Once more unto the breach

Just when it seemed the dust had settled on the Dustin Johnson Affair from the Men’s U.S. Open in June, the USGA kicked up another rumpus yesterday at its next major golf event, the Women’s U.S. Open.  These guys (and it always appears to be guys, not gals) levied a two-stroke penalty on Swedish veteran Anna Nordqvist, during play on the third playoff hole, thereby virtually handing the trophy to Brittany Lang.  I say “virtually”, because play had not quite finished.

In case you missed it (no worries, I was dutifully watching on your behalf), Anna and Brittany had tied at the end of 72 holes, at 6 under par.   The USGA handles ties in women’s majors by striking a three-hole, aggregate stroke playoff, so off went the girls to the 16th, which they both parred.  They both parred the 17th, but in the time between finishing the 17th and playing up 18, USGA Rules Officials watched super close-up video of Nordqvist’s club touching a microscopic grain of sand in a bunker on 17.  The grain moved, about a sixty-fourth of an inch, but it was visible on the tape.

Clearly, an infraction of the rule (13-4b, for you nerds out there), although it needed a super close-up to detect it, and it was certainly not something that Nordqvist herself would have noticed at the time.

The officials, who earlier in the week had stated they would notify players of rules infractions more expeditiously than they had in the Johnson case, told Nordqvist of the two-shot penalty just after she had hit her third shot to the 18th green, a par 5 hole.  Would knowing beforehand that she was now two shots back, not tied, have compelled Anna to play a more aggressive shot to the pin?

Unfortunately, the officials now compounded and confounded the situation by telling Brittany before she hit her third shot.   She reacted to the news – and the reality that she was now two shots ahead — by calmly switching her club, playing a safer shot to the middle of the green, where she knew she could three-putt, probably, and still win.  She didn’t three-putt, but she won… after we all watched Anna, who, clearly rattled by what had transpired, did miss a short one that was now meaningless anyway.

So Brittany Lang wins, but not by use of her clubs.  Anna Nordqvist will go down in history with the stigma of losing a major by penalty.  The USGA Officials will once again be questioned for their competence.  And the whole affair stinks, with no one – not even Brittany Lang – fully satisfied that it was handled well.

My problem in all this is, once again, THE STUPID RULES OF GOLF.  I sometimes wonder if the Rules were developed by a committee consisting of Joseph-Ignace Guillotine, Rasputin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Mad King Ludwig.  Why it is considered verboten to have touched a grain of sand in a bunker – much less, to ground your club there – is one of dozens of statutes that I simply don’t get.  Grounding the club, or grazing a kernel of sand as Anna did, cannot possibly aid the player in the execution of the shot.  So why is the rule there in the first place?  And why doesn’t it apply in a waste bunker?

I go back to the argument that I made a few weeks ago, although I’m hardly alone in this opinion… these stupid, incomprehensible, picayune and arbitrary rules – which are unknown to 99% of golfers, willfully ignored by a large majority of players, and disliked by all but a few fetishists and pompous traditionalists – are killing interest and enjoyment of the game, and making a mockery of otherwise venerable golf events.

We wonder how to make golf more appealing and enticing to new participants?  I say, start with the Rule Book.

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My hat’s off to Hamilton native Alena Sharp, who finished the Open tied for 21st place.  Alena’s been grinding away on the LPGA Tour since 2005.  This was her best finish in several major events, and it comes after a very similar result at the recent Women’s PGA, won by her friend, and Canada’s Sweetheart, Brooke Henderson.   I may be wrong, but it seems to me that I’m seeing Alena’s name more regularly on leaderboards this season, and I see she’s currently 47th on the LPGA Money List after the Open.  Happy to see this.

As I’m writing, Alena is making her way to Cambridge, ON from San Francisco, presumably on a commercial flight, to attend a Media Day event for the Manulife LPGA Classic which takes place at Whistle Bear GC from August 31-September 4… and which is a most enjoyable event to attend.   I give Alena credit for doing this, even if she’s being paid to be there.  She must be exhausted, but when an event in your own back yard needs a publicity push, you’re expected to play your part.

And keep in mind that when they tee it up in late August, both Alena and Brooke will be fresh off the plane from the Olympics in Brazil, where both will play for Canada.

Wouldn’t it be nice if one of them came back with a Gold Medal draped around her neck?

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