When it comes to golf, there are few traditions as long standing as the ability to call a self-penalty. This unique aspect of golf is a far cry away from some other sports where players intentionally try to draw foul calls from the other team. One of golf’s biggest stars of all time, Bobby Jones, famously called penalty strokes on himself on more than one occasion. When interviewer O.B. Keeler asked about these decisions to call foul on himself, Bobby Jones maintained his composure and his convictions:
- “One more thing, Bobby. There is a lot of interest in those penalty strokes you have called on yourself. At St. Louis and Brookline and at Worcester-they say that one cost you the championship-and the one at Scotio, in that awful round of 79 when the ball moved on the green-” Bobby held up a warning hand. “That is absolutely nothing to talk about,” he said, “and you are not going to write about it. There is only one way to play this game.”
When it comes to golf and morality, many players consider it unworthy of themselves to deliberately break the rules of the game. This sense of golfing integrity is so ingrained in the culture and mythos of the sport that the self-penalty rule is even a plot point in some major golfing movies (The Legend of Bagger Vance, for example).
But the question is – do these rules of old help or hurt today’s golfin’ game? This past week, Caroline Inglis – a Churchill High girls golfer in Oregon – was on the brink of making golf history. After winning the Oregon Scholastic Activities Association Class 5A state tournament for the past 3 years, Inglis finished the final round of the 2012 state tournament with a 3-under 69, a score that dominated the course that day and sealed the deal for her fourth consecutive victory.
All that Inglish had to do was sign her scorecard and her victory would be confirmed. Unfortunately, there was an error on Inglis’ scorecard. Her playing partner hastily credited Inglis with a par on the 18th hole when she actually scored a bogey.
By the time Inglis noticed her partner’s mistake, she had already signed the scorecard.
Official OSAA rules state that a player who signs an inaccurate scorecard is automatically disqualified from competition. Even though Inglis didn’t make the error herself, she paid the price and was stripped of her victory. Even her runner up who claimed Inglis’ title, Summit High freshman Madison Odiorne, didn’t agree with the verdict. “It really doesn’t feel like a win, because I know Caroline really won the whole thing,” Odiorne said.
So the question becomes: are the traditional methods of counting penalties in golf helping the game, or holding back the players? If golf were to loosen up on some of the rules, would it also mean losing out on the integrity of the game? Personally, I think that a few sad stories like what happened to Ms. Inglis are worth keeping the spirit of the sport intact. I think doin’ away with the penalty rules would be a disservice to the memory of such late greats like Bobby Jones who were willing to take strokes against them to preserve the honor of the game. But then again I’m a caveman – tradition kinda comes with the package. So I leave it to you, Rockheads! Do you think that the rules of the gentlemen’s game are keepin’ the sport alive or holdin’ it back? As always, leave yer thoughts in the comment section!