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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rethinking the Rules

When Dustin Johnson made that monumental goof at the PGA that may have cost him his first major, I simply suggested we play all sand as bunkers unless we know different... and then I moved on.

Then Neil over at The Armchair Golf Blog did a post about Juli Inkster's DQ for using a weight on a club to help her stretch out during a 30-minute delay at the Safeway last weekend. I made a comment... and thought no more about it.

Jim Furyk pic from LA Times article
Click here to read the LA Times article that included this picture.

But with Jim Furyk's DQ this week from the Barclays because he was late to a pro-am, I feel the need to rant a bit about the state of the Rules of Golf and the Rules of the PGA Tour. This makes three rules-related gaffs that have gotten publicity outside the golf community... and now it's just getting silly.

Before the traditionalists jump all over me, I don't have a problem with the rules per se. Rules are made for a purpose, specifically to make sure everyone plays on a level playing field, and I certainly don't think we can just make wholesale changes. But life changes... and the rules don't seem to be keeping up.

I don't really have a problem with the Dustin Johnson ruling; he should have read the rules sheet. What I do have a problem with is a local rule that wasn't as clear as it should have been. The local rule began this way: "All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers whether or not they have been raked... (my italics)." When you pay attention to what is said here, you realize that Dustin could have a valid argument. Are the players now supposed to divine the intent of the course designers? How about a simpler local rule that said "All sandy areas should be played as regular bunkers"?

Is it really that hard to to write a short, clear, direct rule that leaves no question in the player's mind?

In Juli Inkster's case, my problem is one of intent... and I understand that "intent" is a word that could lead us down the path to vague rulings. I don't want that, but in some cases intent is not a nebulous concept at all. Many people have pointed out that Juli could have done the exact same stretch by simply swinging two clubs. Then why isn't swinging two clubs at once illegal? Here's my point: The rule is intended to prevent a player from using an extraneous device to gain an advantage during a round. If there is a perfectly legal way to perform the same action, then said device does not provide an advantage and shouldn't be illegal... and certainly shouldn't result in a DQ. If the weight is illegal, then swinging two clubs together should be illegal also. This is a rule that should be amended.

And then there's the PGA rule that Furyk broke. While I don't agree with Mickelson's contention that the rule only targets a select number of pros -- assuming that any pro could be in a given week's pro-am (you aren't going to have 156 pro-am groups!) -- the DQ rule does materially change the competitive level of the field. I understand the purpose of the rule, as I understand some players have been known to skip the pro-ams... but Jim Furyk was not trying to skip. As one commentator I heard today said, this was akin to catching a first-time traffic offender who got a parking ticket and lost his license as a result. The punishment simply doesn't fit the crime -- he was 5 minutes late because his phone alarm didn't work, an argument backed up by the fact that no one had been able to contact him by phone.

I must say I like John Hawkins's suggestion that, rather than a DQ, players who missed their pro-am be required to show up at a tournament of the Tour's choosing to boost an otherwise weak field. But I think even that would be too much in Furyk's case; this was not a player trying to bow out of his duties. The field has been weakened, and both the sponsors and fans have been gypped.

Something needs to be done. Somebody needs to bring a breath of sanity to this crazy state of affairs. We keep saying to want to grow the game, but anybody who thinks the world at large hears about these things and says, "Boy, that's a game I want to follow because they believe in the sanctity of rules!" is fooling themselves. A little time spent listening to ESPN over the last couple of weeks would have quickly dispelled those illusions.

All I'm saying is that, if we truly want to grow this game, we need to make sure our rules make sense and are viewed as fair, not merely penal. We already struggle with the image of golf as a rich white man's game -- we don't need to be viewed as half-witted masochists as well.

8 comments:

  1. The bunker rule was as clear and simple as could possibly be imagined. You're missing one really important fact - Johnson said that he didn't bother to read the rule. Not the PGA's fault - not the rule's fault. It's all on Johnson's head.

    Inkster is 50 years old - the rule has been in the book her entire careeer. She has had 30 years to read the rule book. This is a rule that almost never comes into play - and I can see possibly making an adjustment going forward - but Inkster is at fault.

    Furyk broke a Tour rule that is VERY important to the Tour. Piss off the sponsors and they stop giving you millions and millions and millions of dollars...$50 of which should be used to buy a reliable alarm clock, don'tcha think ? Furyk isn't complaining about it - he knows he screwed up. Luckily for him - he's #3 on the points list and will be in Atlanta with a great chance to win the big prize.

    Odd that all of a sudden the Playoffs are so important, eh ? For the past few years, all we have heard about the playoffs is that they are a big money grab - they are boring - they are poorly run - they are unneccessary...and on and on and on.

