Saturday, February 2, 2019

Golf Continues to Shoot Itself in the Foot - and We Continue to Love it Regardless

The last 10 days were pretty tough to endure if you love golf.  From a cheeky photo posted on Instagram of our U.S. Open champion, to a seemingly petty jab at a fellow player by one of the Tour's "nice guys," this week was farcically disappointing for golf. 


A Masters champion destroyed at least five greens in anger at a tournament in Saudi Arabia and was disqualified for "serious misconduct."  A new 2019 Rule of Golf was interpreted and applied so absurdly that the only thing more deflating would be if the rule was interpreted and applied nonsensically a second time - and because it's golf, of course it was.  But even with golf's peerless capacity to dumbfound, we continue to love this sport. 

Now in fairness to Brooks Koepka, he didn't actually post the picture of him wearing a matching thong with his girlfriend Jenna Sims.  That was all Jenna.  And as if it couldn't get any worse, well, Sims asking who wore it better sort of did make it worse. 


The thing is, if Brooks wants to be respected, that's absolutely the last thing he should do in the first place (and where is his agent in all of this anyway).  Koepka already has an image problem dating back to him saying golf is boring, he never watches it, and he doesn't even like golf (not big on knowing his audience apparently).  And allowing a pic like that to be posted isn't going to help make him more likable - except maybe with the ladies who linger at dive bars until closing time hoping to get lucky. 

Koepka's explosive power off the tee can sterilize a field, and his iron play is sharp as a knife.  But just as Koepka's skill set is undeniable, so it it that he continually makes decisions that make people not want to cheer for him, let alone respect him as an athlete or golfer.  This isn't the same thing as Josh Gordon not being able to "stay off the weed."  But for a guy with this much talent, who's clearly bothered by the lack of respect he gets on Tour to continually make bad decisions like this?  I mean - you make your bed BK, now lie in it I guess. 

And I'm not even getting into Koepka passive-aggressively ranting about Bryson DeChambeau's fascinating pre-shot routine, saying slow play on Tour is "embarrassing" and "it's not that hard to hit a golf ball."  Even if you think slow play is a big problem on Tour, really, Brooks? 


Speaking of DeChambeau (who's won four titles in his last nine starts), the 25-year old, five-time PGA Tour winner was also jabbed by fellow player Matt Kuchar a few days later, when a mic picked up Kooch saying after a shot, "I think the electromagnetic pulses pushed it back a bit." 


Wait, what?  Matt "Aw, Golly Gee Shucks" Kuchar said that?  Now granted, it's not a certainty Kuchar was disrespecting DeChambeau.  But if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck it probably is. 

Most players on Tour aren't going to be considering air density before shots like Bryson does, and maybe some players are annoyed or jealous.  But targeting a fellow player with a petty comment like that just isn't a good look for a guy who's supposed to be on of the "good guys" on Tour.  Not to mention one who's only a few weeks removed that caddie controversy, whether or not the arrangement (between Kuchar and El Tucon) is any of our business. 


Continuing the theme of "golfers behaving badly," today the European Tour announced that Sergio Garcia was disqualified from the Saudi International for "serious misconduct."  More specifically for the damage he inflicted on up to five greens slamming his wedge and putter into the putting surface enough times that the greens needed to be resurfaced. 


Garcia could potentially face a suspension from the European Tour and a hefty fine, although nothing that comes close to his $650K plus appearance fee competing in this Saudi Arabia inaugural tournament. 

While it's not fair to go back in history and recount Garcia's charge sheet (which is rather long and notorious), it is fair to point out Sergio has escaped punishment every time.  And the last time the European Tour suspended a player (in 2013), Simon Dyson's misconduct was tapping down a spike-mark - for which he received a two-month suspension ban.

Garcia allegedly destroyed five greens, slamming his putter into the surface causing deep gouges on the greens that required resurfacing.  Depending on what the investigation turns up, Sergio El Carnicero (The Butcher) shouldn't just be slapped on the wrist for being a bad boy this time.  In the short term it might not be good for ratings if Sergio is sitting on the sideline for a few months, but in the long term it will garner the greatest respect from most golf fans. 

