Rules of Golf claim latest casualty: Graeme McDowell (*Update)
By Stephanie Wei under European PGA Tour

The scene of the incident

Graeme McDowell’s opening round at the European PGA Championship ended on a sour note with a triple-bogey 8 to post a two-over 74. He incurred a two-shot penalty on the 18th hole at Wentworth because of a “freak” rules violation and a slight brain fart by the golfer. After an errant tee shot into the bushes, McDowell tried to take a look at his ball, which was entangled in some branches, and as he approached, he thought it may have oscillated a dimple or two.

He went ahead and punched out, and then as he walked down the fairway, he called over a rules official and asked him to take a look at the TV footage because he wasn’t sure if it had moved — even though he couldn’t have necessarily prevented it and didn’t gain an advantageous lie. Point of the rule is to protect the field from a player improving his/her lie, but there’s that gray area where intention should come into play as it does in several other rules.


Sure enough, the high-def, slow-mo camera (ahem, technology has changed the game, so shouldn’t the rules adapt and be updated accordingly?…) showed G-Mac’s ball rotating a few dimples, which is virtually immeasurable because it’s so insignificant, but that’s not the point. According to the Rules of Golf, that’s a one-shot penalty, and since he didn’t replace the ball, he was handed another.

Sounds a tad absurd, doesn’t it? Yep. At the same time, McDowell should have called over an official before hitting the shot if he thought his ball had moved.

“It’s my fault,” he told reporters after his round.  “Like I said I probably should have called a referee in at that point.  I know what to do in the future let’s put it that way.”

That came as a little surprising because from what I’ve seen, I consider McDowell to be one of the most knowledgeable players on the rules. Which also probably explains why he proceeded without asking for an official and felt unnerved by the unfavorable outcome.

At the same time, he made several good point about the problems of several outdated rules that don’t stand the test of time, or rather, technology. Recently, it seems like rules controversies have been making headlines more often than Tiger Woods. Well, that’s a little extreme, but definitely a close second.

“The rules are there for everyone’s protection,” said McDowell.  “It’s easy to say that when you’re on the wrong side of them.  And yeah, I’m disappointed that‑‑ how are you supposed to attempt to place the ball when you’re not sure it’s moved in the first place?  It’s just a harsh one.

“(Rules official) John Paramor said the second you have any doubt, you need to call one of the guys in, because they can obviously try to guide you through it a little bit.  It’s hard.  It’s hard.

“You know, when you put these Hi‑Def cameras and balls are moving by dimples, and there’s a few guys that have got on the wrong side of that rule, and it’s harsh, and it’s there for everyone’s protection.”

Plus, it sounds like McDowell couldn’t have done anything to prevent the ball from moving. Sure, hit it in the fairway next time, but I don’t think it’s fair to penalize a player for the ball oscillating since it was out of his control. It’s enough of a penalty to have to play from the bushes, which is already costing him a stroke.

Here’s what G-Mac had to say via his Twitter feed:

Two penalty strokes are quite costly in more than one sense, but good news is McDowell called an official over to resolve it before signing his scorecard — otherwise, he would have been disqualified — so at least he has the second round to make up the lost ground and hopefully squeeze inside the cut line.

Update: Thanks to Commenter Lone Golfer for the YouTube clip, via GeoffShackelford. The cameras are definitely high-def and zoomed in at the ball. From G-Mac’s angle, I’m betting you couldn’t see that. May have thought it was the branches. Or since it only may have slightly moved, but didn’t seem to alter it’s original position, he didn’t think it would be a penalty…

(Photo via BBC)