FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – The Rules of Golf have been watered down over time, but two rules remain sacrosanct: Get to the first tee on time, and sign your scorecard upon finishing play.
The option of leaving the flagstick in the hole while putting and the freedom to tap down spike marks are new additions to golf’s rules, but tardiness is not.
American David Lipsky made the fundamental mistake of arriving at the first tee a tad late on Friday at the PGA Championship, and he paid the price: a two-stroke penalty.
At first, the only news about the incident came from one of Lipsky’s playing competitors, Henrik Stenson. The group of Richard Sterne, Lipsky and Stenson had been assigned a 12:43 p.m. tee time Friday at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course.
Because their tee time for Thursday’s first round was 7:18 a.m., Stenson reasoned that Lipsky must have thought that the second-round time would be 12:48 and not 12:43.
All three players were on the putting green, but as Sterne and Stenson made their way to the first tee, Lipsky remained on the putting green.
“I walked by him when I was walking down to the tee box, and then Rich [Sterne] had come down – I didn't really pay that much attention – the officials started making the crowd give the countdown, which when you start on 5 or 7, or whatever they started on, then there's not much time,” Stenson said.
According to PGA of America official Kerry Haigh, the policy for the starter is to do a countdown to the tee time aloud – in this instance, it got to 12:43:00 – and any player not on the tee would be considered late, with a two-stroke penalty assessed.
“So, he came running down, and the decision that they say is he had one foot on the steps of the stairs and then you're not officially on the teeing ground when the time is out,” said Stenson, recalling the incident.
At that point, it might have seemed as if Lipsky had been treated unfairly. If he had one foot on the step, the presumption was that the other foot must have been over the line and, thus, on the tee.
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Blue boundary stakes mark the entrance to the No. 1 tee at Bethpage Black.
According to the PGA of America, under its Local Rules and Terms of Competition, the starting point of a round is defined by the rope, gallery stakes, green bike fencing and/or blue stakes, blue dots or blue lines. On the No. 1 tee, blue stakes were used as the demarcation of where the tee starts.
When approached by reporters, Lipsky would not comment about the incident. Stenson’s recollection was the only information made available.
But in a discussion with Haigh, the incident was not nearly as egregious as might have been the case had Lipsky been straddling the line of the tee.
According to Haigh, the referee on the first tee sent someone to find Lipsky before his tee time and found him on the practice green. Lipsky started to run toward the tee, which is located some 20-30 yards on the other side of the clubhouse. When he got to the stairs, the referee on the first tee reached “zero” in his count.
When Lipsky arrived, his caddie was not with him but showed up soon thereafter.
Lipsky was told immediately that he was being assessed a two-stroke penalty, under Rule 5.3, turning his would-be birdie-3 into a bogey-5 on the first hole.
MORNING READ/ALEX MICELI
Competitors in the 101st PGA Championship face a bulletin board full of do’s and don’ts.
“I think it set off his day in the totally wrong way, and it was a bit of a battle to get into his round due to those facts,” Stenson said.
Lipsky made three bogeys on the last four holes and shot a 4-over 74, but he stood 4 over through 36 holes and made the cut on the number.
Using only the information provided by Stenson, it would be easy to criticize the PGA of America for how it handled this situation. After reviewing the incident with the PGA of America, I found that officials clearly did all that they could have done to avoid the penalty. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the player.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli