PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For a game that has been guided for centuries by the simple, unwavering tenets of rules we sure have gotten willy-nilly of late, and maybe that’s not a bad thing.
On Wednesday PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem surprised many when he acknowledged that the circuit ignores its own policy and continues to allow a co-sanctioned event at Augusta National despite its all-male membership.
A day later the Tour again colored outside the lines to sidestep one of the most embarrassing episodes in pro golf history since Roberto De Vicenzo mixed up his math and lost a Masters.
It was a day that began at 7 a.m. for Brian Harman, an up-and-coming Tour rookie and this week’s first alternate into The Players Championship. After hitting some warm-up shots on TPC Sawgrass’ practice tee Harman informed Tour officials he’d be in the clubhouse if someone withdrew.
Not long after that D.A. Points brushed past your correspondent on his way to the fitness trailer looking for treatment for a sore back. Wishing for the best, Points struggled to the first tee but by the time he arrived for his 8:39 a.m. tee time he realized he couldn’t play.
“You could tell something was wrong. He was trying to swing, but it wasn’t pretty, said Robert Garrigus, who was in Points' group. “I told him if he couldn’t play he should withdraw and let someone else in.”
What transpired was something of an imperfect storm, complicated by time and the space between TPC’s first tee and its sprawling clubhouse. Some have suggested Points was too slow to notify officials of his WD, although officials did say the veteran did everything within the rules, but consider his Thursday plight.
“He was fine and about 25 minutes before his tee time he tweaked it. He didn’t think it was going to be an issue,” said Brad Buffoni, Points’ manager with Wasserman Media Group. “He was going through his full pre-tournament routine and that’s when he tweaked it.
“He takes a couple of practice swings and realizes he has no chance. Rather than hit the shot and have the alternate have no chance to be in the field he tells them he’s going to withdraw. He’s thinking of getting someone in the field.”
This is where it gets complicated.
When a player withdraws before teeing off for his first round officials normally scramble to replace him in the field with the next available alternate, but Harman was never notified, at least not until it was too late.
“Very unusual situation,” said Mark Russell, the Tour’s vice president of rules and competition. “In my 31 years I never remember a player withdrawing right before he was supposed to tee off.”
By the time officials learned of Points’ exit his group was on the second hole and the empty spot, Harman’s spot, remained unfilled.
According to Tour rules, if the next available alternate isn’t around officials move down the list – in this case to Greg Owen, who was at his home in Orlando, Fla. – until there are no more alternates. At that point the alternate list is discarded and if someone withdraws they are not replaced.
But Tour officials had a problem, Harman had been available, but the logistics of Points’ withdrawal conspired against him.
As Harman stood on the practice tee warming up for a tee time that might never materialize he couldn’t help but laugh at the strange turn of events.
“I thought I was in the field twice this week,” he smiled, pointing out that when Fred Couples withdrew earlier this week he initially thought he was in until officials informed him that because Couples was in the field via his victory at the Senior Players Championship the spot would not be replaced.
In what can only be described as a victory of reason, the Tour concluded, after lengthy discussions with the U.S. Golf Association, that “Brian Harman had done everything we asked him to do,” Russell said.
In a break from protocol, if not reason, officials decided to give the rookie a spot in The Players field, sending him out alone at 12:20 p.m. for Round 1 and on Friday he will play with Ryan Moore and Bud Cauley in the 8:50 a.m. group following Paul Casey’s withdrawal midway through his opening round.
“This is not a shuttle launch,” said Mac Barnhardt, Harman’s manager with Crown Sports Management. “They made the right call. I was in contact with (Tour official) Ross Berlin who was working on Brian’s behalf. They were going to protect their member at all cost.”
Non-golfers will consider the entire affair ridiculous. Of course the Tour squeezed Harman into an unused tee time because it was the right thing to do, correct? But then golf doesn’t exactly have the market cornered on reason.
“I had no idea what was going to happen. I just tried to put it out of my mind. If I get in great if not Dad was putting the boat in the water so I was going to have a good day regardless,” Harman said following his first-round 73. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shook up by what happened.”
The Rules of Golf are riddled with items that exceed the boundaries of what, in any other sport, would be considered fair play. Perhaps it is part of what makes golf special, but in Harman’s case there was nothing to be gained by a dogmatic adherence to the rules.
A society prone to damage control may not like it, but this was nothing more than a crime without culpability, just victims; and the Tour made the right call regardless of the letter of the law.