Chaos theories: McIlroy latest victim of golf's crazy rules


So ... it's going to be another one of those years again, huh?

Another year when unbeknownst violations overshadow tournaments, when the difference between winning and losing sometimes isn't a 10-foot putt on the final hole, but a decision on Rule 25-1, when a pro golfer commits the heinous crime of, say, not seeing his ball move after address, only to be flogged for it in the court of public opinion.

As the great American philosopher Cosmo Kramer once declared, "A rule is a rule – and without rules, there is chaos."

Golf has plenty of rules, an entire book filled with definitions and stipulations and exceptions and, yes, without them, there would be chaos.

Which is a little ironic, because with these rules the game still often feels varying degrees of chaotic.

Two days after Sergio Garcia was accused of tapping down a spike mark in his line and instantly labeled a cheater in some circles, and one day after Garcia was absolved of any wrongdoing when it was found he only (legally) fixed his ball mark, Rory McIlroy became the latest victim of this controlled chaos.

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Rightly so, of course, because rules are rules and he broke one.

But even European Tour chief referee John Paramor’s excellent description of the violation is enough to leave most heads spinning:

"Rory’s ball came to rest in a marked gallery crosswalk to the left of the second fairway from which relief is available under the rules, as if it’s a piece of ground under repair. He found what he thought to be his nearest point of relief where the ball was outside and when he dropped the ball within a club’s length, when he actually stood to the ball, his left foot was standing on or just over the line demarking the area of ground under repair which is treated as part of the ground under repair. Therefore he has not taken full relief and he is in breach of the Rule 25-1, the penalty for which is two strokes."

The penalty meant McIlroy’s initial score of 68 was changed to 70; it dropped him from one stroke off the lead entering the final round to three; it moved him out of the final pairing on Sunday. He later told the BBC, "There are some stupid rules in golf, and this is one of them.”

To summarize: A former world No. 1 and two-time major champion broke a rule without knowing it, disagreed with the structure of the rule and took his medicine, though he really didn’t have any recourse for fighting it.

Gatekeepers to the Rules of Golf will sit back and smile, content in the knowledge that the proper call was made when the penalty was enforced. This is, after all, how it’s supposed to work.

Others, though, who deign to employ a legion of common sense to such proceedings, won’t hail this as such a momentous victory. That’s because – big picture analysis here – the very rules which allow so many golfers to compete every single day are alienating those who don’t want to see tournaments determined by a handbook.

A game in which industry leaders so often speak about growing it within the masses, only to see interest levels wane with each eclectic violation, isn’t exactly rewriting the book on How To Win Friends and Influence People.

A malcontent toward all of these decisions could apply the following without much argument: You're damned if you do and damned if you don't, so the only sensible solution is don't do and don't don't.

The result is that it might be another one of those years. On the heels of last year’s controversy-filled events, when Tiger Woods was at the center of more rules decisions than perhaps his first 17 professional seasons combined, all signs are pointing toward definitions and stipulations and exceptions overshadowing, you know, actual golf.

Well, get used to it. Without rules, there is chaos. As we’ve seen, though, with rules it can often get pretty chaotic, too.