Some of my golfing heroes are not happy. Justin Thomas, Eddie Pepperell, Richie Ramsay, not happy at all. At least not according to their twitter feeds, where it is clear they are all up in arms about the penalties handed out to a couple of their fellow professionals for getting their caddies to line up shots.
Li Haotong left Dubai E100k lighter as a result of the 2-shot hit he took for the split second his trusty bagman lingered behind him to offer a second opinion on his final putt. Then, Denny McCarthy had 2 strokes added to his total after his caddie took a rear view of his practice swings for a shot to the 15th green in Phoenix.
Both were cruelly marginal calls. The precise letter of the new laws may have given the Tour police just about enough licence to hand out tickets but they were the kind of judgments a good barrister would have appealed with relish.
If it wasn’t an ass, the law was made to look a bit of a lame donkey in a sport of thoroughbreds.
So why was I not as outraged by these decisions as so many golfers on social media? Why did my eyes begin to glaze over when I started to read the small print of Rule 10.2b(4)? Maybe McCarthy fell asleep halfway through the rules briefing too.
The difference between Li, McCarthy and me – well, one of the differences – is that if anyone stands behind me from the very moment I first take a club out of the bag, I brusquely invite them to retake their stance in a neighbouring county.
Caddies and I have an uneasy relationship at best. Funnily enough, they always cost me quite a bit of money too. In fees! The returns on my investment in places as far apart as Thailand, South Africa and St Andrews have been mixed. I usually end up blaming them more than praising them. I prefer to misread my putts alone.
In both of the headline cases of the last few days, the caddies’ contributions to the incidents appear to me to have slowed their men down more than anything. At my level of the game, pace of play is the real stuff of Twitter rants.
I can think of no other sport in which the participants stick to the rules anything like as strictly as golfers. And yet the professional players that I admire so much for their skill and power are the first ones to push the spirit of the rules to the limits.
When Brooks Koepka’s ball briefly lost its way around a Saudi desert last week, he felt entitled to recruit half-a-dozen passers-by to move a boulder the size of Fred Flintstone’s house rather than take a penalty drop.
The rules didn’t say the boulder was a loose impediment, but they didn’t say it wasn’t. So Koepka stopped the tournament to get his odd job men in to test its looseness.
It turned out to be even looser than Tiger Woods’ even bigger boulder in Phoenix all those years ago. That one was so large it was visible from space. They had to evacuate tourists taking photographs from the summit before an army of fans managed to move the inconvenient obstruction to his next million.
It took forever.
Guys, the planet is a loose impediment in the universal scheme of things but you can’t move it just because you’ve hit a duck hook.
There is a wall of timber sleepers protecting the front of the 16th green at our club. It has been sturdily constructed to force an aerial approach shot but if a crack team of building workers began to wrap their Samson hands around the wooden stakes, I feel sure they could loosen them sufficiently to clear my way to play a bump and run next time I’m stymied.
I’m just not sure that the old boys I roll up with would be happy to wait for John Paramor to buggy out from wherever he happens to be to make a ruling in my favour.
The essence of the new revisions has been to simplify and speed up play. They have removed a number of nonsenses. No more need for David Attenborough to be summoned to identify the scrapings of a burrowing animal, no more Red Indian trackers required to distinguish footprints from ball marks. Once everybody has finished debating the Brexit-like complexity of whether or not to leave the flag in, we can all get round in the time it takes Bryson DeChambeau to work out if the Moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter is aligned with Uranus.
Ah Bryson! I’m sorry but he would get a hefty kick up that very planet if he started measuring air density and trajectory in our Sunday morning meeting of minds. No grip it and rip it for him. DeChambeau selects it, then checks it, then inspects it, then dissects it, then reflects it, then projects it, then corrects it, then perfects it, then and only then connects with it.
He has tried to justify his endless scientific theorising by pointing out that he earns his living on the golf course. My taxi driver earns his living on the road but I wouldn’t take too kindly to him delaying my commute to the station in order to assess tarmac texture on tyre tread every time the lights turn green.
Factor a few fines into Bryson’s calculations and see if he still does the math quite so conscientiously.
Li seems to be as good a man as he is a player. He took his punishment without complaint and has come back stronger. McCarthy has pretty much admitted that he didn’t read the T’s and C’s carefully enough. As golfers we are constantly humbled by this glorious game and that humility appears to exist in the respect the best players show to the vagaries of the rules.
Sergio Garcia got a red card this weekend but golf doesn’t need sin bins just yet.
The only request I would make to Bryson and co on behalf of those of us that don’t earn our livings from golf is to respect the reasons for the rules as readily as the text. I’m no longer of an impressionable age but I do try to watch and learn from the best. The pros not only set the bar, they set the standards and the example.
Unfortunately, they set the pace for some weekend hackers too.
Li and McCarthy may have been nabbed on technicalities but the whole idea behind the R and A reforms is to cut down on the stoppages and get on with the golfing. There are always some early casualty scapegoats when rules are revised. It’s a price worth paying for speedier, simpler golf.