News & Opinion

Don’t blame LPGA’s Kim for playing by rules

Competitors have a duty to protect the field, which is why swapping advice among players and caddies is forbidden

Professional golfers not knowing the rules of golf would be like my not knowing grammar.

It be my job. I are try to do it goodly. (Hmm, me smell writing award!)

Golf has its share of esoteric rules that anyone, even a tour professional, might not know because such a situation rarely arises. “Hey, a meteorite just plowed into the green and the impact blew my ball into a bunker – do I replace it somewhere on what’s left of the green, take a free drop from where it is, play it as it lies or try to putt the meteorite instead?”

Asking for advice from another player or caddie is not an esoteric rule. It’s one of the basics. I would have bet my house that any pro golfer would know the rule about asking for advice. Had I wagered, I would now be living in a van down by the river.

Two LPGA players got penalized for violating that rule Thursday during the sixth round of the tour’s eight-round Q-Series at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort’s No. 9 Course, according to a story first reported by Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols. On the par-3 17th hole, player Kendall Dye motioned to Dewi Weber’s caddie to ask if Weber was using an 8-iron. Caddie Jacqueline Schram motioned back, confirming that she was.

That’s a violation of Rule 10.2a (“Advice and Other Help”) and no different, really, than asking a fellow competitor, “You think I should hit the 8 here or the 9?”

The Evian Championship 2018
Christina Kim does right thing in calling out competitors for violation of Rule 10.2a (‘Advice and Other Help’) during the recent LPGA Q-Series.

Tour veteran Christina Kim was put in a squeeze play. She witnessed the episode and at the end of the round, after confirming the rule with an official, reported the violation. Dye and Weber drew two-stroke penalties – Dye for asking for advice and Weber (a player’s caddie is an extension of the player) for giving advice. The penalty was a big blow at the Q-Series, where the top 45 finishers earned LPGA status for 2020. Dye placed T-51, four strokes out of the top 45, and Weber finished T-67, nine shots back.

This predictably turned into a controversy for the same wrong reason that many rules violations become controversies: a kill-the-messenger mentality.

Kim isn’t at fault for reporting the violation. She would have been at fault only if she hadn’t reported what she saw. She has a duty to protect the field and, as a competitor, herself. The when, where, how and why of how she reported the violation don’t matter. Only the violation matters.

Would it have been worse if a TV viewer had called it in? Or a member of the gallery? No.

What would have happened if a rules official had seen the Dye-Weber exchange? The outcome would have been exactly the same as what did happen: two-shot penalties. Kim isn’t responsible for those; Dye and Weber are. Justice was served.

Yet Internet morons accused Kim of being a snitch or a narc. Sorry, but she’s the only one who followed the rules of the game. They’d know that if they knew anything about golf.

Rules controversies wind up being about how they were implemented instead of being about the violation. When Lexi Thompson mis-marked her ball during the 2017 ANA Inspiration and someone called it in the next day, the outrage was about the size of the penalty (four strokes; that’s what the rules, since changed, called for); the timing (middle of the final round, which was when officials found out); and the identity of the caller (was it a family member of a competitor?).

The real story was that Thompson, a high-profile tour player, marked her ball incorrectly by a fairly significant margin in a major championship. She had to know better. She should have known better. Justice was served late and the rule was unduly harsh, but justice was served.

Ditto with the infamous Michelle Wie ruling in which it was discovered the next day that she’d taken a wrong drop in a desert area during the 2005 Samsung World Championship. Because she’d signed for a lower score, once her mistake was confirmed, she was disqualified. The outrage there was focused on the man who raised the question about her drop, Sports Illustrated’s Michael Bamberger. Why did he wait until the next day to report it? Why did he report it at all? Bamberger suffered the wrath of other media types, in no small part because he’d made them look stupid. They were there and didn’t notice the mistake, didn’t know the rule, or both.

The only question should have been, Did Wie break the rule? The answer was, Yes. Justice was served.

Fewer people than ever want to be held accountable in the modern world. If you spill your hot coffee on your own lap after you pull out of McDonald’s drive-through window, it’s McDonald’s fault, not yours.

Tour players are among the least accountable. By necessity, tournament golf affords them all kinds of leeway. Lift, clean and place. Hit a terrible shot into a grandstand? No problem, pro. Here’s a little drop circle right next to the green; no penalty. Chip away from a position much better than you deserved.

The world has gotten soft, and so has golf. While many of the recent rules changes were improvements, I still cannot believe that the USGA and R&A allowed players to repair spike marks on their lines. This, in a time when everyone in America except a small handful of tour pros wears non-metal spikes, if they wear shoes with any spikes at all.

The marks we have to putt over on greens now are nothing compared with the old days of metal spikes. Those things pulled up grass and dirt on their way out of the ground as a golfer walked. Those were mountains. We’re talking about molehills now. Yet the USGA and R&A gave us a pass to smooth out the molehills because, you know, it’s just not fair.

Golf isn’t fair. It never was fair. It never was meant to be fair.

Golf is based on an apparently obsolete saying: the rub of the green. Which means that whenever you get a bad lie or a bad break, tough noogies. Deal with it.

We don’t live in a tough-noogies world anymore in 2019. Too many golfers, amateurs and pros, have turned into snowflakes. Everything that happens is blamable on someone else. If we can fix spike marks on the greens, what’s next? A free drop from a divot? From an uneven piece of ground? From needlessly long rough? From a bunker that has tiny stones? From a spot on a green that is unfairly far from the cup?

Suck it up, people, Golf is a hard game. Whose fault is that?
Yeah, sure. Christina Kim’s.

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