I’ve got your card marked.

As everyone else had written about Lexi Thompson’s four-shot penalty, I decided not to, but now that Phil Mic and the Golden Bear have added their two penn’th — So, I’ve widened my take on the subject a little…

Two shots for incorrectly marking the ball on the green and two further shots for signing for an incorrect score. As most people believe this is a total joke.

However, what interests me about the situation is the focus seemed to be aimed at the armchair referees and their relevance, or lack of it, to the game. If truth be known, probably more due to Tiger’s tweet calling out the striped shirt home umpires than the incidence itself.

With this, I totally disagree.

Okay, let’s get into the real world …

Firstly, every golf club has its cheats, of course, it does. Cheating is easy when you’re way out on the 10th in the local club fourball with no one watching you but the squirrels, but on the multi-camera pro tour? Not so much.

Now, as far as I’m aware, no one is actually accusing Ms. Thompson of cheating, especially as her putt was but a mere subway tap in. So, not much advantage gained by moving the ball a few blades of grass nearer the hole. And let me promise you if Ms. Thompson were disposed to breaking the rules regularly, her playing partners, and those monitoring the game would be more than aware of any deceitful habits that she may have. I don’t know Ms. Thompson, her character or conduct, but as I don’t see any vitriolic carping about her being caught at long last from the other pros, so one must assume this was an innocent mistake on her part. Uncomfortable to talk about, yes, but deliberate cheating must first, always be taken out of the equation when discussing rule breaking.

As a young assistant professional, I, and my fellow assistants were more than aware who the dodgy characters were in any competition that we played. If we were drawn to partner them, the senior pros in the field, forewarned us with a crafty word in the ear, to keep a strict eye on their antics, especially in the rough. I can recall two very famous dodgy, prone to gambling pros from the 70s, who weren’t averse to, let’s say, bending the rules. In their many years of playing, even in the midst of the soggy winter months, they never seemed to lose a ball or have a bad lie.

So, here’s my problem with the Lexi Thompson affair… given that cheating is off the table, we are left with an innocent infringement of the rules. So, let’s stop picking on the La-Z-Boy vigilantes that noticed the ball-marking misdemeanor. Far from moaning about them, we should be congratulating them for their Sherlock Holmes instincts.

They are not the problem! The rules are. And Tiger, not for the first time, got it wrong. To start with, marking the ball on the green by its very nature is a hit a miss affair.

The rules are confusing…

“When permitted by the Rules the position of the ball should be marked by placing a ball-marker, small coin or similar, immediately behind it. Marking behind the ball is recommended, but to the side or in front is permissible. NB in front may be deemed influencing the movement of the ball if the grass is pressed down. Note there is no penalty if a player uses some other object to mark their ball (e.g. their putter head, a tee or a loose impediment), providing it is physically marked; it is not sufficient to use an existing mark on the ground to mark the position of a ball.”

Until the governing bodies introduce a regulated ball maker it always will remain hit and miss. Some people will use a marker, some will use a lucky dime or sixpence, a tee peg, and I’ve even played with someone who used a silver dollar. I’m sure, in India a Rupee is tossed down, in France a Euro and in Greece an old Drachma, if anyone can find one going spare. And by the way, the ball maker with a small spike that we all buy from the pro-shop or that is often attached to a glove is probably the least effective way of marking the ball. You can never get that type of marker close enough to the ball. Using a small coin is by far the better option. And if we are totally honest, the ball is rarely, if ever, put back in exactly the same position. No matter how we try, there always has to be a small amount of tolerance when replacing the ball.

I am amazed that in this technological world that we live, that some bright spark has not come up with a simple cheap ball marker that would guarantee that the ball is marked and replaced in the same spot every time. It could be a glorious money-spinner for the powers-to-be. Each marker could be personalized with company decals, but imagine if we all had to spend a little bit of our hard earned on purchasing the new uniformed official accurate marker.

That said, Ms. Thompson clearly erred when replacing her ball so got a deserved two-shot penalty, but the big problem comes with the additional two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard – this seems nothing more than gratuitous meanness.

After all, if Ms. Thompson was unaware that she had a two-point penalty for the 17th green mistake, until, it was applied on Sunday after the TV vigilantes protested. How then, can she be accused of signing for an incorrect score? She signed for a score that she and the officials believed to be correct at the time of handing in her card. And in fact, it was correct until the officials changed it a day later.

A few weeks ago, the golfing governing peeps were cock-a-hoop about their new ideas to entice people to the game. Well, this, dear dinosaur governing body people is exactly how you turn people off of the game.

