The Rules have been in the news a lot of late, what with Poults last year, Camilo Villegas in Hawaii and now Padraig in Abu Dhabi. The Rules are not silly, they’re there for everyone’s protection, but are you telling me that a guy nudging his ball a dimple forward as he tries to remove his marker is trying to gain an advantage from 40ft? The marking and remarking of a golf ball is such a grey area and I think it needs to be looked at closely as it’s almost physically impossible to put your ball back on the exact blade of grass you picked it up from.
The viewing experience is improving all the time for the guy on the couch – HD, 3D, super slo-mo, all these great advances. But when you start scrutinising things to the ‘nth degree using technology, problems can arise. The viewer is starting to pick up on things that others have missed. But what are we going to do about it? We need the viewers; we need them watching TV. It’s part of what makes the game financially viable. So it’s difficult – we’ve just got to find the right balance and we’ve got to protect the players. I had a near-miss too in round one in Abu Dhabi and I can tell you it’s not a great experience being at the mercy of the TV footage. I was pretty confident my ball hadn’t moved and that I’d barely feathered it as I took my address position as many players often do. You don’t like to be in a scenario where you’re potentially in breach of a Rule, but you’ve just got to accept it.
I think many people would feel it’s a bit harsh to DQ a guy retrospectively and I’m not sure it shows the game in a great light. So I’d be in favour of a two-shot penalty instead of disqualification when things only come to light after a player has unwittingly signed for a wrong score. Another issue is that only the players on the TV coverage come under such intense scrutiny. Is that unfair? Well, everyone plays by the Rules so there shouldn’t be a fairness element to it, but for, say, a third of the field to have their shots under a hawk-eye scenario, where every shot’s analysed relentlessly, maybe it is a fraction unfair as 66% of the field are going to get away with it if they were to unknowingly breach one of these fiddly little rules.
I respect the Rules – 99% of them are great and are there to protect the whole field. But a small percentage just take things a bit too far in a game which is not a precise science. It’s very difficult to see a grain of sand move if someone’s playing a bunker shot, for example, or to notice the ball moving forward a dimple. It’s just too hard, so if a player unknowingly breaks one of these fiddly rules, I just don’t think they should be penalised for that. A modernisation of certain Rules would be a good thing.
On a related note, I do feel that players need to be policing each other a little more out here. Guys are very reluctant to call penalties on fellow players as they don’t want to be viewed as tell-tales or snitches. You never want to be in a scenario where it’s your word against another guy’s – that’s a horrible situation. And what can the Tour do? It puts them in an awful position too. But I think if guys a) knew the Rules of Golf better (a big ask because the Decisions on the Rules of Golf is a fairly meaty volume) and b) policed each other better, then less of this stuff would go on.
If I saw a fellow player about to break a rule that was going to cost him a penalty, I’d certainly intervene. A prime example would be when a player is chipping from on the green and forgets to get the flag tended. It sounds odd, but it does happen every now and again when you’ve blindsided yourself and would have to putt up over a hill or around a bunker. I’ve witnessed that scenario half a dozen times and would always step in and say: “You might want to get that flag tended. I know you’re chipping, but you’re on the green and if your ball hits the flag it’s a two-shot penalty.”