The Masters, April 14, 2013

Well, the 2013 Masters Golf Tournnament provided an exciting finish. Australian Adam Scott defeated Argentinian Angel Cabrera on the second hole of a sudden death playoff. There have been high expectations for Adam to win a major championship, and he has been knocking at the door several times in recent years. It has been the same for his countrymen to win a Masters. No Australian had ever won the U.S. Masters until today even though Austalians have won nine U.S. Open golf championships.

Tiger Woods was in the hunt all the time, but he just couldn’t make that surge he needed to finish on top and win his 15th major championship. It’s now been nearly five years since Tiger won his last, and 14th, major championship–the U.S. Open at San Diego, where he grew up. So, Tiger is stuck on the #14 while trying to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship wins.

This week’s Masters had two rules incidents that became knowledge sent ’round the world. The main one was Tiger Wood’s mishap. He finished in a tie for 4th at 5 under par, four strokes behind Scott and Cabrera. At Augustal National Golf Club, the two easiest holes on the course to make a birdie or an eagle are #s 13 and 15. However, on both holes there is water near the green, which especially makes your second shot risky if you have driven off the tee far enough and you elect to go for the green.

On Friday, on the 15th hole, Tiger drove out of the fairway to the right and was forced to lay up on his second shot short of the large pond in front of the green. His third shot, a short wedge from perhaps 80-100 yards, was so on target that the ball hit the pin on the fly and bounced way backwards, rollling into the pond for a penalty stroke.  That is about the most unfortunate break you can get in golf. If his shot would have missed the flagstick, it would have landed a few feet past the hole and finished perhaps ten feet behind the hole and on the green, giving him a birdie opportunity with his putt.

Tiger then had to drop another ball from where he last played and hit his next shot. So, he had to count the dropped ball as a one-stroke penalty, and he was hitting his wedge shot again, it being his fifth shot. He then played a superb shot again, but it landed barely short of the hole and finished close to the hole. Tiger then made the short putt for what he thought, and Masters officials thought, and the whole world of golf that was watching on TV thought, was a six. But Tiger finished his round and then made what some would call a blunder. In a media interview, he was asked about his second wedge shot on that 15th hole. He said that since his first wedge shot was hit just a little too strong, he “backed up two yards” and dropped the extra ball. No one thought about it at the time.

However, over the years the PGA TOUR has rather unwantingly gotten a bunch of “television armchair quarterbacks” who are calling the shots. When they see pros on TV in tournament play do something that think is an infraction of the Rules of Golf, they quickly get on the phone and start calling various phone numbers to register a complaint.  They may call the tournament clubhouse, which has a public phone number, and the operator will put them in contact with the proper person. Or they might phone the tournament headquarters about it. Sometimes, if it’s not too late in the day, they even phone the PGA TOUR headquarters in Sawgrass, Florida, about it. Their objective it to get the atention of PGA TOUR rules officials, who usually don’t know anything about the matter since they don’t have time watch TV, especially since most of them are out on the golf course.

Well, someone saw that Friday telecast, when Tiger Woods dropped that ball on the 15th hole, and thought he violated a rule of golf. It says that when you hit a ball into water or out-of-bounds, and must therefore incur a penalty stroke and drop another ball to continue play, you must drop the ball relatively close to the place from where you played your last stroke. It appeared to the armchair quaterback that Tiger had dropped his ball several feet farther back than where he was supposed to have dropped it.

After receiving the phone call that Friday afternoon, Masters officials considered the situation and decided that Tiger had not committed an infraction of the rules of golf. They thought he dropped the ball relatively close to the spot from where he had hit his last shot. But Masters officials did not know at that time about Tiger’s interview right after the round, when he said he backed up two yards and dropped the ball. That would be an infraction if that is indeed what he did. (However, a media photographer took pictures of both shots, and they seemed to show that Tiger did not back up that far. Tiger sometime afterwards said he saw those pictures, and he said that it appeared he nevertheless committed the rules infraction.)

So, the next day, Master’s officials brought the subject to Tiger’s attention again, now discussing that interview. Tiger then agreed that he had committed a violation of the rules, and Masters rules officials had no choice but to penalize him two strokes. (It can be questioned why Tiger would make such an error, since a pro should know that rule. Yes, they should; but my assessment is that when you’re in the heat of the battle like that, it’s easy to forget such a thing. Actually, that’s when you want a really good caddie who knows the rules, who would then stop you from making the error. But not many caddies are that good about the rules.)

However, another rule then came into play for Tiger. When you sign your scorecard soon after finishing play, and it becomes known thereafter that you broke a rule of golf during that round, which requires that you must incur a one or two-stroke penalty as is usually the case, you then must be disqualified from the competition and therefore cannot be allowed to continue. Since Tiger really made an 8 on the 15th hole on Friday, but signed for a 6, and it was not realized until Saturday, there emerged the question of whether Tiger should then be disqualified. But, largely due to so much television armchair quaterbacking going on in American pro golf, it has been reported that an new rule was added to the golf rule book in 2011 in which the player is not disqualified in such cases. So, Masters officials concluded that Tiger must be assessed that extra two-shot penalty, yet not be disqualified.

This whole thing was so unfortunate for Tiger Woods because, if his ball had not hit the pin, he might have made the putt for a 4, thus 4 strokes lower than the 8 he was assessed. If that would have happened, Tiger would have been in the playoff. In the television interview after the tournament, I thought Tiger handled himself real well. He didn’t say anything like “woe is me,” yet he sure could have and no one would have faulted him for it. It was just a terrible break. But like Tiger said, “that’s golf.”

The other rules incident was concerning Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old boy from China who not only was by far the youngest player to ever play in The Masters, but he also was the youngest to ever make the 36-hole cut in order to play the weekend and finish the tournament. On his first round, Masters rules officials reportedly told him twice that he was subject to being penalized for slow play. When that happens, players then have a certain number of seconds to play each shot when it is their turn to play. Rules officials may then begin timing the player with a clock. It is customary on the PGA TOUR under such cases that when you are “on the clock,” the rules official tells you in advance. I don’t think that was done, yet the rules official informed Guam that he was being assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play on a particular shot. Masters officials may argue that, just because that’s the custom on the PGA TOUR, it’s not in the rule book.

I think this was a very unfortunate ruling. Thus, I question that it should have been done. I’ve noticed on TV lately that the PGA TOUR has been very negligent lately in enforcing the slow play rule. The Tour has always gone back and forth about this, being too tough and then too lenient.

The boy turned into a phenomenon that week. Under such circumstances, it may have even slowed him up during play a little. But the main thing here is that for a long time the Masters golf tournament has probably been trying to shed an image that he has with a lot of golf fans and not a few pros about it having shown favoritism in rulings in the past to some name players. I’m not aware of any other situation other than when Arnold Palmer hit a sand bunker shot and didn’t get his ball out of the sand bunker. Arnold has always had a habit he sometimes does when he hits a poor sandshot, in which he then takes a practice stroke, hitting the sand. Of course, the only reason you would do that is that you are trying to make the necessary correction in the swing. Now, if with your bad shot the ball got out of the sand bunker and you take that practice swing and hit the sand with your clubhead, there is no penalty. But if your ball doesn’t get out of the sand and you do that, it’s a rules infraction and a one-stroke penalty. The well-known rule states that you cannot “test the sand,” and taking a practice swing in which your clubhead hits the sand is considered testing the sand. Anyway, Arnold did that on a hole one year, and all kinds of golf fans saw it, knew the rule, and were declaring that Arnold should be assessed a penalty stroke. Many pros in the tournament said the same. After Arnold finished the round and met with Masters rules officials, they decided not to penalized “the king,” one of Arnold’s nicknames.

To continue talk about golf rules, on March 17 this year, in the Donnelley LPGA tournament in Phoenix, Arizona, near where I live, Stacy Lewis was assessed a two-stroke penalty due to television armchair quarterbacks again. On TV, they saw her caddie walk into a sand bunker with her ball lying in it. That’s something I never allowed my caddies to do because it is unnecessary. Anyway, it appeared that her caddie moved his right foot in the sand in such a way that it was deemed “testing the sand.” In the rules of golf, the caddie of the player is deemed an extension of the player. Thus, it was the same as if Stacy had tested the sand. She afterwards said that she felt bad for her caddie, who was so sorry for the incident. She then said he was “the best caddie” on their Tour and that they’d be “all right.” Wow, what a great attitude. On top of that, she went on to win the tournament and at that moment became the #1-rated female pro golfer in the world for the first time in her career.

Well, why have I taken up so much space about the rules of golf. It reminds me of when we must all stand before the judgment of God, on Judgment Day, and give an account of our lives. We’ve all broken God’s rules. According to the New Testament, God has chosen Jesus to conduct that great azize (e.g., Matthew 16.27; John 5.22; Acts 17.31; 2 Corinthians 5.10; cf. Romans 14.10). What will be the criterion for judgment, like the rule book in golf? First and foremost it will be the Ten Commandments (except that I don’t think keeping the Sabbath applies to Gentiles). Then, Jesus had said that it will also be the words he said, which have been recorded in the New Testament, and that these words were given to him by God the Father (John 12.47-49). He explained that on that Day everything previously covered up will be revealed and even shouted from the rooftops (Luke 12.2-3). Heavenly books, probably being a record of what we have done, will be opened (Revelation 20.12). And there probably will be many witnesses who testify. It all reminds me of watching television and seeing pro golfers break the rules of golf.

But glory be to God and his Christ that we will have all of our rules infractions forgiven if we have trusted Jesus bearing our sins on the cross, dying for us. That is the main part of the Christian message, and God proved it by raising Jesus from the dead. And another important part of that message is that we must allow Jesus to be Lord of our lives to some extent. The result for us will be to spend a most fantastic, joyous, blessed eternity with Jesus as our Lord and Savior and God as our Father Almighty.

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