Should the European Tour suspend Sergio Garcia?

 

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The Rules were front and centre again last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with two players being cited because their caddies appeared to be lining them up before a shot. Denny McCarthy received a 2-shot penalty on Friday which was later rescinded while actions by Justin Thomas and his caddie were reviewed but no penalty was assessed. Given that this Rule was really aimed at the LPGA, where caddies used to routinely line up players before every shot, is this an overzealous application of the rules or is just a bad rule?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think it’s both.  If the Heavenly Bodies at the USGA and R&A really want to keep the new rule, they should at least give the players (on all Tours) a little bit of time to understand how it will be applied. Therefore, a six-month period of “assessment, followed by warning” would give everyone a chance to get with the program.  But frankly, I think the rule’s unnecessary anyway.  Asking your caddy for advice from the fairway seems to me to be little different from asking which way the putt breaks, whether they’re standing behind or off to the side.  Just let it go.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I find it hard to understand why a player can’t just line THEMSELVES up and pick their own targets. Why do caddies have to do this or be part of that process? If they are part of the process (acknowledged by this Rule by the way), can’t they just do it off to the side? Or when the player is NOWHERE near their ball? How ridiculous would it look if players were lining up other players in basketball for their free throws? The answer is, from one player to the next would always be, I don’t need you, I practice 1000 of these per day. Golf, well, I’m certain they practice hitting thousands of full, half and quarter golf shots and putts. Is someone seriously lining them up on every single one of those? Why this ever became a thing in golf is beyond me. Is this really a two-person job? How did all the old greats even hit any quality golf shots back in the day without this kind of assistance? How did Jack win all those Majors? I guess someone was lining him up? Nah, must have been a fluke. Tiger? Palmer? I’d like to see this be more back with the player.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Sometimes the people the rules apply to are more creative than the people making the rules. It’s difficult to imagine every possible scenario a new rule might affect. Nothing works better than trying them in competition. There are lots of rules like this one that is required to keep the game as one of personal skill and not affected by an outside aid. Marking a line on your ball to facilitate putting is one that comes to mind. The intent of the rule is good. It’s final wording and/or interpretation might take so time.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): It’s both: Rule 10.2b(4) is a stupid rule that is being applying overzealously. Neither Haotong Li nor Dennis McCarthy benefitted from their caddies standing behind them and the fact that we are now discussing this in the round table is, in my opinion, a step backwards for the game. This rule needs to either be dropped or retooled, and credit is due to the USGA, R&A and PGA Tour for recognizing that and taking this week to fully address the issue.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Over the years, at the conclusion of each interview with an LPGA Tour player, I’d make a point of asking why each and every player on the Tour had to have their caddy stand behind them and line them up on every single freaking shot when no male golfer needed that alignment help? To a player, the answer was as insightful and revealing as it was disingenuous: “I don’t know.” I’m all for the ban, but what the heck were these caddies on the Euro and PGA Tour doing? Anyway, all the new rules should come with a period of grace, but that may be asking too much of self-important officials. But I’m with Rickie Fowler when he suggested another rule change to PGA Tour top rules official Slugger White after he was penalized for having the temerity to be 10 yards from his ball when it rolled down the slope into the water hazard (sorry, that’s now the “penalty area” which is one of the dumber of all the rule changes). Good thing he didn’t fall into another playoff or lose by a stroke. BTW, it was Azinger’s best line that given all the years of Tour experience on course and in the booths that the entire CBS team was struggling to figure out what Fowler’s score was on the hole. They concluded it was 8. It was 7.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Definitely overzealous. The Rules try to be precise but there has to be some leeway for interpretation too. If the caddie is clearly not trying to line a player up but is just slow getting out of the way, there is no intent to cheat. Like the Rule about causing a ball to move, it’s no harm no foul. Obviously, a few officials stuck to the letter of the law. The USGA should re-visit this one and amend the language accordingly.

Sergio Garcia apparently had a momentous meltdown at the European Tour event in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, where caddies and competitors report he intentionally damaged as many as five greens. He was DQ’s from the tournament but if you’re in Commissioner Keith Pelley’s position, what penalty are you handing Sergio?

Deeks: How about a 6-month suspension, with the rider that one more such infraction will result in permanent disqualification.  There should be no tolerance for this kind of behaviour.  Golfers have a responsibility to act properly and professionally, and to provide role models to the public.  I don’t care if your name is Sergio or Billy Bob, you should be thoroughly spanked.

Loughry: I’d fine him. If Mr. Pelley doesn’t do something then it will send the wrong message to the players and to the golfing world that it’s OK, and the Tour’s reputation will take a small hit. But Keith is very bright – if he fines El Nino, he’ll also find a way to spin this into a positive. I’m not sure how, but their PR people will find a way.

