not a cover-up. It is a reflection of what could and should be. The barbaric, crude and primal life can do better than that. If golf is a staunch defender of that idea, more power to it. It’s one of the reason we have rules, to keep things orderly, organized, equal, and respectful.
When everything that moves us is acceptable, and golf turns into a hockey game, complete with broken teeth and penalty boxes, I will abandon the game entirely. I won’t abandon hockey, because that’s the game’s natural personality, but render unto golf what is golf’s. When a kid of my generation buried his putter head in the green after a miss, he was thrown off the course. Perhaps we should change that to “Oh, he’s just expressing himself authentically.” Go ahead, chop at trees, throw and break clubs, swear at and downgrade your competitors if you think that’s a good reflection of real life. I’m going to shackle myself to the old masters who played the game on a higher level.
In the midst of that argument, we can at least applaud the USGA for moving forward with the rollback of rules that harmed players for no good reason. In short, you won’t have Lexi Thompson to kick around anymore. Perhaps other rules need to be addressed as well, but let’s leave it at that. Neither hockey nor golf needs any infusion from the other.