Martin Dempster: Golf shot in the foot again by armchair rules pedants

Peter Whiteford was disqualified. Picture: Getty
Peter Whiteford was disqualified. Picture: Getty
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GET a life. And get it quick. That’s the message that should be going out to the individuals who contacted the European Tour over the weekend to get Peter Whiteford disqualified from the Avantha Masters in India.

Why? Because these people are being allowed to influence decisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with them and, in actual fact, are ending up doing more harm than good for their sport.

It’s been an incredible start to 2012 for golf, with one fascinating storyline having followed another over the past few weeks. Highlights have included Kyle Stanley blowing a big lead one week on the PGA Tour then coming from way behind to win the next week.

We also had the unheralded Robert Rock outgunning Tiger Woods in the final round in Abu Dhabi, Phil Mickelson doing the same at Pebble Beach, and a 14-year-old New Zealand amateur, Lydia Ko, becoming the youngest winner of a Tour event.

Let’s not forget Paul Lawrie’s fabulous last-day performance in winning the Qatar Masters for a second time either, or the plethora of top-ten finishes that have signalled a resurgence for Scottish golf in general at the top level.

Yet, in one fell swoop, much of what has been good recently seems as though it has been washed away by our beloved sport’s habit of having the propensity to shoot itself in the foot.

Yes, Whiteford made a mistake by not sitting down with a rules official and looking at TV pictures which subsequently showed that his ball had moved a fraction as he played the final hole in the third round in New Dehli.

He admitted that himself and deserves enormous credit for the way he handled the subsequent events, which, in my opinion at least, can only be described as unsavoury.

For starters, what type of person sits in their home late at night waiting to pounce on such incidents and can’t get in touch with either the European Tour or R&A quick enough to dob players in?

Sorry, but if that happens to be you then you are very sad and, if this practice is going to be allowed to continue, then these people should be publicly named.

What also needs to change is the penalty imposed. If Whiteford had been aware that his ball had moved, he would have added a one-stroke penalty and would still have been in with a chance of his maiden victory on the European Tour.

Instead, due to the fact he’d signed his card believing it was for the correct score, he ends up being disqualified. Imagine how that must feel? And imagine how it must feel when you’re not actually told that behind closed doors but out on the golf course in front of spectators and scorers?

The golfer from Windygates in Fife was just about to tee off at the fourth in the final round when the news was broken by the Tour’s chief referee, John Paramor, leaving Whiteford and his caddie facing the added embarrassment of having to hastily leave the course on a buggy. All in all, it was a ridiculous episode and it is no surprise that various message boards and social networking sites have been busy with comments on it over the past couple of days. Andrew Coltart, for instance, tweeted: “Trial by tv in golf is unfair because it’s possible u can’t see, so how can u tell? Not every group is followed by cameras so unjust it is.”

Just over a year ago, Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship after he was unaware his ball had moved on the seventh green in the opening round. After that incident, the R&A and the USGA announced a new interpretation of the rules that was supposed to prevent golf from scoring more own goals.

Yet, while it is believed that the European Tour looked at using this decision in Whiteford’s case, it didn’t come into play and, instead, a player has once again been handed a punishment that certainly doesn’t match the ‘crime’.

This incident comes hot on the heels of Lawrie being hit with a one-shot penalty after dropping his ball on his marker, a 10p coin, in the third round in Qatar. Neither the former Open champion, his playing partners nor their caddies were sure if the marker had moved while TV cameras also missed the incident.

But, just as Ian Poulter did when the same thing happened to him in the 2010 Dubai World Championship, Lawrie called the penalty on himself, accepted the punishment and moved on, though he was quite right later to bemoan that it was “one of golf’s stupid rules”.

As the last few weeks have shown us, golf can be the most exciting sport in the world. Unfortunately, it can also be the most frustrating at times due to age-old rules over-riding common sense. Let’s change that in order to stop nonsensical situations like the Whiteford one.

As for those armchair viewers who might be feeling smug right now, at least the light nights are just around the corner for you to have something much more useful to do with your time.