Back and Forth


Golf is governed by just 34 rules, although anyone with a Wi-Fi connection or basic cable package would be excused for thinking the sport is riddled with more small print than the Tiger Woods divorce settlement.

From Dustin Johnson to Juli Inkster to Jim Furyk, it seems the ancient game has been hijacked by disclaimers. No need for walking rules officials any longer, roaming teams of lawyers will now tag along to assure compliance.

For Johnson and Inkster, the Rules of Golf left little room for interpretation. Furyk, however, was every bit a self-inflicted wound. When the consummate pro was bounced from last week’s Barclays for missing his pro-am tee time by no more than 10 minutes neither the execution nor the idea made much sense.

The pro-am policy was enacted in 2004 to protect sponsors, but Barclays took a potent right-left combination when the then-third ranked FedEx Cup player missed his five-hour pro-am shmooz-fest and the tournament proper.

On Tuesday the Tour reversed course and nixed the rule for the remainder of the 2010 season thanks, in large part, to the biting comments of Phil Mickelson.

Although it’s encouraging to see Mickelson using his substantial powers for good, rather than evil, his withdrawal from Thursday’s pro-am at TPC Boston smacks of Phil being Phil.

Mickelson made his point beyond even a dollop of ambiguity last Wednesday saying, “(the pro-am rule) is not protecting the players. It's not protecting the sponsors. It applies to only half the field and yet it affects the integrity of the competition. I cannot disagree with it more.”

Although Lefty’s Deutsche Bank dodge smacks of piling on, much like his decision to play non-conforming-yet-legal grooves earlier this year at Torrey Pines, his dissension echoed the loudest last week and likely went a long way to prompting the Tour’s 180 on the policy.

It was an ill-conceived rule and another example of the Tour mandating a machete when a well-handled scalpel was in order.

Since 2004 when the pro-am policy began there have been seven disqualifications as a result of a player missing a pro-am tee time – two in ’04 (Peter Jacobson, 84 Lumber Classic and David Forst, Byron Nelson Championship), one in 2005 (Retief Goosen, Nissan Open), three in 2008 (John Daly, Nick O’Hern and Ryuji Imada at Bay Hill) and Furyk last week.

“Look the fact is there have been (seven) disqualifications over four years. There really isn’t that big of a problem,” said one member of the Player Advisory Council. “There is not a problem if common sense is applied.”

It’s a testament that most players don’t need to be told that it’s important to take care of sponsors. It’s akin to the circuit’s elaborate, and widely ignored, pace of play policy. The vast majority of players don’t need to be told that five-hour rounds are bad for golf, to say nothing of mental health, yet a handful of habitual offenders continue to make life slow in the big leagues.

“What was so badly needed was the same few guys kept making excuses why they couldn’t play the pro-ams,” said another member of the PAC. “Instead of dealing with the few problems a rule was made affecting everyone except, as Phil says and it’s true, it only pertains to half the field.

“Like slow play, we say we are addressing the problem when actually the heart of the problem isn’t fixed.”

In November the Policy Board will attempt to conjure up a fix to the suspended rule and there are no shortage of suggestions. One veteran player suggested a player who misses a pro-am tee time pay a fine, say $5,000, to the tournament charity; while another said a player showing up late – most agree a player who misses a pro-am entirely should be disqualified from that week’s tournament – should finish the pro-am and then take his group out to lunch on his own dime.

Yet millionaires writing checks to tidy up broken china rarely works (see Gulf Spill and BP), and there is already a provision in the Tour regulations that allows a top player (top 30 from the previous year’s money or FedEx Cup list) to opt out of a pro-am twice in a single season in exchange for an alternative sponsor function.

“In a pro-am three or four amateurs are going to get five hours with Phil on the golf course, which is great, but maybe it’s better if you have a dinner with 20 executives and clients for two or three hours,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration. “Maybe that’s a better use of a player’s time.”

At issue is whether the Tour even needs a regulation. Before 2004, a missed pro-am tee time was handled under the circuit’s “conduct unbecoming” clause, with officials and administrators given the flexibility to handle issues on a case by case basis, free of the mandates of a Draconian policy.

That Mickelson and others are now incensed by a five-year old regulation simply proves a long-held truth – the independent contractors care little for Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., minutia until it hits home or a tad too close to home.

“I’m not sure the mandate was required,” said one PAC member. “It’s a classic case of cutting off the arm when a simple bandage would have worked.”

In this case, less is more, and legalese only makes things messy. Just ask Furyk and Barclays.