When officials stopped play last Friday at the British Open because it was too windy, it reminded me of the stupidest rule in golf: If your ball moves after you've addressed it on the green, it's a one-stroke penalty. That rule has never made sense.
Two years ago it happened to amateur Michael Thompson on the 15th green at Augusta. His ball moved, he replaced it and took the penalty, and the TV commentators made a big deal about it, which brought to mind Bobby Jones's comment about praising a man for not robbing a bank. The commentators should have made a big deal about how the rule has no justification.
Through the green, it's a great rule. If a player's ball moves in the fairway or rough, the player has almost always caused the problem by removing a twig or a leaf. But on the green the player is almost never the cause. It's the wind or a dodgy green on which the ball rolls off a little knuckle of turf (which happened more when we wore metal spikes).
If a player's ball moves on the green and he didn't cause it to move, why not let him replace it without penalty? Is that too obvious?
John Hopkins, a rules official from Australia, brought this up with the R&A. The R&A's response? Well, we don't want the players to be careless. Come on, man. Players are never careless when they putt in windy conditions.
I didn't hear about anyone taking a penalty last Friday at St. Andrews, but Phil Mickelson mentioned that he penalized himself twice when his ball moved on the greens during the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George's. I remember a tournament in Montpelier, France, when I marked a three-inch tap-in on the final hole. When I replaced my ball, it moved as I took the putter back. I went ahead and hit it into the hole, and that became a two-shot penalty instead of one shot because I didn't replace my ball before hitting it. I had a three-inch putt for 71, and I wound up shooting 73. Why are the worst things that happen in golf also the funniest?
The consequence of this rule—and you saw it at St. Andrews—is that guys are terrified to ground their putters, so they back off and back off and it takes forever.
If Tiger Woods had a six-inch putt to win the Masters and the wind moved his ball, causing him to take a penalty, you can bet that rule would be changed the next day. It's a stupid rule. Always has been.
Former European tour player Mike Clayton now runs Ogilvy Clayton Golf Design with Geoff Ogilvy.
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