VIRGINIA WATER, England — How far do you have to be from a ball before you are deemed to have caused it to move? If you know the answer, then please let Graeme McDowell know.
The Northern Irishman is the latest to fall foul of golf’s complex, and often perplexing, rules.
McDowell returned a 2-over 74, but it should have been 72. At least those who believe in fairness will think it should be a 72. Defenders of golf’s rigid code will think otherwise.
McDowell hit his tee shot into the right hand trees on Wentworth’s 18th hole. He entered the brush to identify the ball and thought it might have moved as he approached it. He chipped out of the trees and then told a roving TV commentator he thought it might have moved.
After chief referee John Paramor reviewed the TV footage, McDowell was assessed a two-shot penalty for breach of rule 18-2. The six he thought he made on the hole suddenly became an eight.
“TV footage has showed that the ball has literally rotated a couple of dimples,” McDowell said. “Because I didn’t attempt to replace the ball, it’s a two-shot penalty.”
The ruling once again calls into question the rigidity of the rules of golf. McDowell had not addressed the ball and was in no position to do so. It begs the question, how could he have caused the ball to move from that distance away.
“I was literally 10 feet away. Looking back, I’m not sure what I could have done. The ball was perched until I got 10 feet from it. At that point it was too late. Just kind of one of those freak scenarios in golf.”
McDowell has to hold his hands up and claim some responsibility because he didn’t immediately call in a referee. Had he done so the rules official would have advised him to replace the ball, thereby incurring just a one-shot penalty instead of two.
However, the question is wider. Should McDowell have been penalized in this situation? As he said: “I’m not even close to my address position and I’ve caused the ball to move.
“It’s a funky rule, not exactly something that happens every day.”
McDowell received a bit of sympathy from Ernie Els. “Graeme just walked in and the ball moves, and he’s not addressing it. These rules are funny.”
And often unfair. This case begs the question how close do you have to be to incur a penalty if the ball moves? Ten feet obviously, but what about 15 or 20 feet?
Fair enough if McDowell kicked something that bounced into the ball and caused it to move. He didn’t. Who’s to say the ball just moved because of the sheer weight of gravity?
I’m all for the rules being enforced to protect the field and the game’s integrity, but sometimes they can be a bit too penal. This is one of those times.