Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bureaucracy, Augusta National, and Tiger Woods Revisited

Two attributes of the game of golf are honor and courage.  In its handling of the controversy surrounding the incorrect drop by Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters, the USGA displayed neither.  It would have taken honor and courage to make the correct ruling of disqualification even though such an action would question the integrity of those who currently run the Masters.  While making a tough but fair ruling would have been in the tradition of Bobby Jones, the USGA decided not to go down that path. Instead it chose to defend the Master Tournament Committee’s ruling by arguing there were “rare facts” that made waiving the disqualification penalty the right call.[1]  As discussed elsewhere, no knowledgeable and independent rules expert agreed with or could even follow the logic put forward in the joint statement issued by the USGA and R&A. [2]

There was some hope the USGA would eventually get it right when it wrote “the Rules of Golf Committees of the USGA and the R&A will review the exceptional situation that occurred at the 2013 Masters Tournament, assess the potential implications for other types of situation, and determine whether any adjustment to the Rule and/or the Decision is appropriate.[3]

As I wrote back in May of 2013,[4] it would be unlikely for the governing bodies to memorialize the “rare circumstances” in a Decision.  To do so would further expose the weakness in the argument for waiving disqualification.  I predicted the 2014-2015 Decision on the Rules of Golf would not contain any reference to the Masters ruling.  The best way for the bureaucracy to bury this unfortunate incident is to act like it never occurred.  It turns out, unfortunately, I was right.  The 2014-2015 Decisions on the Rules of Golf makes no mention of a “simultaneous error” by the competitor and the Committee that would overrule the disqualification penalty.  Nor is there is a listing of the “rare facts” that can guide a Committee’s action in the future.  The applicable Decision 33-7/4.5 (Competitor Unaware of Penalty Returns Wrong Score; Whether Waiving or Modifying Disqualification Penalty Justified) remains virtually unchanged.[5]  And so it goes… 

[1] USGA, “The R&A Issue Statement Addressing Tiger Woods Ruling at the 2013 Master,” United State Golf Association, Far Hills, NJ, May 1 2013.
[2] Dougharty, Laurence, “Bureaucracy, Augusta National, and Tiger Woods,”, May 3, 2013
[3] USGA, loc. cit.
[4] Dougharty, loc. cit.
[5] A new subsection grants relief when television footage shows a ball has moved, but a competitor could not reasonably be expected to see such movement.  

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