Dawson opens up on McIlroy, Tiger, Rio and rules

R&A CEO Peter Dawson

R&A CEO Peter Dawson

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Expect a number of golf’s important issues to be settled very soon. That’s the message from R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.

Rory McIlroy’s decision on whether or not to play in the 2016 Olympics for Ireland or Northern Ireland could soon be taken out of his hands. The Rules of Golf may be simplified to ensure Tiger Woods’ favorable ruling at Augusta does not become contentious in the future. The Olympic Course in Rio de Janeiro will be completed in time. Finally, Vijay Singh’s fate also could be decided very soon.

As for anchoring, the issue is discussed weekly between the R&A and U.S. Golf Association, and a decision will be made this year, although Dawson would be no more specific than that.

In a frank and open discussion in his office in the Royal & Ancient clubhouse, Dawson covered a number of topics. He seemed to think the above issues would be settled shortly.

McIlory’s quandary is that he was born in Northern Ireland and should compete for the United Kingdom in the 2016 Olympic Games. However, he played amateur golf for Ireland since the Golfing Union of Ireland is in charge of all of Irish golf, north and south of the border. McIlroy also played for Ireland in the World Cup of Golf.

Needless to say, given the politics in the Irish isle, the World No. 2 is in a no-win situation. McIlroy has said he will not hurry to make a decision, but Dawson thinks he may not have to make the choice.

“I think because Rory’s history of playing for Ireland at amateur level and at World Cup level, that there may be a regulation within the Olympic rules that would require him to stay with that,” Dawson said. “It’s quite ambiguous really, but there is a rule that a player who has represented one nation at a previous world championship from certain countries, that carries with you.”

The R&A secretary wants to see clarification soon to ease McIlroy’s situation. “I would very much like to take this burden of choice away from the player if we can possibly do it because it’s not fair to him. The last thing we want is players worrying about this.”

Dawson revealed that the R&A and USGA are looking at simplifying the rules in light of Woods’ controversial ruling at Augusta, when he belatedly was assessed a two-stroke penalty for an improper drop in the second round and not disqualified. Both bodies are due to make a joint statement on the Woods ruling soon, but they also are looking at the bigger picture.

“This whole issue of complexity of the rules is important. We are actually doing a study at the moment with the USGA and the professional game to see if we feel the rules can be materially simplified. The group working on that is just about to come to a conclusion about whether we can go forward with that, and there is a lot of excitement about it.”

That’s music to the ears of those who say the Rules of Golf are too complicated.

Dawson revealed that there are no remaining issues with the site of the Olympic Golf course in Rio. “This weekend all the permits needed were issued to allow course construction. Rio 2016 has to provide the site of the games, and it has been a worry with all the delays, but now we can hopefully crack on.”

As for Vijay Singh, his case should be heard within a couple of weeks.

“The R&A were very keen to get anti-doping policies into golf. The body that has done most testing in golf is the U.S. Tour, and the deer antler spray (which contains a banned substance Singh admitted to taking) would have only been found by blood test. I’ve read medical opinion that taking that spray gives you absolutely no chance of increasing performance, but nonetheless it’s a banned substance.

“The process that we’re going through with Vijay Singh, or rather the PGA Tour is, is taking a long time. I understand that it’s in the appeal stage and the time limit on that runs out in the next couple of weeks. So we should be hearing about some sort of determination quite soon. That‘s unofficial, but it’s a matter for them to say that.”

Dawson said no one needs worry that there are other Vijay Singh cases on the horizon. “I genuinely believe that golf is a clean sport, but we cannot be complacent. I hope I’m not wrong in that.”

Let’s hope he’s not wrong on the other hot topics in golf either. There are quite a few of them.

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