|US Senior Golfer, Pete Oakley|
Probably the strangest ruling of the year, so far, occurred at the Senior Open Championship at Turnberry last week. Most of us have lost balls in the rough but it is not often that a caddie is lost in the rough and their player gets penalised for it. American, Pete Oakley incurred a two-shot penalty for mislaying his caddie, Jennifer Oakley, who also happens to be his wife.
As Pete walked back to play his drive on the 13th tee, Jennifer walked on down the fairway to ball-spot. While waiting she took shelter from the wind behind a toilet. Hearing a ball land in nearby rough she started searching for it. A few minutes later she realised that the golfer searching alongside her was definitely not her husband, nor was it his fellow competitor. Meanwhile, Pete was standing at a bunker on the other side of the fairway, where his drive had landed, wondering where she was. After waiting a few minutes for her to arrive with his clubs he started back towards the teeing ground. When he got there he surprised the spectators by asking, “I’ve lost my wife – have you seen her?”
Andy McFee, European Tour senior referee, takes up the story;
“One of our rules officials spotted Pete walking back to the 13th tee. Assuming he had lost his ball, he went to pick him up in his buggy. But when he got to him, Pete said: ‘I’ve lost my caddie.’ Pete stood by the bunker for a good two or three minutes. Then he spent a couple of minutes wandering back to the tee, then another good couple of minutes for the rules official to go and get the caddie from the 10th and bring her back. So all in all it was at least seven minutes. That’s as clear a breach of the undue delay rule as you can get, so a penalty of two strokes was applied.”Part of Rule 6-7 states;
The player must play without undue delay and in accordance with any pace of play guidelines that the Committee may establish. Between completion of a hole and playing from the next teeing ground, the player must not unduly delay play.Pete Oakley, who won the Senior British Open Championship in 2004, finished his round shooting 83. He was suitably philosophical about his wife’s disappearing act when he commented,
PENALTY FOR BREACH OF RULE 6-7: Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes. For subsequent offense – Disqualification.
"I might not have been laughing so much about it if the two-shot penalty had seen me miss the cut".
Golfer Faces €½ million Debt for Legal CostsI usually try to avoid commenting on handicapping issues as, unlike the Rules of Golf, which are unified across the world, handicapping systems vary considerably between national golf organisations. However, there was an important decision made in Dublin’s High Court last week, which will have many handicapping secretaries around the world sighing with relief. Thomas Talbot, a 75-year-old retired insurance official, was suing his Golf Club, its handicap subcommittee chairman at the time and the Golfing Union of Ireland, claiming his reputation was damaged after his handicap was reduced by 7.7 shots between 1999 and 2004, on the grounds that he was "handicap building". The 21-day case was heard back in February but was only struck out last Friday, a nervous wait of over five months for all those involved.
The judge found that the words ‘handicap building’, in the notice advising Talbot of his handicap adjustment, were defamatory and said any reasonable and well-informed golfer would fairly conclude he was being accused of consciously and deliberately inflating his handicap, to give himself an unfair advantage in the game by misrepresenting his true playing ability. However, because he was also satisfied the words were not published to any third party, which is a requirement for a document to be libellous; the judge dismissed the claim of libel. The certificate of his adjusted handicap was addressed to Mr Talbot only and was contained in a sealed envelope left for him in the men’s competition room.
Talbot resigned from the Club that he was suing some time ago, apparently because there were few members willing to play with him, and he has since joined another Dublin Club.
This sad story may not yet be over, as Talbot, who represented himself throughout the court case, says that he cannot afford to pay the defendant’s legal fees.
"I certainly haven't a tuppence to rub together. It has to be appealed because I can't afford €500,000 costs in a case I should have won.” He continued, "I am appealing to the Supreme Court on Monday on the basis there are arguments in fact and in law that are in dispute. I was aware that costs generally go with the judgment; I was aware of that risk from the outset."In a short statement on the Golfing Union of Ireland’s web site they say,
" While the GUI is happy that the High Court has vindicated its position in finding against Mr Talbot, it is a matter of great regret to the GUI, a voluntary organisation, that it became embroiled in High Court proceedings, which it maintained at all times were entirely unmeritorious and which it had no option but to defend in the circumstances.”For those that are interested there is more detail at this Irish Times link.