    NOW, all of a sudden, they are the most important thing in the world.

    If they are SO different than the rest of the schedule, then treat them like majors and WGC's where they just don't have pro-ams.

    The Tour Championship doesn't have a pro-am - they just have a day where a group will come in and have a day at the course with breakfast or lunch and some clinics taught by the players in the practice area. It works out great. People get to spend time with more than one player and they don't have to be embarrassed trying to play a Tour course setup. It's been a big hit the last couple of years.

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  2. sigh - just can't get that out of my head. A breath of sanity ? Changing the rules because the players don't pay attention...just doesn't make sense.

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  3. OK, Court. I see you're in an argumentative mood today... as usual. ;-D So let's briefly go through your points one-by-one...

    I said I didn't have a problem with Dustin's ruling. (How did I put it? Oh yes -- "I don't really have a problem with the Dustin Johnson ruling; he should have read the rules sheet.") I don't think I missed anything there. My problem is that the local rule was written in legalese -- there is no way that "All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers" is as clear as "all sandy areas should be played as bunkers." And that first version was only the opening of the local rule, while my eight words eliminate any questions whatsoever. Only a lawyer could call the original "as clear and simple as could possibly be imagined." Did you go to law school, Court? ;-)

    Maybe Justin might have taken the time to read eight words. It's short enough that just seeing them on the locker door might make them register on his brain.

    I thought my problem with the Inkster ruling was pretty clear. Using an extra club to provide weight provides the same benefit as adding a donut weight; the only difference is that the donut was clipped to the original club while the extra club was held against the original club. The two provide the exact same result, yet one is legal and one isn't. According to the current rules logic used in this decision (that the weight was attached), lead tape affixed to the clubhead should be illegal... but it isn't. (And before you say that lead tape doesn't weigh as much, remember that the rule doesn't put a limit on the amount of tape you can use.) This is a poorly-written rule that should be revised, and Juli shouldn't have been DQed because of it.

    As for the PGA rule, suppose someone wrecked on the route Jim had to take to the course, blocked the highway for two hours, and made him late? That's not even his fault... yet the rule would have him DQed. Even a good rule can be abused, Court, and given that he was only 5 minutes late, this is an abuse that caused the sponsor and fans far more damage than it prevented. Again, I like the Hawkins idea of bumping a weak field as the "fine" for this sort of offense, although in Jim's case that would have been overkill.

    For what it's worth, the Playoffs are important this year because a good run here could nab #1 in the world rankings. That's never happened before... and Jim's chances of doing so have been severely hindered by this DQ.

    Finally, my focus in this post wasn't on what the golf community thinks about these things... although it's pretty clear that they're divided about them. My focus was on how non-golfers -- the people we're trying to draw in -- view these events. And after listening to several sports shows and the feedback they receive from fans, these events aren't adding to golf's fanbase.

    So all I argued in this post was that:
    1) local rules should be stated simply
    2) we need to take a better look at what constitutes a "training device"
    3) rules should distinguish between players skipping out on responsibilities and just having some misfortune that could happen to anyone
    4) if we want to grow the game, we should consider what non-golfers are seeing

    Yeah, I guess I'm just really out of line thinking such things. I should realize that golf isn't a game; it's a religion more concerned about the sanctity of its rules than quality competition. Forgive me for being so stupid -- I stand corrected. ;-D

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  4. Legaleze ? Where can you possibly get that ? It was plain English. And it didn't matter if it was written in crayon and kiddie pictures, English, or Sanskrit - HE DIDN'T READ IT.

    "All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during play of the championship. Such irregularities of surface are part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions."

    Tell me - where is there a single Latin phrase or anything intentionally misleading (or would lead to any sort of Health Care Reform) ? :-) That bunker is in the yardage book - in ANY camera angle or still shot, he was clearly in a bunker - UNLESS - the only definition you have of a bunker is a hyper groomed depression with sand at the bottom - a la Augusta National.

    There was nothing wrong with that rule - only with the player who didn't pay attention to the rule at 18...but he DID pay attention to it at 14 where his ball landed in a patch of loose sand on top of a bunker - he called for a ruling. He didn't call for a ruling at 18 - he blew it.

    We're not disagreeing on #2 - ummm - except in this case. The IGotcha Ready IS a training aid. Do a google search. It's a terrific training tool - not just a weight.

