Policing the Game


WGC-Cadillac ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – These are the facts.

Peter Hanson’s approach shot to the famed 18th green at Doral wedged itself between the rocks ringing the water hazard and the deep blue, leaving the Swedish half of the Hanson Brothers no choice but to remove his right shoe and sock and try a watery whack.

As he was leaving the hazard Hanson handed his wedge to his caddie, Mark Sherwood, who accidently let the club brush the grass within the hazard, a possible violation of the Rules of Golf.

Thirty minutes later outside the scoring trailer Hanson was mulling his rule options.

“I’m not sure what the rule is so they are looking at the tape,” Hanson said. “If it touches the grass it is not the same thing as grounding the club.”

Officials who reviewed the footage found it to be inconclusive and Hanson’s caddie said he did not ground the club, which is defined in the rules as allowing the weight of the club to be supported by the ground.

Eventually he signed for a bogey-5, not a double bogey that would have come with a penalty, but the event underscores why the Rules of Golf work, at least at the highest levels.

If modern technology and HD hindsight fall short of being definitive, the decision is left to the player, and know this about professional golfers: they will avoid even a whiff of impropriety like a downhill 5 footer for par at Augusta National.

“This guy is as honest as the day is long,” said PGA Tour rules official Steve Rintoul. “And the thing is this is the third situation this week where a player has called a possible infraction on himself, that’s something.”

Camilo Villegas
Camilo Villegas' rules mishap early in 2011 has players policing themselves more closely. (Getty Images)

Note to Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s new chief: we know you are dutifully trying to find a fix to the rules snafu that landed Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington early exist this season, but before you throw the crybabies out with the water hazard, consider your audience.

Cheating is the one word that doesn’t wash off in golf, which is why Hanson went to such extremes to protect his name as well as the integrity of the event. What modern technology couldn’t detect, the Swede wanted to clarify.

Just as Jim Furyk wanted to be sure he’d been given the proper advice on the same 18th hole when he completed his first round Friday morning. Furyk’s third shot had sailed into the grandstands adjacent the green and he was informed by a rules official he could drop a new ball.

“If the ball is not easily retrievable we’re not going to cut down the stands to get it,” Rintoul said. “We allowed him to substitute the ball, but after the round he just wanted to be sure. He was thinking he wasn’t allowed to drop a new ball.”

In the end Furyk’s original ruling was found to be correct, although that did little to dull the sting of a closing double bogey-6.

On Friday Graeme McDowell had a similar rules stymie when his ball moved on the ninth green while he was putting it.

“(Playing partner Phil Mickelson) was right beside me when I did it and I mentioned to him,” McDowell said. “I kind of thought if you continued your stroke you were OK, and Phil kind of thought the same thing . . . but it was just kind of one of those niggling things.”

McDowell was assessed a one-stroke penalty since “he’d already grounded his club,” Rintoul said. The penalty was accepted, without protest, because that’s what golfers do.

When in doubt, do what’s best, even if that means adding a few when there has clearly been no competitive advantage gained and no quantifiable harm done. What would be considered laughable in a court of law is the law on the golf course – as it should be.

“Just one of those things unfortunately,” McDowell said. “You know, got to get those doubts out of your mind.”

Villegas and Harrington’s disqualifications earlier this year for signing incorrect scorecards have caused a great amount of handwringing. The punishment, opponents claim, doesn’t fit the crime, and maybe the Rules of Golf could use a 21st Century nip/tuck.

But if the actions of Hanson & Co. this week at Doral have taught us anything it is that the players, not officials or overzealous viewers at home with too much free time, will police themselves. They always have.


Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggard