From The Inbox

From the Morning Read inbox

Hairy situation prompts hairless missive

I’d like to tear out my hair in frustration at all the columnists and opinion-page writers who recently opined on the Rules of Golf incorrectly.

Gary Van Sickle, among many others, got it wrong in his June 22 column (“Mickelson’s legacy: ‘Slappy Philmore’ ”).

I let my frustration stew for a few days before pushing the “send” button on this letter, hoping that I would forget about it and move on. I just couldn’t let it go.

It disturbs me to see the USGA get lambasted by media opinions that are not well-founded. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a USGA committeeman, but I do not write here in that capacity.) I want to get this off my chest, so here goes:   

Van Sickle: “So, the USGA slapped (pardon the pun) Philmore with a two-stroke penalty for hitting a moving ball under 14-5. He wasn’t disqualified, according to the USGA’s John Bodenhamer, because he didn’t ‘purposely deflect or stop the ball.’ ” 

Bodenhamer was right. Mickelson made a “stroke” at the ball, which under the rules is treated differently than deflecting or stopping the ball. 

Van Sickle: “These actions should carry exactly the same penalty, and it has to be disqualification.”

This criticism of the Rules Committee at the U.S. Open is misplaced. The committee at a competition applies the Rules of Golf; it doesn’t make them up on the fly. So when Van Sickle discusses what he believes the rule should say and then concludes that the committee erred by not applying what he believes the Rules of Golf should say, he is in effect asserting that the committee should ignore the rules. A committee can’t do that. (I do concede that Van Sickle is entitled to his opinion on how the rules should read.)

Van Sickle: “There will be rare instances, such as Philmore’s, in which players may be tempted to do what he did to gain a significant advantage. Consider Billy Horschel at the Masters when his ball on the 15th green suddenly started rolling and went backwards into the pond. A two-shot penalty for whacking it toward the cup before it reached the water might have been a smart play in that case. But that can’t be tolerated in golf.”  

In 2016 on No. 15 at Augusta National, Horschel hit his third shot from just off the green onto the putting green, marked his ball, replaced it and removed his mark (so, his ball was in play). It then began moving and rolled into the pond. He would not have been better off by striking his moving ball before it went into the pond. This would have been a stroke, plus two more under Rule 14-5, so he would be lying 6. He was better off doing what he did: he invoked the replay option under the water-hazard rule and dropped his ball from the fringe (the place of his last stroke) with a one-stroke penalty. He ended up making 6. The new rules would be even better for him in this situation. Beginning in 2019, a ball at rest on the green that rolls to a new position after the player has already marked and replaced it will just be replaced where the ball was at rest on the green, with no penalty. 

VanSickle: “What possibly could be a more extreme case of a ‘serious breach of etiquette’?” 

This comment referred to what Mickelson did on U.S. Open Saturday. What Mickelson did was not a “breach of etiquette.” It was a breach of the rules, for which Rule 14-5 provides the “general penalty” (two strokes). Rule 33-7 simply is inapplicable. If you disagree, please read the etiquette section and then tell me what part of it was breached.  

I took almost an hour to write this, and I just lost a lot of hair. 

Brent D. Rector
E. Grand Rapids, Mich.


Couple enjoys greensomes format

As a 50-year golfer with an occasional golfing wife, I think we have found the ideal way to play together, just the two of us, without holding up play due to her inexperience and consequent lack of length (“From the Morning Read inbox,” June 27).

We play "greensomes" format – i.e., we both drive then select the ball we want to use and hit alternate strokes. I thought we would use my drive all the time, but not so. If I might reach the green off of her drive, but she might not off mine, we have a real choice to make.

On Tuesday evening, in the perfect English summer weather we are having, we were ’round 18 holes in 3 hours and 15 minutes. She played a full round instead of the usual nine holes, and my game got some useful practice.

Plus, off half the combined handicap, we were just 3 over par net. A target for next time.

Terry Wall
Winchester, England


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