When it Pays to Know the Rules

By: | Thu 08 Nov 2018 | Comments


GOLF prides Itself on its unwritten code of ethics, which is why there is always such a furore when a professional is caught breaking the rules. This is a game that has too many rules for its own good but that holds its head up for the way those who play it do so in the right spirit. We don’t cheat and we don’t tolerate those who do. It is simply unthinkable, all the more so because it is so very easy to do. It is taken as read that if you play this game then you do so by the rules.

From time to time, somebody is caught out, and what makes it all the more difficult to deal with is that many rules infractions are accidental. Others are not. Over the years there have been a number of high-profile incidents and the fact that they have made headlines only goes to prove how high are the standards that golf sets. If rule infringements were commonplace then we wouldn’t hear about it.

Here we look at a few of the controversies that have made the headlines.

Phil Mickelson US Open, Shinnecock Hills 2018

They call Mickelson Flaky Phil and sometimes it is all too easy to understand why. This is the man who, after the 2018 Ryder Cup, hit out at how difficult the course was and said he wouldn’t put himself through that again. He totally overlooked the fact that most of the European team, and many of his own teammates, managed to negotiate Le Golf National quite successfully. But that was as nothing when compared with the furore he caused at this 2018 US Open at Shinneocock Hills. Faced with a downhill putt on the 13th green during the third round, Mickelson struck the ball and then chased after it and hit it again while it was still moving. It was entirely deliberate and he did so because he knew the ball was going to roll off the front of the green. He was penalised. He should have been disqualified. He later said that he would do the same thing again. However, there was a huge outcry and he quickly changed his mind, saying that he regretted what he had done and would now never do the same thing again. Hmmmm.

Sung Kang, 2018 Quicken Loans National

Sung Kang shot what, at the time he entered the clubhouse, was the round of the day on the final day of the 2018 Quicken Loans National. Kang made six birdies and played both sides of the course in 32. The problem? His playing partner, Joel Dahmen, accused Kang of cheating during his round. The incident happened at the par-five 10th and the row between the two players became so heated that the pair behind them played through. Dahmen later went on Twitter and accused Kang of cheating. When Dahmen was asked what had happened, this is what he said: "It was a dispute about where or if it crossed the hazard. It clearly did not cross the hazard. We went back and forth for 25 minutes and he ended up dropping closer to the green. At that point there is nothing I can do. If I don't sign the card, a rules official will. I would just be delaying the inevitable.”

Simon Dyson, 2013 BMW Masters

The Yorkshireman was joint second after 36 holes of the BMW Masters when he was disqualified for signing for an incorrect score. His crime? He tapped down a spike mark. It was a huge deal at the time although most club golfers could not understand what all the fuss was about and when the new rules come into force in January 2019 players will finally be allowed to repair spike marks. Dyson should have been penalised two shots but because he failed to own up he was disqualified. And that wasn’t the end of the matter. The incident was reviewed after being reported by television viewers and Dyson was charged with a serious breach of the Tour's code of behaviour, a charge which was upheld when the Yorkshireman appeared before a three-person disciplinary panel at Wentworth. A disciplinary panel found that Dyson deliberately pressed down the spike mark to improve his position, despite knowing it was against the rules. Dyson said: 'It was only after I was shown the replay of my action after marking the ball on the eighth green during the second round that I realised what I had done and that I was in breach. I immediately accepted that I should be disqualified. My action was in no way a deliberate act with the intention of breaking the rules. It was simply an accidental mistake which I have no reservations in apologising for and particularly to my fellow professionals and the Tour for any inconvenience and embarrassment unintentionally caused.’

