Sunday, 19 April 2009

After the Masters – the Harrington and McIlroy Incidents

The dust has settled on another wonderful Masters at Augusta National, surely the best golf tournament of the year. Or, is it that I am biased because, for those who play our golf in Europe, it signals the start of a new golf season after the long winter months?

You will no doubt be familiar with the two major Rules incidents, both concerning Irish stars, which occupied so much of the print space before the enthralling last few holes of the fourth round and the 3-way play-off that followed. Padraig Harrington, having consulted both the Referee accompanying his match and the senior Rules Official who was then called in, penalised himself one stroke, because his ball had moved after he had addressed it, even though the movement was obviously caused by the gusty wind blowing around the course. Rory McIlroy avoided disqualification when, having been interviewed late in the evening by the Masters Committee, it was determined that he had earlier ‘smoothed’ the sand in a bunker, prior to taking his second stroke out of that bunker, rather than ‘kicking’ it in frustration, which would have incurred a penalty under Rule 13-4.

I do not see any benefit in contributing further to the detail of these two incidents. If you are not familiar with the circumstances, especially the McIlroy ruling, I recommend that you check out Rory/Padraig Rules issues. On this occasion, what I prefer to focus on is the wider issue of how strictly the Rules of Golf should be applied by those of us that do not play golf for a living, or are involved in the higher echelons of the amateur game. I perceive that there are two main lines of reasoning on this subject. The hard-line view is that if you ignore any Rule of Golf (or Decision on the Rules) you are not playing golf, because it then becomes arbitrary as to which ones you are going to abide by and which ones you are going to ignore. Every player will have a view on where to draw this line, leading to controversy, confusion, and occasionally even conflict. Others will say that the vast majority of golfers are merely playing the game for entertainment, exercise and enjoyment and so the participants shouldn’t get fixated on the finer details of the Rules, which most players are not aware of anyway. As a Rules aficionado, I face this dilemma almost every round of golf I play. Should I interject every time I see a Rule breached, or about to be breached, or should I keep silent, therefore exposing myself to the risk of being disqualified for ignoring a breach of Rule in stroke play (Decision 33-7/9)? My attitude has softened over the ten plus years that I have studied the Rules. Initially, I was of the opinion that every single breach, should be penalised on every occasion and that this would result in players taking the Rules more seriously, with the consequence that they would then bother to learn and understand them. Now I am not so sure and have definitely been guilty of not reporting minor breaches that I have witnessed as a marker or fellow competitor, even in competitions. I hasten to add that I have only done this when the person involved is not in a position to figure in the prizes, and yes, I do realise that this may have an effect on their playing handicap, but only in as much as they might not get .1 of a stroke back for having a worse score due to the penalties being added. I find that discussing the situation after the round is over is just as useful in spreading knowledge on the Rules and avoids frustration, and possible friction, on the course for both the player and for me. Of course, I keep such incidents to myself after the round if I'm the one that has a chance of a prize, as I wouldn't want to be disqualified for ignoring another competitor’s Rules infraction! As a Rules Official once told me when discussing this poser, “Players who are ignorant of the Rules are a different case. Some are new to the game, and know that they need help - they rarely cause problems and are happy to learn. But some are seasoned veterans, and then I have to ask myself, is it worth trying to change their ways, and can it be done in a friendly manner? If the answer to either question is, ‘Maybe not’”, then silence is golden”.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes
rules at barryrhodes dot com

You can follow me as 999Q

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