It was Hollywood actress Katherine Hepburn who said “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”
Now rules are there to be adhered to or else all hell breaks loose, however it is time that some rules were looked at in context rather than literally. Also if an official makes a call that that call is not questioned once play moves on.
Take the situation with golfer Dustin Johnson in the US Open.
On the final round Johnson was on the fifth green. He took a few practice putts alongside his ball then pulled away ready to address the ball. Before he addressed it the ball moved. A distance of all of a millimetre.
Johnson spoke to a course official walking with the group on their final round. He stated that he had not addressed the ball which should have put him in the clear in terms of a penalty. His story was corroborated by Lee Westwood who was playing with him. At that point they were told all was well and they could play on, there would be no penalty.
This was vital as had he handed in a scorecard with an incorrect score he would have been penalised two strokes.
Two hours later Johnson who was now leading the event was advised that he was under investigation. He therefore had to play the last eight holes with the possible penalty of one stroke hanging over his head.
He has since been quoted as saying “I told myself I would deal with it when I was done. I was playing good and I blocked it out and focussed on each shot. I didn’t let it bother me.”
He was eventually penalised one stroke for moving the ball. However by then he had sealed a victory.
The situation was almost farcical in that those chasing Johnson had no idea what score they had to card to win as the penalty had not been declared.
Add to this the simple fact that the official walking with the group said that there would be no penalty was over-ruled by people who were not even there on the green. So his official powers were usurped and make the whole point of having an official walk the course with the players pointless.
More importantly as was clear Johnson had not addressed his ball, so the penalty seems harsh. They key issue here should be that Johnson was not trying to gain an advantage. He did not move the ball closer to the hole. He was honest in stepping back and saying that his ball had moved. It should have been a straightforward case of no penalty. The question should simply be whether the player is cheating and trying to gain an unfair advantage.
Once again there was the ability to make a fast decision through television technology, yet it is understood that the powers that be opted not to use this until after Johnson had finished his round. Why the delay?
Not surprisingly fellow golfers were quick to criticise the USPGA for their handling of the situation.
Luckily the tournament ended up with the winner it deserved. Johnson won his first major title, but one wonders if the gloss was not taken off of it due to due to the controversy. Will he look back and say that he enjoyed that round? After all even though his chosen sport is his job you must enjoy what you do to have the best results.