War Over New Rules Obscuring the Game
Rule changes occur once in a while, we all know that. And, from time to time, someone goofs up and incurs a penalty. In the old days, it didn’t happen so often that one might think it was the order of the day, but in the past few weeks, and in a sense the last couple of years, things are changing a bit. As one of several examples, Lexi Thompson went through a rash of oddball penalties within a short period of time, and the cost was more than incidental. I’ve met Lexi. She’s an intelligent person who is well aware of her professional environment. So, what was and is going on? Wish I could tell you. People are tripping over the rules, and showing an unusually public response.
For the moment, the PGA is having its turn. Some rule changes have come into effect, and players are doing their best to keep them in mind – not that many changes, not that difficult to remember, with one or two notable exceptions. Alex Cejka was disqualified from the Honda Classic for using a particular yardage book for the course. That, I assume, means that for the time being, yardage GPS is not sanctioned by the USGA . Actually, using a yardage book was not the problem. Someone walking by noticed that Cejka was using an old one, from the year before, resulting in a DQ. The information contained in the book is not the issue. What got Cejka kicked out was the size of the book, its dimensions. Apparently the rule is that 3/8 inch worth of graph must equal five yards of green – oh, brother.
Rickie Fowler made his unique contribution to the rules protest with a gesture in a hazard situation that stretched the concept of decorum. His beef is with the appearance of the new knee-height drop rule, as opposed to the shoulder-height drop from the past. Fowler made his case that while everyone wants to grow the game, we’re not going to do it by “making it look funny.” He was penalized a week ago in Mexico over a similar situation. His public ‘gesture’ caused a wave of USGA mocking throughout the field. I know that there was a golf tournament in there somewhere, and that a new guy won it. I just didn’t hear much about it.
Charles Schwartzel is the last guy to throw a fit, but when he was put on the clock for a reason that the player could not easily ascertain, he blew up at the official, on camera – looking good there, PGA and USGA. A few weeks back, Denny McCarthy was penalized for a caddie who stood behind him as he lined up a putt. The caddie walked away, and McCarthy broke stance and returned to line it up again. It didn’t matter. The penalty was called, although later rescinded. I didn’t catch whether the penalty was rescinded before the end of the tournament and when checks come out. I certainly hope so.
This week, Adam Schenk got the same penalty for the same thing. Unfortunately for Schenk, he did not break stance and readdress. Justin Thomas was furious over the matter, maintaining that there was no chance the caddie was lining up the putt. He is right that the lining up of a putt is unmistakable. Thomas tore into the rules and the USGA, who responded by inviting him to meet with the organization over twitter. Thomas has so far not complied by going to the principal’s office.
Those of us who are older grew up in a game of pristine social conditions, despite the tour having its share of offenders once in a while. However, maybe it’s time to admit it. Our day is done. The way people can act in public has changed, and the advent of social media enables a tsunami of conversation. In free societies, at least on the North American continent there is not way to stop it. Maybe it doesn’t matter what we think it should be. It has become what it has become, and there’s an end to it. I suppose that in time, the flap over the rules will settle down as the issue loses energy and is replaced by something else. Still, I wish that the conflict would move over to the side just a bit, so that I could watch the tournament.