Shackelford: LPGA rule violation speaks to larger issue in modern golf culture

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Shackelford: LPGA rule violation speaks to larger issue in modern golf culture

LPGA Tour

Shackelford: LPGA rule violation speaks to larger issue in modern golf culture

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Brewing beneath the surface of golf’s latest rules brouhaha is yet more evidence that the spirit of the rules are woefully misunderstood by some calling themselves professionals.

Christina Kim witnessed what used to be known as blatant cheating — a player asking a caddie for another golfer what club they hit. She reported it after the round, the LPGA ruled correctly and now two players have missed out on getting their cards. One deservedly, one not.

Sadly, for the player blissfully unaware her caddie was helping another player — Dewi Weber — this led to her Q-Series downfall even as she did nothing wrong. Fortunately for the spirit of the rules, the player unaware of a basic tenet of competition lost her card. Kendall Dye now has time to read up on the most basic guidelines that govern how the game is played.

The Rules of Golf can be cruel, as they were in this case for Weber, who trusted her caddie to know you don’t openly share information with players other than your own. And for Kim, who had to be wondering how oblivious her playing partner had to be to so brazenly ask the opposition for advice, she is now unfairly getting blowback for reporting a very basic and simple rules violation.

That’s pathetic. A professional golfer or caddie at an event as significant as qualifying school must be aware such information sharing is a no-no. More likely, this is another sign of the bizarre, we’re-all-in-this-together mindset in modern competitive golf.

Remember backstopping? The oddball practice of players chipping up to the hole and leaving their ball down under the guise of speeding up play? It was all very much a spirit of the rules breach that morphed into a blatant rules violation when some subtle changes were made to the 2019 Rules of Golf. Backstopping started on the PGA Tour innocently as a pace of play gesture at Riviera’s diabolical 10th green, and it morphed into a you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours-if-the-opportunity-arises gesture that became an expected act of generosity in pro golf’s buddy culture.

That practice has all but stopped thanks to the revised language and after Ariya Jutanugarn left a ball down in Thailand, leading to Amy Olsen giggling all the way to a virtual tap-in. Olson was around the top of the leaderboard, and the episode became a spectacle by exhibiting how the practice looked when seen in high-profile fashion.

Thanks to the reaction of Olsen and her supporters, who trashed those calling out the behavior as a form of cheating (including yours truly), the strange culture of players being expected to help the competition became more apparent. And since that embarrassing episode, the backstopping on all tours has been whittled down to the occasional grey area incident, likely because most pros had time to see how such duplicitous behavior looked in a sport rightfully proud of its integrity.

The practice of backstopping or the latest Q-School incident only could have happened in a world where professional golfers had gone from playing against each other to believing they were all in this together. The sources of this Kumbaya culture are many and would make a fascinating study for a sports anthropologist. But the basic tenet that a golf tournament is a competition and the people you are playing against are opponents, has increasingly become a foreign concept to players and caddies.

Which brings us to the latest incident.

Qualifying school is a brutal thing, the notion of your livelihood possibly resting on every shot is stressful, cruel and kind of silly. There is a natural inclination for all involved to express more empathy and root for playing partners because you really are in this one together with dreams of getting back on the LPGA Tour.

Except players are competing against each other at Q-School, too. That a player and caddie were unaware of such a basic rule about information sharing, and that Dye suggested this has happened “thousands of times” in her experience, means the culture may need a reboot.

That Dye tweeted this should have been a “private matter” demonstrates how woefully enclosed she is in a bubble that has told golfers they are undertaking a special mission that is so hard and so intense, everyone must help out.

Sorry, not how it works.

Pro golf is undoubtedly a peculiar way to make a living, and fans certainly tune in because they love the sportsmanship of its competitors. But when the players blur the lines or blatantly trample all over the basic spirit of competition, fans are liable to both lose interest and question the very values that lured them to begin with. Some might even think the examples of sportsmanship are all a facade to mask golf’s version of insider trading.

So after Christina Kim is unfairly harassed and Kendall Dye tries to deflect blame for an embarrassing level of obliviousness, this would be a good time to remind all professionals that fans value your integrity, your honesty and most of all, your desire to be better than your peers. As long as that competitive spirit is on the up and up.

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