    Sorry - can't agree with you on #3 in any way shape or form. If that rule says "unless you oversleep and don't take responsibility for yourself - then it's ok for you to skip a pro-am" then the rule has no meaning. You can't have a "but I didn't mean to" clause in ANY rule. I'm sitting here imagining the NFL or NBA or MLB with your rule book. "But I didn't mean to hold - that should be a touchdown." Or "I didn't mean to travel - that dunk was off da chain !" Or "I didn't mean to throw that ball into the stands - he would have been out."

    Should Dustin Johnson have two majors ? He didn't mean to hit those balls into the Pacific and he didn't mean to not call the official over for a ruling at 18."

    If "Growing the game" (god what an annoying phrase that has become) means destroying the integrity of the game - then I don't want any part of it. In 99.9% of the rounds played in the world - nobody cares if someone pulls out a weight to loosen up during a long delay - though MOST people just grab an extra club and swing them.

    This "the world is watching" crap does nothing to help "grow the game" - and people who aren't going to play golf anyway really don't care what happens to Furyk.

    I don't care if the rest of the world wants to live by Jim Rome's mantra - If you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'. Golf is better than every other game. The rules are the rules.

    If you want to make an adjustment to rule 14-3/10 - fine. No problem. But PLEASE - don't continue the screaming about what happens when a player breaks a rule as it is written.

    The golfers at the highest level have to set the tone for the rest of the people in that sport. Thankfully, there are guys like Johnson and Furyk out there who take their medicine without whining. They say they screwed up and move on. They would rather cut off an arm than break a rule because the game without the rules means nothing.

    End of rant...got time for a quick bucket ? :-)

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  5. I'd take you up on that bucket if we weren't several hundred miles apart. ;-)

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  6. Obviously we aren't going to agree on this -- and that's perfectly ok with me -- but I do want to make a few points.

    Your comment: "Legaleze ? Where can you possibly get that ? It was plain English. And it didn't matter if it was written in crayon and kiddie pictures, English, or Sanskrit - HE DIDN'T READ IT."

    Again, I didn't defend Dustin for not reading the rule. But you don't need Latinate phrases to be write convoluted language. The rule as you quoted it has 85 words. Tell me one thing it says that my 8 word "All sandy areas should be played as regular bunkers" doesn't. Tell me one question it doesn't definitively answer... in 1/10 of the words. The local rule is unnecessarily wordy... and that means it unnecessarily opens the door to confusion. That's my problem with it. "Plain English" uses no more words than necessary to say what needs to be said. (That 8-word rule is one of my better attempts at clarity. ;-)

    Your comment: "We're not disagreeing on #2 - ummm - except in this case. The IGotcha Ready IS a training aid. Do a google search. It's a terrific training tool - not just a weight."

    If Juli used an IGotcha Ready, I don't disagree with you. But if she used a simple weight, my argument is completely valid.

    Your comment: "Sorry - can't agree with you on #3 in any way shape or form. If that rule says "unless you oversleep and don't take responsibility for yourself - then it's ok for you to skip a pro-am" then the rule has no meaning."

    But that's the rub -- Jim wasn't trying to skip the pro-am and use oversleeping as an excuse. Jim ran 5 minutes late after making an extra effort to get there when he found out his alarm didn't go off -- in other words, he showed up. Just because a rule exists doesn't mean it has to be enforced to the letter of the law; that's why we allow judges to set precedents by interpreting laws in our judicial system.

    I don't particularly care for that phrase "growing the game" either, but the alternative is a constant glut of increasingly-strained ways of saying the same thing. And I don't subscribe to Jim Rome's idea... but arguing that the rules must be enforced to the max simply because "we've always done it that way" or "it makes golf better than other games" or even just that "the rules are the rules" is short-sighted and prevents the game from becoming better. Rules have to evolve and change as the game evolves and changes... or they lose their relevance and people will simply ignore the game.

    Rules are made for people; people are NOT made for rules. When we lose track of that, we've lost the game entirely.

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  7. oh yeah ??? well....de minimis non curat praetor....carpe diem...tempis fugit...and a double helping of semper fidelis !! :-D

    Furyk wasn't just 5 minutes late. He never called to let anybody know. And what pro do you know of jumps out of the car and heads right to the first tee ? Fluff was there in time for Furyk to warm up. He was late enough that Mark Leishman had to be called to the clubhouse in time to load up, meet his group, and head to the tee box.

    And I have no idea what that last paragraph means. The rules are made for the game to insure that the game is played correctly and fairly.

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  8. I know, like, three Latin phrases:

    1) In canis corpo transmuto, which changed Tommy Kirk into the Shaggy Dog;

    2) Felicitas est parvus canis calidus, which translates roughly as "Happiness is a warm puppy"; and

    3) Carpe cowgirl, which I believe means "seize the cheerleader." ;-)

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