THE DAY GOLF LOST ITS SOUL

The non-disqualification of Tiger Woods from the Masters has a bitter aftertaste. For me, it was the day golf lost its soul.

Picture from The Observer
Picture from The Observer

The traditions of the game, the inherent mystique of its rules, and its time-honoured connection to integrity all went out the window in a shameless exercise that seemed to be more about defending the indefensible than about doing the right thing.

Let’s be clear about one thing. The recent changes to the rules that have been cited by many, not least Tiger himself, did NOT change the requirement for a golfer to drop the ball as close as possible to the point of the previous shot. That is STILL the rule, and Tiger did NOT adhere to it.

What changed was the insertion of a new rule giving “the committee” discretion not to impose disqualification “in exceptional circumstances.” It was a commonsense step introduced to prevent incidents such as that experienced by Padraic Harrington whose ball was moved infinitesimally by the wind – without his knowledge – as he prepared to take a putt. It was not introduced to provide the committee with carte blanche to change the very soul of golf.

“Rules are rules” – those were Tiger’s comments the previous day when a 14 year-old was singled out for a shot penalty for slow play. To many people it now seems that the rules are rules only when it suits the exigencies of the box office.

It’s a bit like a referee deciding not to send off a team’s best player in the first minutes of a cup final because the event will somehow be devalued by his absence!

I grew up not knowing all the intricacies of the rules of golf, but accepting fully that where I breached them I was entitled to be duly penalised. To me, and every other poor hacker who takes to the fairways, the rules are sacrosanct. My belief was that the old boys of the Royal & Ancient knew what they were doing, and until now, I’ve never had occasion to question.

In my opinion two things should have happened on Friday night/Saturday morning. First, the committee should have disqualified Woods. Second, their abject failure to do so should have led to Woods withdrawing from the tournament. We now know that neither scenario was ever remotely considered.

The outcome has split opinion in the golfing world – and considerably beyond. It’s a stain that might well never wash out.

I think it only fair to state that I don’t like Tiger Woods. His talent and contribution to the game of golf are indisputable, but I have never been able to overlook his on-course snarling, spitting and club-thumping antics enough to truly warm to the man. That’s a personal opinion which I would have changed in a heartbeat if he had stood up and done the right thing. Sadly, I can now add one more reason for not liking the individual.

Thankfully, Woods didn’t get to win the 2013 Masters. The drama thrown up by Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera and Jason Day kept us all riveted to the last putt of the play-off, and proved you don’t need to manufacture box office to end up with a blockbuster.

How will the “Woodsgate” affair impact on golf as we go forward? In the professional game you can now expect every disqualification (signing for an incorrect score, taking unfair relief from a hazard etc. etc.) to be challenged using the get-out-of-jail card that was employed here.

In amateur golf, will every competitions committee now take it upon themselves to insert a new rule giving them power to override the other rules “in exceptional circumstances”?

I can’t help thinking this has changed the golfing landscape forever.

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