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Rules suck: that’s common knowledge

Play golf long enough and the rules will inevitably kick you where it hurts. It’s a fact. Forget what you may have heard about “making the rulebook work for you”. It doesn’t, no matter how much the R&A try to convince us otherwise. If you’re like me, you have suffered at the hands of a publication where commonsense occurs about as often as a non-Scottish Sky golf commentator correctly pronouncing the word “Gallacher” (although, to be fair, Richard Boxall has recently improved hugely in that department).

Indeed, I have to think my own experiences are fairly typical. Not only have I more than once inadvertently touched my ball at address, I managed on one memorable occasion to accumulate a four-shot penalty. There it was as I replaced my driver in the bag after making a nice wee birdie four in the monthly medal – the extra wedge I had been practising with the day before. Fifteen clubs. That’ll be two extra shots then. Did I have any intention of using that club that day? I did not. But the rulebook – in a game where honesty is supposedly so prevalent – doesn’t listen to reasonable argument and assumes such obvious forgetfulness is instead deliberate cheating.

Odd, isn’t it? That, however, was nothing compared to the shafting I received during a tournament round at the Killermont club in Glasgow. My playing partner and I both drove into the left rough on a par-four. He found his ball and duly dispatched it onto the green. Mine, sadly, never came to light. So I trudged back to the tee and drove again.

Up on the green, I was marking my second ball when my pal sheepishly announced he had actually played my first ball. Cue confusion. While the applicable ruling for Fraser Dunsmore (no, I haven’t forgotten you!) was straightforward enough, what should I do in these circumstances?

Despite having what I thought a pretty good case – how could I have found my ball when it was already on the green? – I got nowhere with the pompous guy in the blazer. Which struck me as really unfair. But then, when has “fairness” ever been part of golf? Not often where the rules are concerned. There have, of course, been many much more high-profile screw-ups over the years. Way back in 1968, for example, Roberto de Vicenzo was outrageously deprived of an opportunity to take part in a Masters play-off against Bob Goalby. I say “outrageously” because the penalty applied had nothing to do with golf and everything to do with arithmetic. The birdie de Vicenzo recorded on the 71st hole – one witnessed by millions around the world – was magically turned into a par because the man marking the Argentine’s card, Tommy Aaron, wrote down ‘4’ instead of ‘3.’

That was bad enough, but Goalby missed the opportunity of a lifetime that day. Had he refused to accept the verdict of the rules pedants and insisted on a playoff with the man who had shot the same score over 72-holes, one of two things would have resulted 24 hours later. Think about it. Goalby would have been hailed as Masters champion and sportsman of the century, or just sportsman of the century. Either has to be better than living the rest of your life as the only Masters winner with an asterisk next to your name.

Then there was the Mark Roe farce during the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. Georges. Because he and his playing partner, Jesper Parnevik, failed to swap cards, Roe was disqualified because his (legitimate) score was on the wrong piece of paper. How stupid is that? I’ll tell you how much. Had Parnevik – who shot 81 to Roe’s 68 – not beaten the Englishman on just one of the 18 holes, Roe could have played on with 81 after his name rather than the score he actually shot. Think about that for a minute. And then tell me such a ludicrous scenario makes any kind of sense, common or otherwise.

The rules should stick to golf and not get involved in other stuff. When Rory McIlroy was penalised in Abu Dhabi back in January, he was guilty only of inattention. The young Irishman knew the rule when his ball finished on a crosswalk deemed “ground under repair”. And he applied that rule correctly, apart from not noticing his left foot was partly covering the white paint marking the boundary of the GUR. A two-shot penalty for a “foot fault?” What has that got to do with golf? Not much surely.

One last thing. When an understandably hacked-off McIlroy was heard to say he has “better things to do” than study the rulebook, he let himself down. Like every player, the former US Open and PGA champion has a duty to learn at least the most commonly used rules, if only to speed up play. But he has a point, too. Why bother knowing the rules when that knowledge isn’t necessarily going to help when things go awry?

Which is where we came in. Take it from me, no matter how much or how little you study golf’s convoluted regulations, they will get you in the end. It’s a rule.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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