Rules is Rules. Vousden is Vousden

Thought for the Day
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

Pro golfers on Tours around the world really are a bunch of whining ninnies. Right now, with barely four weeks gone of 2019, they’ve got themselves all wound up about the new rules Typically, they haven’t given them the chance to bed in, or themselves the opportunity to adjust to this new reality before bleating on about how unreasonable it all is.

The year wasn’t even a week old before Bryson DeChambeau called the new drop procedure, from knee rather than shoulder, height ‘absurd’. At the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, the first PGA Tour event of 2019, he said: ‘I think that you should be able to go from knee height to shoulder height. There should be no issue with that, whatever you want to do, honestly.’

Jordan Spieth weighed in by saying: ‘You drop it knee height, but like, what’s the advantage over dropping it shoulder height? It’s actually probably a disadvantage, so why can’t you still do that? You should be able to drop it from shoulder to knee height in my opinion.’ Hang on a second, Jordan – dropping from two feet above ground is a disadvantage compared to dropping from five feet – could you just explain that?

Spieth added (insulting amateur golfers everywhere) that he doesn’t expect everyday golfers to take the new drop rule seriously. ‘What if they just take a drop from the cart path. I don’t think they probably care. They will still drop it from the shoulder. Technically, you take a drop from your shoulder and play out, you could be penalised for that. Doesn’t make much sense.’

But the most idiotic comment came from Rory McIlroy (of whom I am a big fan), who said: ‘We’re saying that Brian Harman [who is 5’ 7”] has got a big advantage, he can basically place it. Where you have someone like Tony Finau [6’ 4”) who is dropping it probably from like, waist-high for me.’

What the little scamp Rory [5’ 10”] seems unable to comprehend is the anatomical absurdity of what he says. If a tall man and a short man drop from either knee or shoulder height, the relative difference is exactly the same – unless, of course, one of them is freakishly abnormal, with either exceptionally long or short legs, or an exceptionally long or short trunk. I don’t think either Harman or Finau (or Rory himself, come to that) fits this description.

And then there’s the case of Li Haotong, who was penalised two strokes in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. As he was lining up a putt on the 72nd hole, his caddy, Mike Burrow, was standing behind him, looking down the line of the putt. As Li prepared to putt the caddy moved away but, in the eyes of the referee, was still there as his employer took up his stance. This is no longer allowed under the rules, as caddies cannot help a player align himself before making a stroke.

And a damned good thing, too. The change was introduced mainly to stop golfers on women’s tours from having the bagman (or woman) line them up on almost every shot, which was time-consuming and bloody annoying. Grip, stance and alignment are the absolute fundamentals of the game, and if you can’t sort them out yourselves, you shouldn’t be playing pro golf.

Yes, it was harsh on Li Haotong, cost him around 80,000 euros and dropped him from tied 3rd to tied 12th but from the reaction of his fellow pros, and European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, you would imagine he had been sentenced without trial, taken outside and shot. Pelley said the decision was ‘grossly unfair’ and wrote to the R&A, who sensibly replied, in effect, Rules is rules and you have to obey them.

Haotong’s peers, inevitably, weighed on social media – which of course provides ample scope for reasoned, rational debate and discussion. Eddie Pepperell described it as a ‘shockingly bad’ decision; Ross Fisher thought it was a disgrace and Richard Bland believes that ‘some of these rules changes are making a farce of this great game.’ In addition, it seems to me that some were questioning the motives of the rules official involved, yet John Paramor, the European Tour’s chief referee, is respected throughout golf for his integrity and even-handed fairness.

Perhaps the last, and only sensible, word should go to Sergio Garcia, who told Sky Sports: ‘The Rules of Golf are there for everyone, and it doesn’t matter, or it shouldn’t matter, who breaks them, even though they weren’t trying or anything like that. Everybody has got their books and they showed all the new rules and the things that you can and cannot do.

‘I understand it’s the beginning of the year and some of them, you have to be careful because if you don’t think about it, you might go back to what you’ve been doing your whole life. But you know, I’m sure that from now on, it won’t happen to him again. It’s not the right way to learn it, but it’s the hard way, but I’m sure it won’t happen to him again because he’ll be careful what he does. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the Rules of Golf.’

Amen to that. And Li Haotong’s fellow golfers might pause for a moment to consider that by his mistake he has alerted them all to this new regulation, and potentially saved them all from the embarrassment of falling foul of it. And Li went on a week later to win €338,834 in Saudi Arabia for finishing second, so I think his bank balance can cope. He, like his fellow pros, or at least, those who are good enough, earns almost obscene levels of money, invariably in warm sunshine, and is feted wherever he goes. It’s not too much to except them all to make an effort to learn the rules of the game they play for such vast rewards, and stop moaning – although in fairness to Li, he has maintained a dignified silence about his infraction and the subsequent penalty.

The new rules are long overdue and represent a major step forward in making the regulations by which we play the game considerably shorter and easier to understand. The fact that it will take us all a few months to become familiar with them (which could have been anticipated by anyone with half a brain) is no reason to throw all the toys out of the pram in a hissy fit of specious outrage.

Quote of the Week
All I’ve got against golf is that it takes you so far from the clubhouse.
Eric Linklater

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