When com­mon sense must pre­vail

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents - By Stu­art McLean, Edi­tor

It’s one thing to lose a ma­jor cham­pi­onship at the death with a poor or ill-con­sid­ered shot, as we’ve seen from Jor­dan Spi­eth, Phil Mick­el­son, Greg Nor­man and Colin Mont­gomerie over the years, but to see a ma­jor ti­tle taken away through ques­tion­able penalty shots is even more painful.

Nearly 50 years af­ter Roberto DeVi­cenzo was pos­si­bly de­nied a Masters green jacket, golf has suf­fered another un­for­tu­nate rules in­ci­dent that has res­onated with the wider gen­eral pub­lic and caused many non-golfers to ques­tion the game’s val­ues.

The Rules of Golf can be harsh, as Lexi Thomp­son crush­ingly un­der­stood with the four penalty shots that ul­ti­mately cost the 22-year-old a sec­ond women’s ma­jor, the ANA In­spi­ra­tion. That Lexi nearly still won, de­spite the un­ex­pected sanc­tion thrust upon her dur­ing the fi­nal round, made the sit­u­a­tion even more in­fu­ri­at­ing for those who be­lieve in fair play.

Thomp­son is a na­tional sweet­heart in the United States – at age 12 she be­came the US Women’s Open’s youngest qual­i­fier, and at 16 she won on the LPGA Tour and Ladies Euro­pean Tour – so the emo­tional hand­wring­ing over her bizarre loss has gained more trac­tion in Amer­ica than else­where. There also wouldn’t have been the same out­pour­ing of grief from fans or PGA Tour play­ers if this had hap­pened to one of the LPGA Tour’s Korean play­ers.

Still, you have to feel for Thomp­son, and for another fe­male golfer from the 1950s, Jackie Pung, be­cause each was the ac­tual win­ner of a ma­jor, record­ing the low­est score in terms of shots played, with­out be­ing given the tro­phy. They were, as golf writer Dan Jenk­ins ti­tled one of his books, “The Dogged Vic­tims of In­ex­orable Fate.”

There are times when the Rules of Golf need to be strictly ap­plied and emo­tional re­sponses ig­nored – as with Ian Woos­nam’s two-shot penalty for un­wit­tingly hav­ing 15 clubs in his bag to be­gin the fi­nal round of the 2001 Open at Lytham, or Dustin John­son’s two-shot penalty on the fi­nal hole at the 2010 PGA for ground­ing his club in one of the loosely termed “bunkers” at Whistling Straits, tak­ing him out of a play­off.

But there are oc­ca­sions when com­mon sense surely has to pre­vail, as it did with Bobby Locke in the 1957 Open at St An­drews, when he failed to re­place his ball ex­actly where it had come to rest on the home green in the fi­nal round.The er­ror was only no­ticed later, af­ter Locke had re­ceived the claret jug, and the cham­pi­onship com­mit­tee de­creed no ad­van­tage had been gained. In­stead of win­ning by three, Locke could have been dis­qual­i­fied for sign­ing an in­cor­rect score­card.

Com­mon sense should have dic­tated that De Vi­cenzo be given the chance of con­test­ing a play­off at Au­gusta in 1968, as ev­ery­one had seen him birdie the 17th to tie Bob Goalby. But play­ing part­ner Tommy Aaron gave him a par 4 on 17, which the Ar­gen­tinian signed for. DeVi­cenzo was luck­ier than Jackie Pung, be­cause he had signed for a higher score, and at least fin­ished sec­ond. She “won” the 1957 US Women’s Open, but was dis­qual­i­fied for hav­ing a lower score recorded on one hole in the fi­nal round, de­spite hav­ing the cor­rect to­tal.

In Thomp­son’s case, she should have re­ceived a two-shot penalty when video ev­i­dence re­vealed her fail­ure to re­place her ball in the ex­act spot in the third round, but not an ad­di­tional two penalty shots for hav­ing signed an in­cor­rect score­card af­ter the round.Yes, the Rules of Golf say they must be ap­plied, but in Thomp­son’s de­fence she was un­aware of the trans­gres­sion. Sub­se­quent “trial by video”, unique to tele­vised events, should not in­cur these ad­di­tional sign­ing penal­ties, be­cause they are inconsistent in terms of when they are spot­ted. Had the in­frac­tion been no­ticed af­ter the tour­na­ment, no penal­ties would have been ap­plied.

Hope­fully, the pro­posed changes to the Rules of Golf – de­tailed in our fea­ture start­ing on page 38 – will lessen the chances of this hap­pen­ing again.

stu­art.mclean@new­me­di­a­pub.co.za

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