Tiger Controversy at the Masters

Tiger drops on 15th holeYou have to love a game where a guy can hit a great shot and have it end up costing him 4 strokes. In the final analysis that’s what happened to Tiger on the 15th hole yesterday at the Masters when he hit the flag stick and his ball caromed into the water. He took a penalty stroke and then replayed the shot not from the same spot but from a few feet farther back.

The issue of him maybe not playing from the same spot was brought to the rules officials and they decided, while Tiger was still playing the 18th hole, that there was no violation and let him sign his card as it was. After further review and talking to Tiger, who was completely honest about what happened and that his intent was to improve his lie by going back a few feet, they decided that he needed to be penalized another 2 strokes.

Last year the USGA ruled that players who signed a wrong scorecard didn’t have to be disqualified if they didn’t know it was wrong before they signed. Most agreed this was a good rule change at the time. So what’s the big brouhaha? Didn’t everything play out as it should have?

I’m going to take my fight in this directly to Brandel Chamblee who feels Tiger should do the honorable thing and withdraw. I’m going after Brandel because I like his commentary and I respect him tremendously for the insights he brings to golf broadcasts. I’m completely surprised that he and I are on opposite sides of this issue.

Golf is a game that lives and dies by its rules and it’s code of conduct which is golfer honesty. First, Tiger was honest and explained exactly what he did. Secondly he followed the decision of the Master’s rules committee without complaint. This is what golfers are expected to do. We all know that the golfers don’t make the rules. It’s not like they should have convened all the players last night and had them vote on what should happen to Tiger. Like the young Chinese amateur who was penalized yesterday for slow play, the rules committee tells you what their decision is and you abide by it.

So why should Tiger withdraw? As far as I know, players withdraw when they are hurt or maybe there’s a personal emergency which requires they leave. Withdrawal isn’t a tool that players use to remove themselves when they’ve come up with an interpretation of the rules and apply it to themselves. Disqualification is what a tournament committee does to a golfer who has done something for which the Rules of Golf requires them to be disqualified. This is similar to other sports like downhill ski racing. You withdraw if you’re hurt or don’t want to race for some personal reason, you’re disqualified when you don’t conform to the rules such as missing a gate.

I’m not sure why Brandel thinks Tiger should withdraw. Should all players judge their moral character before, during and after a round and decide whether they should withdraw. Of course not. That’s not the way golf works. If someone, or the player themselves, think a golfer has broken a rule, then the rules officials are alerted and they make the final decision. It’s not up to commentators or spectators or fellow golfers.

In Tiger’s situation at Augusta, the rules committee interpreted and applied the rules assessing him a 2 stroke penalty after the round. They decided that he shouldn’t be disqualified. It’s not up to Tiger to be his own rules committee and disqualify himself. The USGA and PGA Tour agreed with Augusta National’s ruling. Tiger took his penalty without complaint and is abiding by their decision. All is as it should be.

What Chamblee is asking is for Tiger to disqualify himself by misusing the withdrawal provision in golf. That’s not the way the game is played. A player hits a great shot and ultimately loses 4 shots according to the Rules of Golf. That’s golf as it should be. The Rules of Golf are what they are. Sometimes we don’t like them because they don’t align with our idea of fair play. In this case Brandel Chamblee wants them to be interpreted according to his views. That’s not the way it works. It’s up to the Ruling Bodies and tournament committees to do that. Our personal feelings don’t matter. Go ask Casey Martin about it if you’re still confused.