Dustin Johnson, 2016 US Open, Oakmont

The Dustinator had already fallen foul of the rules at the 2010 US PGA Championship when he grounded his club in a waste area at the 72nd hole - the problem was that all waste areas at Whistling Straits are regarded as bunkers. He was penalised and it cost him the tournament. And the rules came back to haunt him again at the 2016 US Open in the most farcical circumstances.  It happened during the final round at Oakmont. Johnson was leading at the time and when he addressed his putt on the fifth green there was huge debate as to whether or not he caused the ball to move. Obvlivious, Johnson holed out and moved on. He was informed later in his round that rules officials were reviewing the incident. Johnson was totally flummoxed but kept it together and went on to win by three strokes. And when he came off the final green he was given a one-shot penalty. These things just seem to have a habit of happening to Johnson.

Lexi Thompson, 2017 ANA Inspiration

Thompson has admitted that she has struggled with mental issues, and it all seems to date back to an unfortunate incident at the 2017 ANA Inspiration, the first women’s major of the season. Thompson had just played the 12th hole and was leading the tournament by two shots when she was approached by a rules official who informed her that she had been given a four-shot penalty because of a rules infraction committed the previous day. It meant that she was now two adrift of So Yeon Ryu. Unsurprisingly, Thompson was distraught. Incredibly, she birdied three of the final four holes and forced her way into a playoff. Sadly for Thompson, Ryu birdied the first hole and claimed the title. TV replays showed that when Thompson marked her ball on the 17th green during the third round she replaced it in a different spot. Somebody contacted the LPGA by email but it was not seen until the final round had begun.

David Robertson

David Robertson was a teenage Scottish prodigy of whom great things were predicted. He seemed to have the golfing world at his feet. He was a sensation as an amateur, sweeping all before him. But then he joined the paid ranks and he discovered that it was a totally different ball game. He struggle horribly. Perhaps he had believed his own publicity. But he found himself back in the limelight for all the wrong reasons when fellow players reported him for moving his ball on the green. Robertson didn’t just mark the ball and replace it a couple of inches closer to the hole - he moved it serval feet. And he did it repeatedly. It all ended in tears for him when he was banned from professional golf for life and had to live forever with the stigma of being branded as a cheat.

Kenny Perry, 2009 FBR Open

Perry is a devout Christian and a noted family man who has always been incredibly popular with fans and fellow players alike. But that didn’t prevent him from finding himself at the eye of a cheating storm during the first hole of a playoff at the 2009 FBR Open. He hit an approach that found its way into greenside rough. When Perry got to the ball it was barely visible to the naked eye. On-course commentator David Feherty described it thus: "Kenny has got a lie – it's a down-grain lie but there is a big clump of down-grain grass behind it.” Perry nestled his club behind the ball three times, at the end of which most of the ball had become visible. The entire thing was caught on video and can still be viewed if you search hard enough. Rule 13.2 clearly states: "A player must not improve or allow to be improved the position or lie of his ball ... by any of the following actions - pressing a club on the ground, moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed.” The PGA Tour’s rules officials look along and hard at the incident and decided that Perry had no case to answer because they decided he hadn’t deliberately tried to improve his lie.

Doris Chen, LPGA Qualifying 2018

Chen was playing at Pinehurst and attempting to gain her playing privileges to compete on the LPGA Tour in 2018-19. She came to the 17th hole and hit her drive way right. Everybody agreed that it was almost certainly out of bounds but when Chen arrived at her ball it was just in play so she addressed it, played her shot and carried on. She was later disqualified. Why? It turned out that the ball had indeed finished out of bounds, in somebody’s garden, and a spectator had kicked it back into play. Not just any old spectator mind you. Oh no. The person whom the finger of blame was aimed at was Chen’s mother. Chen later admitted that she had been told by the homeowner that somebody had put her ball back in play. Chen’s caddie, Alex Valer, told a slightly different story. He claimed that the homeowner had pointed to Chen’s mother and said it was her who put the ball back in bounds. Valer says he advised his player to call a rules official but she declined and when he brought it up with her again later she told him to keep quiet. Chen was disqualified after the LPGA spoke to the homeowner and Valer.


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