Golf is a Game of Rules … Until They Don’t Apply to Some

 The grand game of golf soiled itself royally the past two weeks. And the stench is going to linger. (Don’t even get me going, again, on the folly of the anchoring ban, or six-hour rounds.)

What we have here is just a big bad stinky case of horrid decision-making, and it’s the kind of stuff that makes golf look more and more like the sports we don’t want it to be.  To wit:

Remember Blayne Barber?

He’s the guy who thought he’d brushed a leaf playing a shot from a bunker in the first stage of last year’s Q School.


His caddie said “no way,” he was watching the shot intently and in no uncertain terms said no leaf was disturbed.

Barber thought otherwise and so, after successfully completing the stage, retroactively DQd himself for signing an inaccurate scorecard.

Goodbye any shot at a card for 2013; the last year Q School would lead to the big show.

Doug Barron was suspended by the PGA Tour in 2009 for using substances prescribed by a doctor that nonetheless ran afoul of the tour’s drug policy even if it gave him no competitive advantage.

Barron had applied for and been denied a use exemption, though at least one other player had been granted such an allowance for one of the substances denied Barron. Since Barron didn’t exactly run off a record of Armstrongian dimension, it kinda brings to mind the quip that was going around the tour with the advent of drug testing: If Tiger Woods tested clean, did it really matter how juiced everyone else was? Regardless, having asked and been told no, Barron – a journeyman’s journeyman – found himself on the outside looking in.

Yep, the powers that run this game helped themselves to two big fat mulligans since Masters’ Friday, which is ironic because does anything drive a golf aristocrat more batshitz than the proverbial breakfast ball?

In both Dropgate and L’affaire Singh, golf had a great chance to show that it doesn’t only target 14-year-old kids and backmarkers.

Y’all need a do-over of your do-overs, boys.

Now the Vijay matter isn’t as cut-and-dried as the spin doctors of the PGA Tour wanted it to be. In a nutshell, Vijay was facing disciplinary action for taking a substance for which he did not test positive and that, as we just learned, might not be a problematic substance after all and of course there is no way to even detect it using the testing protocols employed by the tour, though several players have said they might run out and give it a try since it provides a documented benefit.



The tour is now saying deer-antler spray is no longer banned but warned players that at some point the “violative substance” contained in it could get them popped even though WADA says there is no baseline, biological-passport detection procedure and you might get just as much of the stuff in a good dose of milk.



I guess the bottom line is that the tour is guilty of two things: Having a lip-service testing protocol and not moving more timely on Singh’s case, perhaps so that Augusta did not have one of its past champions attending Banned Camp. With that delay, the substance he took that the tour did not scientifically know he took was taken off the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list before Veej could be disciplined, though Finchem says discipline for its use might be coming even though they can’t or won’t test for it.



I actually like the Surly Fijian. I don’t know him, but I like his candor – even as he was being a Neanderthal relative to Annika – and the few times I’ve had occasion to talk to him he’s been approachable and open. He also apparently was very forthright during the recent investigation. So, no this isn’t borne of disdain. Veej, you are guilty, however, of being an obstinate bonehead for putting yourself in that spot in the first place.

It’s Tim Finchem and the tour that gets the Emperor-Has-No-Clothes Award for a testing protocol long on sizzle and way short on steak.

And reasoned compassion.

Now the watershed whoops, the egregrious gaffe came during that tournament where everyone save a few hardy souls try damn hard to prove – and typically succeed – that golf reporting in early April is just another form of PR puffery.

One of THE fundamental, core, foundational elements of golf is that the player must ensure that his or her score is accurate.


When a player fails to do so, the punishment is and long has been and must continue to be a trip to the gulag, golf-style. The player must know the rules of golf and apply them accordingly, and if something as complex as dropping from a hazard for the kagillionth time in a player’s life is too hard to fathom, tour players are accorded access to rules officials.

Hello, ask the damn question.

I can hear it now, and just stow it: It is exactly because of arm-chair law-enforcers and HDTV that the correct-or-gone rule needs to remain on the books. I don’t care if the top players are under greater scrutiny since they spend more time on the air. Do you think Jerry Kelly, 2012’s Mr. 126, would refuse to change places with Rory simply because someone with not enough to do might spot him making a bad mark on the green?

Tiger screwed the pooch. He broke the rules of golf, did not account for it on his scorecard and to add to it all, he provided the evidence during his interview. What could be more cut-and-dried?

I don’t care about Fred Ridley’s rationalization. I am offended by Jim Nantz’s creampuff “interview” on the matter. (And the Faldo Fold was glorious to watch; pathetic but glorious.) Yes, I get that there is now an allowance for other than a DQ under extenuating circumstances.

And that is exactly what is wrong with this change; you can’t define extenuating and absent specificity the rules get cloudy, and when the rules are hazed over they become guidelines, and something other than hard-and-fast regulations are enforceable only through whim and folly and the interpretation of extenuating circumstance.

It does not matter that the committee reviewed the non-infraction infraction and decided not to call Tiger in at that point, thereby allowing him to sign an inaccurate scorecard. He did it. If he wasn’t on TV, signed the card and still flapped his gums about the drop, he’d have been sent packing. Who knew what, when, and what they decided to do or not do is not material to the case. If anyone is freaking out over the supposed inequity of the best players being under more HD scrutiny well here is a concrete example of that exposure being, in practice, an unfair playing advantage.

The non-intercession intercession of Ridley and Co. is irrelevant.  Tiger took an illegal drop and signed an inaccurate scorecard. He screwed up twice. It is not the responsibility of the “committee” to safeguard a player at the expense of every other rule of golf and the playing field.



The lesson to Barber and Barron and everyone else now seems to be ignorance of the rules is bliss. Or at least something like a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Or maybe it’s simply about your position in the pantheon.

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