• Alistair Tait

It’s never wrong to do the right thing


Amazing how golf authorities can sometimes do the right thing when it suits, but drag their heels even though the right thing is staring them in the face.

So Sophia Popov will have to wait for the LPGA to come to its senses on her five-year exemption following her AIG Women's Open victory while others have benefitted from governing bodies and professional tours being light on their feet when they need to be.

Opinion seems divided on the Popov situation. One camp says the German can’t take up her five-year exemption because rules are rules. That camp says that since she wasn’t an LPGA member when she won at Royal Troon, then she’s not entitled to a five-year fee pass to play on the LPGA.

Yet, as we’ve seen throughout the years, exceptions have been made throughout this game in various situations.

Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson are clear examples of the LPGA amending its rules. Both were too young to play on the LPGA Tour when they burst on the scene as precocious teenagers, yet the LPGA saw fit to make exceptions to allow them to take up membership before their 18th birthday.

Tom Watson wouldn’t have played in the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews if it hadn’t been for the R&A tweaking its entry criteria to do the right thing and let the five-time Open champion have his Swilken Bridge moment.

The R&A once changed a pin position during Open Qualifying at Sunningdale in 2007 because the flag on the fourth green was in a nightmare position – while the round was taking place. Championship chairman Martin Kippax confessed to putting the flag in the wrong spot on the fourth green and stopped play to cut another hole. Eight players had to come back and play the hole again.

Charley Hull was told she was ineligible for the 2012 Curtis Cup because she missed a training session to play in the ANA Inspiration. The LGU was adamant Hull had breached its selection criteria only to relent and pick Hull for the match. The LGU made the right call. Hull won a vital singles point as Great Britain & Ireland won by a point at Nairn.

When Tiger Woods breached old rule rule 6-6d in the second round of the 2013 Masters by signing for a wrong score, the august Augustans deemed that since a rules official should have noticed his faux pas on the 15th hole then Woods somehow wasn’t fully responsible for his gaffe. Instead of disqualification, they gave him a two-shot penalty and let him play in the third round. Well, we they weren’t going to toss Tiger Woods out of the Masters if they could help it were they?

As David Lynn said, if he had committed the same infraction then he’d have been on a plane back to Manchester on that Saturday morning instead of teeing it up in the third round.

That 2013 Masters was the same year 14-year old Guan Tianlang was singled out for a slow play penalty despite numerous examples of other players who could have been done for impersonating snails.

Miguel Angel Martin came up against an odd scenario when he made the 1997 Ryder Cup team. The European Tour came up with the idea of a fitness test to determine if the Spaniard, who was carrying an injury, would be fit enough to play in the match. Yet in 1995, the European Tour explored the idea of Jose Maria Olazabal being allowed to ride in a cart during the match because of a foot injury. No question of a fitness test on that occasion.

Li Haotong was penalised two shots in Dubai last year when his caddie was deemed to be standing directly on his line in contravention of the new rules. Denny McCarthy was deemed to have committed the same breach in the Phoenix Open, yet his penalty was rescinded. The R&A and USGA quickly came out with a clarification on the rule even though the new rule only came into place five weeks previously.

And as for taking a laissez faire approach to rules and regulations, anyone watching the recent Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open or last year’s Solheim Cup will have noticed glaring examples of slow play. Officials should have stepped in on both occasions to hand out one-shot penalties yet refrained from doing so.

I could go on ad nauseam, but I think you get the picture.

So forget these hard and fast rules governing bodies and professional tours supposedly live and die by. Past experience proves exceptions have been made in many situations. Once again, one should be made in Popov’s case.

#JustSaying: “The rules are simple and easily understood by anyone who has once seen the game, but to the totally uninitiated they appear to be hopelessly unintelligible.” John Gilmour Speed, 1894

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