Stuffed Shirts Make Golf Look Ridiculous

I have always held The Masters in the highest esteem. I am as enthralled by its traditions as anyone. I am a big fan of Bobby Jones and revere anything connected with his memory. But the pompous millionaires who have hijacked the year’s first major make it increasingly painful to watch.

I can’t believe Bobby Jones would have agreed with the racist and sexist policies that prevailed at Augusta National Golf Club until very recently. And now that the “southern gentlemen” have relented and allowed Condi Rice – imagine that, a black woman! – to join  their precious club, their dumb rules are making golf look ridiculous.

I’ve accepted their limits on the amount of TV we get to watch, and who can ask what and when. And I’ve put up with the windbags who interrupt play with obsequious tributes to Augusta National Golf Club and everyone who was ever connected with it.

But when they impose their nonsense on the game itself, they’re walking on the fighting side of me.

Of course, it’s not just Augusta that makes golf seem stodgy.

Some of the rules inflicted on golfers by the stuffed shirts who take it upon themselves to police the sport are patently absurd to begin with. And the way the rules are sometimes implemented make the game seem fit only for pedantic old men with fat wallets.

Take, for example, Craig Stadler’s disqualification at the 1987 Andy Williams Open. The Walrus had his second-place check ripped up because some jerks in the TV audience pointed out he had illegally “built his stance” by using a towel to protect his trousers when he knelt to play a ball that had rolled under a shrub. And Dustin Johnson, who lost the PGA Championship a couple of years ago because he grounded his club in a patch of sand that spectators had been walking and sitting in all week. Dustin later found out the scruffy area was designated as a bunker by the folks at the club.

And why on earth should you be penalized if the breeze rolls your ball while you are trying to putt? Or for moving a leaf that blows over your ball while it’s in a bunker? Or for moving a ball out of a divot in the middle of the fairway?

Perhaps the most infuriating rule is the one that cost Roberto De Vicenzo the 1968 Masters championship. He was booted because he casually signed his card without noticing his playing partner had recorded the wrong score – a higher score – on a hole.

There’s a new rule that opens the door to equally spurious rulings – the one about slow play. Sure, slow play is a curse. I hate standing around waiting for some duffer to plumb-bob a putting line. And it is true that slow playing pros set a bad example. But the cure can be worse than the disease. This dangerously subjective rule was applied in the most churlish way at this year’s Masters.

It cost 14-year-old phenom Guan Tianlang (pictured above with Tiger)  a stroke in yesterday’s second round, and I can’t imagine anything more distasteful. The kid was trying to figure out one of the craziest courses in the world, and it’s unthinkable that some fat bully of a rules official would harass him.

Just as annoying – to me, anyway – was the 2-stroke penalty imposed on Tiger Woods. First the disclaimer: If Tiger wasn’t playing,  I probably wouldn’t be watching. It wouldn’t be The Masters without the world’s number-one golfer, so I wouldn’t care who gets the Green Jacket. So you can imagine how teed off I was when he hit a picture-perfect shot to the 15th green and saw his ball ricochet off the flag stick and roll into a pond.

Why is the flag stick considered part of the course, anyway? Left to me, it would be in the same category as a power line. If the darned thing obstructs your ball, you should get to take the shot over.  It’s not considered part of the course when you putt; you have to take it out of the hole. If you hit it with a putt, you’re penalized.

Tiger accepted his bad break and played another shot. He hit it within inches and sank the putt for a  bogey. It was not until later that he became aware he might have broken Rule 27-1, which states that “a player must drop the ball as near as possible” to its original position. Apparently, he dropped it a few feet farther out.

Rules regarding water hazards are quite complex. If the hazard is identified by yellow stakes, for example, you must execute a different protocol than the rigamarole decreed for hazards bounded by red stakes. It’s enough to confuse anyone, even Tiger Woods. Especially when he’s still in shock from the rotten break he just got.

The Augusta Golf Club big shots took a look at the “infraction” and assessed a one-stroke penalty against Tiger. Then they took a second look and decided he had signed “an incorrect” score card so they disqualified him. Then they took yet another look (at the potential effect on TV ratings?) and reinstated him with a 2-stroke penalty.

I don’t think the myriad golfers that pack the world’s courses on a holiday weekend play by the arcane rules that supposedly govern the game. In fact, I know we don’t. And, I have news for the big shots who think they can dictate how the game is played: if you keep making ridiculous rulings, we might stop watching your tournaments.

I know I’m sitting here letting off steam, when I would normally be glued to the TV.

Click here to see Tiger’s bad break.