Tails you lose…

1 12 2010

2010 has certainly been a bumper year for rules geeks such as myself. Back in April there was  Brian Davis calling a penalty upon himself in a hazard and thus losing any chance of a victory in his playoff with Jim Furyk for the Verizon Heritage tournament. Then, of course, there was the case of poor Dustin Johnson at the PGA Championship in August; his failure to realise that he was playing out of a bunker on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits led to a two shot penalty for grounding his club and thus missing a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson by a single stroke. Now, on the 2nd playoff hole of the European Tour’s flagship event – the season ending Dubai World Championship – we have Ian Poulter losing his chance of matching Robert Karlsson’s birdie putt by committing a rules infraction. His crime? Accidentally dropping his ball on the coin he was using as his marker, and thus causing the marker to move. The cost? A one stroke penalty – and just over 300,000 Euros (about $400,000 Cdn).

Obviously Poulter had no intention of moving his marker, which he immediately returned to its original spot, half an inch away. So is this just an arcane rule which should be got rid of as soon as possible? Some might think so, but Poulter himself (despite being an Arsenal fan) has total trust in the rules of golf  and believes that our observance of them is what makes it such a special game. He immediately called over a rules official, explained what had happened and accepted the ruling with no more than a rueful smile. Poulter was thus following in the footsteps of Roberto di Vicenzo who was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Masters in 1968. Rather than blame his playing partner, who had marked him down for a 4 at the penultimate hole instead of a 3, seen by millions of TV viewers around the world, Roberto laid the blame squarely on his own shoulders: “What a stupid I am!” was the Argentinian’s now famous response. Possibly the best rules related quote, however, belongs to Bobby Jones. In the last round of the 1925 U.S. Open he called a penalty stroke upon himself when he felt he might have caused his ball to move in the rough. No one else had seen it but Jones was adamant that the penalty should stand, even though it meant that he would not win the tournament outright, but have to take part in a playoff, which he subsequently lost. Spectators and reporters alike praised Jones for his sportsmanship, but he would have none of it: “You might as well praise me for not robbing a bank” was his reply.

85 years later, Poulter was equally stoic: “It’s my lucky coin. It’s got my kids’ names on it and I’m going to keep using it,” he said afterwards. His friend and rival Rory McIlroy came up with the best line, however: ” Poults may have lost the Dubai World Championship,” he tweeted, ” but he’s definitely in with a chance at the world tiddlywinks championships…”

Season’s greetings to one and all. My Christmas gift to you is to promise not to even mention the rules of golf again…until 2011.*

All da best,

Dave B.

(*Oh, except to say that under Rule 20-1/15 there would have been no penalty if Poulter had been in the act of marking his ball when he moved his coin. Sorry. My 2011 New Year’s resolution will definitely involve trying to be less of a rules geek. Probably not going to happen).




2 responses

1 12 2010

David me boy! You always write the most interesting posts. This one lives up to the standard you have set in previous ones. I think the rules of golf should be able to be written on the back of a matchbox. I think many of them are archaic. However, I have nothing but admiration for people like Bobby Jones and Poulter. What they lose at the cash till is more than made up in the admiration of golf fans everywhere. Keep the posts coming David. They’re great reads. Cheers from Oz.

1 12 2010
Bagger Dave

Thanks Martin. What I’d really like to write about next time is an England victory in the Ashes, but I’d need 10,000 words just to explain the rules of cricket to most Canadians.

Hope you and Cynthia are still having a blast in Oz!


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