2006: Rule 35: Learn the previous 34

Lytham St. Annes, England

Imagine a lawyer heading into the Supreme Court not knowing the laws of the land. Or an accountant handling a big portfolio who has no knowledge of tax rules.

Wouldn’t happen, would it?

So why is it that so many professional golfers around the world have so little comprehension of the laws that govern the game from which they earn their living?

Secondly, why are there so many caddies who seem to lack even a working understanding of the rules?

Michelle Wie’s two-stroke penalty on the 14th hole during the second round of the Women’s British Open was the product of pure ignorance of the rules of golf – a lack of knowledge that is all too rife in our sport. She didn’t know she could not touch a loose impediment, a piece of moss, in a bunker with her backswing.

“I knew the moss was there but I thought it was all right if I swung through it,” she said.

Michelle Wie, meet Rule 13-4c.

A 16-year-old can be forgiven for such an error, for not knowing the rules intimately. There are players three times her age who haven’t the faintest idea of the rules, who probably never have opened a rule book in their lives.

“I’ve stopped being amazed by the number of players who call on me for the simplest of rulings,” John Paramor, the European Tour’s chief referee, once said. “Of course players should know the rules better. At the very least they should have even a basic understanding of the definitions. That alone would go a long way to helping them keep penalty shots off their cards.”

Wie was right when she said the 34 rules that govern the royal and ancient game “don’t make for great reading material.” Hey, spending long nights in law libraries reading case histories is not exactly paradise, but any lawyer worth his or her salt wouldn’t skip that part of the education.

Wie would do well to keep a copy of the rules on her bedside table for nighttime reading. If Annika Sorenstam, the world’s best female player, can partake in rules clinics, as she has done in the past, then the least Wie should do is study the tiny book every golfer should keep in his or her bag.

Her livelihood depends on it. Besides, two indiscretions in such a short career is enough of a warning.

Note to the William Morris Agency, which manages the teen sensation: Take $15.95 of the multimillions Wie is worth and purchase a copy of “Decisions on the Rules of Golf.” It has the complete rules, and enough case histories in the decisions to keep a 16-year-old occupied for all those lonely hours she will spend in five-star hotel rooms and on private jets.

And while her handlers are at it, they might want to buy a copy for her caddie, Greg Johnston. Wie can be forgiven for not knowing the rules given her age, but her experienced looper should have known better when he saw his player’s lie in the bunker beside Royal Lytham’s 14th green. That little piece of fauna should have triggered alarm bells in his head. After all, this is a guy with many years’ experience on the LPGA and who counts Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster as previous employers.

Johnston isn’t the first caddie caught blindsided by the rules of golf. Sadly he won’t be the last. Indeed the game is littered with incidents when caddies cost their employers dearly.

Think back to the 2001 Open Championship at the same course when Myles Byrne turned up on the first tee carrying 15 clubs in Ian Woosnam’s bag.

The hapless caddie failed in the most basic of caddie tasks: counting the number of clubs on the first tee to ensure there were no more than the allowed 14.

The two-shot penalty Woosnam incurred for carrying the extra driver Byrne discovered on the second tee may have denied the Welshman the title he covets most. (Woosnam tied for third.)

Last year, experienced bagman Joe Damiano cost his boss Stuart Appleby two shots in the WGC-NEC Invitational through ignorance of the rules. Appleby was granted a free drop from a cart path, but Damiano picked the ball up before it had rolled the stipulated two club lengths.

In 2004, Alastair MacLean, working for Colin Montgomerie, stood beside the 14th green of the Cengkareng Golf Club in Jakarta as Montgomerie dropped his ball approximately 2 feet from where it had originally come to rest before a rain delay. He said nothing. Montgomerie was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the incident stills hangs over the Scotsman’s head.

The list goes on and on.

Yes, the player ultimately is responsible for any actions he or she takes, but as partner, confidante and employee, the caddie has a duty – and surely a financial stake – to make sure the player acts in accordance with the rules at all times.

The bottom line: The level of ignorance among most players and caddies at all levels of the game when it comes to the rules of their sport is incredible, unbelievable and downright staggering.

Players spend hours upon hours honing their games, working with mind gurus and physical fitness instructors, trying everything to save one or two shots a round.

Then they lose shots through not knowing even the most basic of rules.

Doesn’t make sense, does it?






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