Achenbach: In defense of the Rules of Golf

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell on the 2nd tee during day one of the BMW PGA Championship.

Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell on the 2nd tee during day one of the BMW PGA Championship.

Golf is a game of elaborate and sophisticated rules. That being said, I challenge anyone to come up with a simpler version of these rules.

Graeme McDowell was penalized two strokes Thursday at the BMW PGA Championship because he inadvertently caused his ball to move and then he hit the ball without replacing it in its original position.

The outcries were many. The ball was perched on top of a bed of sticks. The situation was something like a game of Pick Up Sticks: McDowell was forced to identify and address the ball without moving it. He couldn’t do it.

When the ball moved, he was about 6 feet away, according to a later posting on McDowell’s Twitter account. The ball rotated slightly as he advanced toward it.

McDowell’s tweet: “Disappointing finish today. 2 shot penalty on the last. Attempting to check out my lie in trees I caused ball to move from 6 feet away.”

Welcome to golf. For those who say this is a ticky-tacky rule, I respond: How exactly would you change the rule?

Please keep in mind that altering any rule potentially can affect other rules, as well. Trust me: It isn’t as simple as saying a golfer must be in an address position before a ball-movement penalty can be assessed.

There have been plenty of high-profile rules violations that caused a stir among golfers and fans.

At the 2002 Genuity Championship at Miami’s Doral Country Club, Jesper Parnevik was penalized one stroke after his caddie tossed him his ball, which he fumbled and dropped on top of the coin he had used to mark his ball. Because the coin flipped over, and because the incident did not occur in the specific act of marking or replacing the ball, he incurred a penalty.

“Dumbest rule ever invented,” Parnevik said.

In 1991 at Doral, future Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger was disqualified because he failed to add a two-stroke penalty for kicking some coral while hitting a shot from a water hazard in the first round.

The infraction was reported by a television viewer the next day. “A tough pill to swallow,” Azinger said.

In 1997, Tom Lehman was the defending British Open champion. On the second green of the second round at Royal Troon, he moved his coin and then forgot to move it back. Add two, Tom.

The signing for scorecards has caused much anguish.

In one major championship, Jackie Pung won the 1957 U.S. Women’s Open but was disqualified an hour later because of a scorecard error (she signed for a lower score on one hole, but still would have won with the correct score).

In another major, Roberto De Vicenzo lost a spot in a 1968 Masters playoff with Bob Goalby because he signed for a higher score on the 17th hole of the final round. De Vicenzo, playing on his 45th birthday, made a birdie 3 and finished with a closing 65, although he signed for a par 4 and a 66.

Yet the rules are the rules. They are formulated by the R & A and the U.S. Golf Association. They are updated every four years. They are constantly fine-tuned through the Decisions on the Rules of Golf.

Occasionally the rules are modified for the benefit of players. Starting this year, for example, the penalty was removed from any situation in which the wind clearly causes a ball to move. The official language: “ ... when it is known or virtually certain that he (the player) did not cause the ball to move.”

Like it or not, McDowell caused his ball to move.

For golfers who balk at playing by the rules, here is proposition No. 1: Do not enter any tournaments.

And then there is proposition No. 2: Go out and organize an international committee dedicated to simplifying the rules. Oh, by the way: Good luck.

The reality is that golf is a complicated game and thus requires a complicated set of rules. Golfers do not have to play by those rules, although any kind of golf competition can be thorny and argumentative when players make up the rules as they go.

Here’s a suggestion: Play by the rules, accept the consequences, drink a beer, move on.

I suspect McDowell did all four.

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