Don’t expect onslaught of penalties to stop

Dustin Johnson (center), Sarah Brown (lower left), Erynne Lee (upper right) and Juli Inkster (lower right) have all been at the center of rules discussions this year.

“The Rules of Golf are your friend.”

Rules officials say this all the time, as if the rules were a walking, talking guardian with the gift of intervention: “Whoa, pardner; I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Friend, eh? This has been the summer of rules discontent. Ask amateur Erynne Lee and pros Sarah Brown, Dustin Johnson and Juli Inkster how they feel about their “friend” now that they’ve had time to reflect.

Lee, Brown and Inkster were disqualified for separate rules infractions, and Johnson was hit with a two-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship.

All four of these rulings were controversial. Brown, wrongly disqualified in a Duramed Futures Tour event, was a victim of overzealous rules officials. Lee, Inkster and Johnson were bushwhacked by sphinxlike rules.


Lee played 37 holes, winning a playoff for a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open, only to be disqualified for using what was erroneously deemed to be a nonconforming wedge after a rules official elected to check her grooves, but not those of others, for conformity.

Inkster, forced to wait 30 minutes between nines of an LPGA tournament, warmed up near the 10th tee with a weighted attachment on her club. This rules violation was spotted by a TV viewer.

Johnson assumed an unkempt sandy area, trampled by spectators, was a sandy spot in the soil and not a bunker. Add two for grounding that club.

This avalanche of penalties is unlikely to stop any time soon. Why?

Because the rules are lengthy and complex.

Because rules pertaining to golf clubs are now front and center in the witches’ brew of modern golf legislation.

Because officials sometimes make mistakes in interpreting and administering the rules. 

Forget about a rules revolution, or a restructuring of the rules. Golf, out of necessity, needs a far-reaching set of rules. The game has no standard field, court or arena. It is played in the midst of nature and all of its unpredictable elements.

Argue as we might against the nearsightedness of the rules, Inkster and Johnson have no excuse. Inkster is a three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner and seven-time major champion. Johnson admitted he did not read the sheet of local rules handed to all competitors.

Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be rules dummies. It is time for all golfers to remain seriously on guard. It is time to regard the rules as a potential enemy, not a friend.

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