With that said?  I'm willing to concede Sergio's outburst might have been about something more than golf.  I once played with a guy who constantly picked up my ball after I hit a shot, put it in his pocket, and then tossed down one of his older (and sometimes even carved up) balls in its place.  Now this guy was an older dude and the dad of one of my friends, so I couldn't go nuclear like Sergio - but I wanted to, I really wanted to.  Maybe one of Sergio's playing partners (Dustin Johnson and Matt Wallace) was like my bud's dad.  I'll give Sergio the benefit of the doubt until I see the tape. 


It's not just the players however, who provide storylines that thrash the good name of golf.  It's the organizations that govern the sport as well. 

The new 2019 Rules of Golf were supposed to make the game better, faster, and more entertaining, appealing to the common sense of everyday golfers.  Instead early on this season the Rules have creates drama that even the Kardashians would envy.  And the worst drama surrounded the application of Rule 10.2b(4). 


The Rule states: 
The previous prohibition is extended so that, once the player begins taking a stance for the stroke, and until the stroke is made, the player’s caddie must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason. 
There is no penalty if the caddie accidentally stands on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball, rather than in trying to help in lining up. 

The gist of this new Rule is to leave to the player alone the fundamental skill of lining up his feet and body accurately to the line of play (although players can still receive advice from their caddies on shots to be played, line of play, and other similar matters).  That makes sense and seems easy enough.

So what happened this week?  Well first Haotong Li got rung up at the Dubai Desert Classic even though it looked to be a subjective judgement call more than a clear violation of the Rule.  And to further complicate matters, the Rule (and notes to it) doesn't speak about judgment in interpretation or behavioral intent as factors in deciding if the Rule has been violated. 


Outrage that followed ranged from annoyed to hostile, and was shared by fans, players, and just about anyone who saw the video.  Perhaps feeling the pressure of public displeasure, the European Tour tossed the R&A under the bus, blaming them for tying their hands in interpreting the Rule.  And of course R&A shot back defending the integrity of the new Rule. 


Before the drama could finish percolating, a new and worse Rules spectacle jumped into the spotlight Friday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.  Denny McCarthy took a few practice swings with his caddie behind him.  His caddie then left the line of play.  McCarthy backed off and then moved back in and took his shot.  After the round was finished McCarthy was slapped with a two-shot penalty on the reasoning that stepping out in the fairway or tee-box doesn't reset a stance like it does on the greens (don't even ask me where this interpretation comes from). 


And making this buffoonery even more bizarre, today the PGA Tour rescinded the two-stroke penalty with full support from the USGA and R&A.  This would be comical if it wasn't so absolutely preposterous.  The USGA released a statement saying "no useful guidance on aiming could have been given because the player was still in the process of determining how to play the stroke." 

Seriously, this Rule is one hot mess right now, and the USGA, R&A, and both Tours need to act quickly and meticulously to analyze this Rule and clearly state exactly how it should be interpreted and applied going forward.  Otherwise the Rule needs to be junked until they can figure this all out. 

And just to pile on, this week Golf Datatech released a report stating rounds played in in 2018 were down almost five-percent compared to 2017, suggesting golf is slipping a bit in popularity.  So I asked you guys on twitter and Instagram if you had to choose between playing golf or watching golf, which would you choose?  Almost 90-percent of you answered resoundingly "play golf," and that made me realize something. 


There's always going to be controversy in golf.  Rolling back the ball and distance debates aren't new.  Rules debacles are as old as the game itself.  We'll always have characters with fiery dispositions who misbehave or throw temper tantrums that don't exactly fit with the image of golf as a gentleman's sport.  Google Terrible Tommy Bolt - he makes Sergio look like a saint. 


Golf doesn't need to try so hard to change.  Golf doesn't even need to try to grow the game.  Golf just needs to be golf.  Its natural evolution, ebb, and flow will take care of the rest.  Just like it always has.  And we'll continue to love the game.  Just like we always have.

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