Lynch: Whining about new rules is not a good look for PGA Tour players

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Lynch: Whining about new rules is not a good look for PGA Tour players

19th Hole

Lynch: Whining about new rules is not a good look for PGA Tour players

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It is golf’s most threadbare cliché to say that the game reflects life — the need to play it as it lies, handle bad breaks, conduct oneself honorably. This blather about character and grit has kept the sport’s more indolent announcers and marketing executives employed for generations. But a more fitting allegory for this golf-as-life theme, at least in the professional ranks, may be our cry baby culture, the ceaseless bellyaching by those who break rules and then petulantly insist the rules are stupid anyway.

It’s a refrain now so familiar on the PGA Tour that some weeks rules officials-turned-nannies like Slugger White and Mark Russell get almost as much TV screen time as the winner.

To be fair, the moaning isn’t entirely without merit. Golf’s rule book is infamously Byzantine and often the source of uncertainty in high-stakes situations on Tour. A long overdue process began Jan. 1 when the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient introduced more than three dozen changes designed to simplify things. The chorus of complaints by Tour players began almost immediately and strengthens by the week.

The revisions made golf “a laughingstock,” said Adam Scott.

“I think they’re terrible,” Justin Thomas added before getting into it with the USGA.

Rickie Fowler made his opinion clear at PGA National during the Honda Classic when he took a ‘dump drop,’ reaching around to drop his ball from behind while squatting. Fowler was probably still smarting from the penalty he received a week earlier in Mexico for dropping from shoulder height in the old, outlawed manner. “It’s not doing any favors for our sport,” he said.

There’s clearly great fodder for debate in the new rules, from the wording to the rollout. The problem is that the time for debate was two years ago. In March 2017, the USGA announced a six-month feedback period during which anyone could offer input on the proposed revisions. More than 25,000 golfers did so. If Messrs. Scott, Thomas and Fowler had grave reservations, they had ample opportunity to register them.

The new rules were made public in March 2018 — nine months before they took effect. USGA officials attended player meetings and held one-on-one conversations at tournaments in advance of the rollout. Despite that outreach, plenty of players are peddling a narrative that blames their own ignorance on the USGA. It’s unsurprising. The blazers are the softest target in golf, portrayed as humorless scolds legislating all the fun out of the game.

I asked the USGA’s chief executive Mike Davis if he has wearied of the predictable attacks.

Ever judicious, Davis didn’t take the bait. “We want to continue to have a dialogue with the players and will continue to make an effort to that effect,” he responded. “We have an open door, a live phone and an ear for anyone who wants to weigh in or provide us with very valuable insight.”

The problem is that Tour players seem less interested in providing insight than in shifting blame.

Golf’s governing bodies are responsible for allowing the game’s bylaws to become an unwieldy, convoluted mess. But it’s not unreasonable to expect professionals who play for a living to be at least somewhat current on the rules, whether it be drop protocols or caddies lining them up.

If we find ourselves at the expensive end of a citation, we don’t get to shirk responsibility for our actions by pointing at legislators or law enforcement. Ignorance of the law, or contempt for the lawmakers, isn’t a defense. So next time we see a stampede to blame a rules fiasco on USGA ineptitude, reserve some scorn for the many players who just can’t be bothered to learn the rules governing their trade, who would rather have PGA Tour nannies nurse them through every scenario and absolve them of the cost of their own apathy.

 

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