(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on April 17, 2013 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-herbst/the-masters-takes-off-its_b_3077394.html.)
The Rules of Golf were designed to foster the integrity of the game. Golf professionals are supposed to police themselves. When they sign their scorecard, they acknowledge their responsibility to record their scores accurately, in accordance with the Rules. Any golf professional not completely familiar with those Rules plays the game at his or her peril. If you sign a scorecard containing a false score, even a mistaken one, you are out of the tournament.
Unless you are Tiger Woods, apparently, again in contention at the Masters, with millions of viewers in thrall, with big advertising dollars on the line. Is Bobby Jones, the co-founder of Augusta National and paragon of virtue, turning over in his grave? You bet he is. He would never have countenanced Woods’s decision not to disqualify himself, let alone the decision today of the tournament’s three-man Rules Committee not to disqualify him.
Woods hit a great shot to the 15th green, but the ball bounced off the flag right into the water hazard to the left of the green. It was a really bad break for Woods, then at or very near the top of the leader board. Among three choices, the Rules permitted Woods to hit again from the same spot. But instead of dropping his new ball as close as possible to the old spot as the Rule requires, Woods deliberately dropped it two yards behind, calculating that it would improve his next shot a bit. That shot was indeed a beauty, ending up only about a foot away from the hole.
An unidentified viewer conversant with the rule noticed, and called-in the violation. The Rules Committee looked at the tape and either saw no violation or decided to ignore it. But then Woods gave a post-round TV interview and admitted that he had deliberately dropped the ball behind the old spot. It was now clear that Woods had violated the rules, but did not realize it. Failing to penalize himself, he had signed an inaccurate scorecard. The Rules Committee notified Woods’s “representatives” last night, according to Fred Ridley, its chair. The only honorable thing for Woods to do under the rules was to disqualify himself, but he did not. We will all restrain ourselves from further comment on his integrity.
But what about the Rules Committee’s decision not to disqualify Woods itself especially in light of his admission on television that he had violated the Rule? The videotape clearly reveals the violation, so its initial decision to sweep Woods’ violation under the (green) carpet, and not to discuss the violation with him prior to his signing his scorecard so that he could penalize himself, is hard to fathom. But after Woods admitted the violation before millions on TV, the Committee’s course was clear. Its failure to disqualify Woods was a woeful failure of integrity, and a blight on the Masters Tournament and the game itself.
In its written statement trying to explain its decision to penalize Woods two strokes but not disqualify him, the Committee said that the penalty of disqualification was waived “under Rule 33 as the Committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round.” But that explanation makes no sense since the initial decision was not only flawed itself, but also came before Woods’s TV admission, which constituted new information which rendered the earlier review and decision irrelevant. Once it became clear from Woods’s own mouth that he had clearly violated the Rules, disqualification was mandated. Moreover, Rule 33 permits a waiver of disqualification only in “exceptional cases.” There was nothing exceptional about the circumstances of this case, other than that the violator was Tiger Woods, and millions of viewers and dollars were on the line. The Masters Tournament chose money over integrity, not an unusual choice these days, unfortunately.