C’mon Tiger, you should know better

15 April 2013 Comments 11

Tiger Woods wasted a golden opportunity to confirm golf as the standard bearer of sporting integrity at the weekend but he blew his chance. I wonder if a sport that has gained its impeccable reputation through three centuries will suffer in the long term as a result?

Woods was playing in The Masters at Augusta, the first ‘Major’ of the year and a unique tournament that’s enjoyed by packed galleries and millions of TV viewers the world over.

On Friday afternoon, he made a mistake for which the usual punishment is disqualification. This was waived on the basis of a technicality and instead, he received a two-shot penalty and stayed in the tournament. At that moment, Woods should have done what golfers the world over are expected to do and disqualify himself.

But he didn’t. He played on under a barrage of criticism and now golf’s integrity is suffering because there’s a feeling that the world number one and his commercial value is bigger than the respect and integrity golf has developed since the first rules were written in 1744.

The timescale of the decision making process adds to the intrigue. Why did it take so long for them to sort the whole thing out? The incident took place mid-afternoon on Friday but it wasn’t until Saturday morning that Woods was summoned to discuss it. Why?

Once the issue had been raised it should have been dealt with immediately by the rules experts. If it was merely a conversation about procedure, surely it would have been dealt with in a matter of a few hours at most? Was the committee under pressure from third parties to ensure Woods stayed in? I certainly hope not, but given the timetable, people could’ve spoken to people… It might help explain why Woods didn’t ‘walk’.

Without getting technical on you, the incident occurred when Woods dropped a ball under penalty in the wrong spot. He admitted as much in an interview.

The Masters’ Committee waived disqualification because they applied a USGA rule, for use in “exceptional circumstances” which effectively says that if the player makes a mistake he wasn’t aware of, they can let him off.
Of course, I’m sure the upstanding members of the Masters Committee who are representatives of the most strictly run tournament in the world wouldn’t have considered TV schedules, viewing figures and commercial implications when they made the decision to keep the most famous player in the world in their tournament, would they?
Golf is regarded as being the one professional sport in the world where integrity is sacrosanct. Players are expected to call penalties upon themselves and they do just that on a fairly regular basis. It’s a fundamental principle from which golf has earned its incredible levels of respect and it sets examples for all other sports.
But ‘Tigergate 2.0’ has stomped all over all of it and if club players see Woods prevailing, why wouldn’t they consider re-applying the rules at their own club too? If they do, it’s potentially the start of the whole house coming crumbling down.
The fact Woods was unaware of his mistake is irrelevant. As in life, ignorance of the law – or rules – is no defense. When Tiger was alerted to the fact that he had broken the rules, he should have done the right thing and disqualified himself. