Golf’s ancient laws brought into question



In the last month two decisions by the governing bodies of golf to disqualify players for infringements have led to the USGA and the R&A to look again at their current policy regarding the sport’s laws.

This week at the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour Padraig Harrington was disqualified for signing his score card incorrectly at the end of his second round of the tournament on Friday. The Irishman had, earlier in the day, accidentally had his ball move minutely after he had replaced it on the green. Such a misdemeanour is punishable by a one shot penalty, thus meaning that the score that the three times major winner signed for was incorrect.

This ruling seems perfectly acceptable and legitimate, that is until it is learnt that at the time of the incident the tournament officials were not even aware of the unintentional movement of Harrington’s ball. It was only after an eagle eyed viewer of the tournament, in its seventh year on the European Tour, spotted the movement while watching at home on television and then contacted the Tour.

A similar ruling took place earlier this month when Columbian Camilo Villegas, playing at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, moved a piece of loose grass following a ship toward the green. Villegas was unaware that the ball had begun to roll back towards him and was still in motion. This was a contravention of the sport’s laws as it is held that a player may not move anything loose which could influence the movement of the ball.

As with Harrington, the Columbian playing in the tournament on his 29th birthday, nor the officials, were aware that he had broken the laws until a fan, watching from home, tweeted about the incident on Twitter.

This is not to say that golfers should not be disqualified for not handing in the wrong score card, as it is for the individual to pay full attention to his or her own game and make sure all the laws are adhered to. More so, it is highly unlikely that golf authorities would make such a sweeping and ground breaking change to their laws, which have been in place since in one form or another since 1744.

What would be much more acceptable and more importantly in keeping with golf as a whole, is that the decisions of the tournament officials are final and that they will not be influenced by any outside party. This would stop the bizarre situation of what were in essence television replays being used to scrutinise a golfer’s every action.

Replays and questioning a golfer’s intent and integrity have never been part of the sport and have never been required. After all, there are few other sports where a player would intentionally call a foul against themselves where no other person was aware of their actions, whether it be intentional or not.

Such a law would allow golf to continue along the lines in which it has followed for hundreds of years, on the basis of integrity, honesty, and etiquette.

The Abu Dhabi Championship was eventually won by Germany’s Martin Kaymer who finished 24 under par, eight strokes ahead of the second placed Rory McIlroy. Kaymer has now won the prestigious competition for three of the last four years.

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