Yes, Ms. Thompson made a mistake, but you, the officials, should eat the extra two-shot penalty because you didn’t point it out to her or even recognize the infringement. The fault was not Ms. Thompson’s. If the officials couldn’t apply the penalty before the round was finished, or at the very least before the next round teed off, then you should forfeit any penalty you deemed fit to apply.

In football parlance, it would be like a football club who, on Saturday had won a game 3-2 then being told by the Premier league on Sunday, “on reviewing the evidence, your second goal was offside, so we are changing the score retrospectively to 2-2. Therefore, two points are being deducted from your league total.”

What a total crock!

Once the final whistle is blown the game is over. So should the round be once the card is signed, unless of course, it can be proved that real cheating had occurred … I stress real cheating, not an innocent rule infringement.

I’m not even against an infringement being pointed out to the player in question after the round had finished, allowing them the chance to take a penalty if they think it is appropriate. I believe 99.99% of the pros would take the penalty if they innocently broke the rules because 99.99% of the pros, just like Lexis Thompson, are decent athletes. Even if they weren’t, the stinking cloud of doubt that would hang over them for the rest of their careers, for not taking the penalty, would be too much to bear.

Coming back to Tiger’s condemnation of the viewers pointing out an infringement to the officials, I wonder what he would have the official’s do? Not open their email for the duration of the tournament? Because surely once an official is made aware of an infringement, isn’t it, their duty to apply the appropriate penalty. And even if the officials were able to avoid being emailed the information, I doubt if they could miss the story in the newspapers and on various news media outlets.

So, I think suggesting that viewers at home cannot have a bearing on infringements is a little naïve. What would happen if a viewer who had a sizeable wager on Jordan Spieth to win a tournament witnessed his money go down the drain because another golfer with the help of an infringement took first prize? I’m sure in this litigious society, a lawsuit might be winging its way to the USPGA, especially if their officials choose to ignore the lounge referees observations.

And let’s be honest, even though I am naive enough to believe that most pros are upstanding moral athletes, that doesn’t mean some wouldn’t try to use the rules, legally, I stress, in their favour, but out and out cheating – Nah! But it can’t hurt to have 9million pair of eyes keeping them on the straight and narrow, can it?

Way back when, I was trying to qualify for my PGA school at the Belfry, but due to a heavy field and bad weather and being the last 3-ball on the course, we were required to play the last two holes in almost pitch darkness as the night folded in around us. The PGA’s head honcho at the time, was a man called Colin Snape, who with two colleagues from his office, decided to fore caddie for our match, ensuring we made it around and negating the need to come back for an expensive extra day.

For the youngsters out there, a forecaddie was a person designated to stand a few hundred yards ahead of the match and basically spot the ball for a player, much the same as the spotters do for today’s tour. But back then it was illegal to employ a forecaddie unless previously agreed by the tournament committee.

Now, I’m not one to hold Mr. Snape up as a paragon of virtue, he certainly wasn’t, but he took it upon himself to override the rule. Using common sense, he realized that any advantage gained by us having forecaddies against the rest of the field was offset by the fact that we were playing the last two holes in almost complete darkness, unlike the rest of the field.

Yes, rules is rules — and of course, we need them, but sometimes common sense is also required.

I’m pleased to say, having knocked my drive into the water up the 18th, I took a penalty drop, hit an 8iron to about 6 feet… and holed the par putt, thus getting my qualifying score to go to PGA school.

Common sense prevailed over the rules. Now there are two words you’ll rarely see in a sentence together – sense and rules.

Had common sense applied during the first women’s major of the year Ms. Thompson may have had another title to her name.

Of course, we could always go back to the good old days and stop players lifting their golf balls from the putting surface completely. Or why not go the whole hog and reintroduce the Stymie. Again, for those of you of tender years, let me explain the Stymie… A player was allowed to putt his ball onto the line between his opponent’s ball and the hole, creating a barrier… and making his opponent either go around his ball or sometimes over it.

The Stymied player would often stamp his ball into the green, nestling into a small indent (like a pitch mark) then when he hit the ball, it would leap out of the indent and fly over the ball that stopped its passage to the hole – try it, it works…

Now, bring that back and people would flock to watch the game.

And so to the Masters… I urge you all, those who can afford Sky and are avidly watching, don your deerstalker, get out your magnifying glass and if you have a doctor friend by the name of Watson invite him over … and the moment you see any infringement… you know what to do!!!

 

 

 

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