Club Damage and Rule 4-3b

South African Lee-Anne Pace Runs Afoul of Rule 4-3b, Disqualified

The nature of the modern rules of golf, if they truly reflect the old Scots who got it going in the west, should shed some light on the type of thinking that started the whole thing. Were the golf pioneers crusty old men playing in pastures, giving mulligans, using foot wedges, and playing by a heavy dose of winter rules? Did they make the game into the strict business that it is today, or did the emergence of an organization take their crude efforts, and whip them into shape? The way in which we speak of them suggests a high priesthood in tams out doing golf’s holy work, but is that who they really were?  If you break clubs, which was a lot easier then, the breach of etiquette doesn’t generally get you thrown out of a tournament these days. Maybe throwing one’s clubs in the lake or chopping down a favorite tree with a two-iron would, but the general punishment for bad behavior is fairly mild, if it comes to anything at all. However, to damage a club outside of normal play, such as striking a tree or stake with it, and then using it again brings Rule 4-3b into play, and that’s a different story. South African LPGA pro Lee-Anne Pace invoked Rule 4-3b in the PGA Championship a week ago, and was disqualified from the tournament, sent packing. It made me wonder what the old Scots would have thought of such an action. Not only can you not use the damaged club again, but to make matters worse, you can’t replace it.  There’s no “get me another wedge” to the caddie. There’s no “It’s ok, I have another one in the car.”

Rule 4-3b appears to me as one of those leftover antique directives that applies a double-punishment for a penalty one has already self-imposed. True, the damaged club is the fault of its owner, but so is hitting it in the lake or anything else that costs one or two strokes. By your own hand, you are now minus a sand wedge. Get in the bunker again, and you’re sunk. But, what if the club still works, at least a little bit. It took Pace two or three shots to realize that it was damaged. Making a good shot with a damaged club is self-penalizing enough on one level. Serves you right, no additional penalty strokes required.
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Brooke Henderson broke her wedge in half, so there’s no question of trying to use it again. She detoured Rule 4-3b completely, so no penalty. There are other ways to hit a wedge shot, and the pros are all well-trained in all of them. What used to be called “bump and run” with a 7 or 5, or a modified stance nine-iron will make do in a pinch. But what if the offending, or offended, club is the putter? It’s such a specialized instrument, and any alternative could represent a danger to the putting surface. I suppose that the logical alternative to a putter that can’t be used again is a low loft iron. As a kid, I joked around putting with my two-iron, and it sort of worked, but I wouldn’t want the Open to hinge on it.

So, how did edicts such as Rule 4-3b come into being? I can’t help but think that the old Scots had no problem with “Hand me another stick, laddie,” but maybe I’m wrong. If their habits are channeled into the modern rules, they apparently had few qualms about losing their temper, but couldn’t abide an abused club that suddenly doesn’t conform to code. I personally believe that to see a pro finish a round with the bent club, especially a putter, would be hilarious, and a fitting consequence to a tantrum. In the Mikado, a Chinese potentate suggests the criminal punishment of playing pool with eliptical billiard balls. In that spirit, perhaps being required to drive or putt with a 40 degree bend in the shaft would add a whole extra challenge to a pro’s improvisational skills. Who knows, maybe Pace might would have figured out how to hit that wedge effectively. In any case, it would be more fun to let her stay and try.

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