Schurman: Nobody had a more difficult time policing and managing Tour Players than Dean Beman. His rules were tough but fair. He also knew if the Tour was to appeal to mega corporations where mega money lives a very strict set of rules and guidelines were required. Whenever a player received a call to appear before him in Ponta Vedra they knew ‘things’ weren’t going to go well. However, one bright light the players did have and still exists today is the privacy of sentences i.e. fines and suspensions. Presumably, the European Tour abides by that same policy. IF what is being said is verified, Serio has an opportunity to defend himself and if he is guilty, then a major suspension is in order – something along the lines of several months.

Kaplan: Well, it was in Saudi Arabia, so Sharia law sounds like a pretty reasonable form of discipline in this instance . . . just kidding. He should get a fine and be forced to do a few PSA golf-etiquette commercials, and that should really be the end of it. The European Tour doesn’t have the star power that the PGA Tour does, so suspending one of its biggest household names for any extended period of time (for merely having a temper tantrum) will only hurt the circuit’s bottom line.

Quinn: As a point of reference, in 2013 Simon Dyson was fined £30,000 (in today’s currency about 3 million loonies) and suspended from the Euro Tour for two months for tapping down a spike mark, a rules infraction back in the day. What a cad! So, at a bare minimum the man child should be massively fined (remember when players used to ‘protect the field’ by fixing flaws, replacing divots etc. after they’d played their shots?) and suspended for half the Euro season. An appropriate fine would be double the £500,000 the House of Saud reportedly gave him to be their guest in the desert. He should also have to take anger management and self-absorption counselling.

Mumford: Just when I was beginning to like Sergio again. I even pulled for him to win the Masters two years ago, but there’s no place in the game for this nonsense! One damaged green might be forgiven as a momentary fit of anger – but five? Throw the book at him. Hasta la vista baby! See you in July. Oh, and enjoy those anger management classes too.

Golf’s ruling bodies, as well as the professional Tours, don’t seem inclined to do anything about the distance the ball goes and every week we’re treated to more rounds in the low 60’s and greater quantities of drives longer than 350 yards. Are you OK with the weekly birdie-fests and bomb-and-gouge style of play or is there another solution?

Deeks: Personally, I’m watching less golf on TV because I find the birdie-fests almost as dull as Super Bowl LIII was (if that’s possible).  The players are great, no question, but it’s thanks in large part to the ball which goes higher, faster, farther; but it’s dull, duller, dullerer to watch.  I think the only solution is to dial back the ball, but as Ralph Kramden used to say, “you know dat I know dat you know dat dat’s not gonna happen, Norton!”  Maybe the Tour should have one annual event where the players are forced to use 1985-era balatas.  That would separate the men from the boys.

Loughry: Course setup is the solution, but if you set the course up harder, that may not be very entertaining for viewers. You could make the rough deeper, narrow the fairways, and tuck a few more hole locations per day. That would stop low winning totals pretty quickly, but it wouldn’t make for great TV unless you like seeing lots of 30-foot putts for birdie, and a steady dose of 10 footers or less for up and down pars. I think its ok to change it up from week to week depending on what kind of course you have. I think it’s why we don’t mind seeing The US Open cause havoc and The Open Championship from time to time. I do like a little more thinking around a golf course than the old bomb and gouge, and those are the Championships I pay most attention to. (No offence to the event or the sponsor, but unless a Canadian is in contention, the John Deere is a yawn for me.)

Schurman: Bifurcation.

Kaplan: Weekly birdie-fests are not very interesting. I’d much rather see the players struggling on a tough course than turning these tracks into glorified pitch and putts. Something needs to be done at this point, and I’m open to all ideas: dialling back ball or club technology, forcing players to wear old-timey garb, speeding up greens to 16+ on the Stimpmeter. Whatever works.

Quinn: The current debate over the ball ended in round 3 of the Phoenix Open when ‘Bones’ McKay went on and on about how surprised he was at Fowler’s distance off the tee with his new ball. [Chamblee talked about his new ball giving added distance too, but the fact that it is the new Taylor Made TP5 was not mentioned, even though Rickie’s clever new switching from the PROV1 ad was running non-stop.] They even talked about how he had to adjust for the extra distance on his irons. Talk about free marketing heaven. This barn door ain’t closing, it just keeps swinging open wider. Like the elites of all other sports, the Tour men and women live in parallel universes, no longer even vague reference points of performance. So here in the sort-of-real universe, it was enjoyable last season getting great results and distance from Callaway Soft and the now obsolete TP5 circa 2018. This is where most of the world’s golf is played, so making it a little more fun ain’t such a bad thing. What the elites do has always been other-worldly and never really relevant.

Mumford: I’m tired of it. The emphasis on distance has eroded other skills in the game to the point where the tour is just a long drive spectacle. Plus, the players hit the ball so far now, their game isn’t remotely relatable to the average player. It will be golf’s ultimate downfall. Unless new golfers can aspire to emulate the pros, they’ll just see golf as something to watch, not play. It’s kind of like watching the Olympics – very entertaining but none of us really aspire to run at world record speeds or lift 500 pounds. As much as a I hate to admit it, I think bifurcation is the only answer. A Tour ball that goes 15-20% less will bring all their skills into play. And maybe par will mean something too.

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