In golf, rules are rules, with no exceptions for infractions great or small

Henrik Stenson
USA Today Sports Images
In golf, rules are enforced religiously, as Henrik Stenson discovered when he was put on the clock in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday.
By
Dan O'Neill
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 | 2:16 p.m.
 
The St. Louis Blues lost 2-1 at Detroit on Sunday, circumstances that present a prime example of how golf differs from hockey – and all other sports, for that matter.
 
It's about integrity.
 
If you missed it, the Red Wings won the game when forward Justin Abdelkader scored in overtime. The Blues were not happy because, as was crystal clear on video replay, Abdelkader swept the puck into the goal with a broken stick.
 
NHL rules do not allow the use of broken sticks. They require a player to drop the damaged utensil immediately or otherwise be penalized. Nevertheless, the play and the outcome stood.
 
Now, had the Blues and Red Wings been locked in a fierce, 21,000-foot game of golf, things would have been different. For instance, Abdelkader would have been disqualified for using the compromised stick, as was Anthony Kim in 2008.
 
After hitting a tee shot on that occasion, Kim headed down the fairway, dragging his driver in hand when he accidentally bumped the club against a sprinkler head. Unbeknownst to Kim, the contact put a slight bend in the shaft of the driver.
 
On the next tee, the oblivious Kim pulled out the same piece of furniture and pierced the fairway. But the Rules of Golf state a player may not use a club damaged outside of normal play. When the bend in the driver was identified, the shot didn't count. Neither did anything else regarding Kim. He was disqualified immediately.
 
Bottom line, there are peculiar rules throughout sports. Where golf is concerned, the difference is in how they are kept. In sports such as hockey, football and basketball, rules seem to be enforced in almost randomly – influenced by the situation, the clock, the ability of officials to detect and enforce.
 
 
In golf, rules are enforced religiously. It's a rule. If an infraction escapes the attention of an on-course official, someone else will blow the whistle. It could be someone in the gallery or someone in another zip code who is watching on television. Not only are you are required to turn yourself in, you are required to inform on others. A loyal Mafia capo never could make it in golf.
 
As Bobby Jones once said, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank as to praise him for playing by the rules."
 
As for situations, clocks ... they're all part of the litigation. Henrik Stenson found that out the hard way on Sunday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Swede was in the lead coming down the stretch at Bay Hill, but that didn't matter. On the 15th hole, PGA Tour officials informed Stenson and playing partner Morgan Hoffman they were too slow and officially being put "on the clock."
 
A flustered Stenson three-putted Nos. 15 and 16 and gave way to eventual winner Matt Every. Afterward, Stenson told reporters, "I'm as much disappointed with the PGA Tour officials for putting us on the clock on 15 and starting to chase us down the stretch."
 
Tour rules official Steve Rintoul countered by telling Reuters: "Their 3:56 (three hours, 56 minutes) was the slowest group of the day. Slow groups get timed, first off or last off."
 
Where the old Bogeyman is concerned, less than four hours does not seem "slow." He would consider a Sunday round completed in less than four hours an act of God. But in championship golf, slow play is relevant to the field and your position on the course. It's relevant at the beginning of the game or in overtime.
 
While one might argue certain players get the benefit of the doubt more than others, that's mostly a sour grapes perception. In golf it's not to matter who, what, where or when. It's not to matter how harmless or superfluous the violation seems. There's no spirit of the law, only the letter.
 
In 1987, golf's unyielding rules cost Craig Stadler more than $37,000. During the third round of an event in San Diego, a Stadler shot came to rest under a tree. To hit his next shot, he would need to swing the club from his knees. The "Walrus," resplendent in light-colored pants, didn't want to stain them on the wet ground. He did the sensible thing. He dropped a towel on which to kneel as he hit the shot. His mother would have been proud.
 
 
But dry cleaning is not among the considerations of Rule 13-3, which prohibits players from "building a stance." When a television viewer called the next day to bring it to attention, Stadler was disqualified for signing a scorecard that did not assess a two-stroke penalty for the infraction. His tie place for third was wiped out.
 
Stenson was upset on Sunday, understandable. But the belly-aching falls flat. For one, he and Hoffman probably were warned to pick things up before it became official. There have been far more callous and grievous rules applications.
 
Consider the circumstances at the 2010 Verizon Heritage event. The championship came down to a playoff between Jim Furyk and Brian Davis, who was chasing his first PGA Tour win. During the first extra hole, Davis nicked a loose reed on the ground with his backswing. The violation of rule 13.4 against moving a loose impediment during a takeaway was nearly indiscernible.
 
But Davis thought he felt something. He informed a PGA Tour official and a slow-motion replay confirmed the ever-so-slight clip. Davis accepted a two-stroke penalty and Furyk accepted the winner's check.
 
It was similar to a situation at the 1991 Doral Ryder Open in Miami. Paul Azinger shot an opening-round 65 and was one shot off the lead at the end of the day. But a TV viewer saw Azinger's foot inadvertently move a rock as he took his stance to chip out of a water hazard.
 
Officials pulled Azinger off the course the next day and viewed a replay that showed the infraction. Azinger argued he nudged the rock unintentionally. But intent isn't part of rule 13-4c. The movement of a loose impediment in a hazard constitutes a two-stroke penalty, and rule 6-6b explained the penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. Azinger was disqualified.
 
So, if this was golf, the Red Wings and Justin Abdelkader would do the right thing. They would admit they violated the rules and signed off on an incorrect scorecard. Of course, if this was golf, Abdelkader would have missed anyway.
 
The goals are a lot smaller.
 
This article was written by Dan O'Neill from St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.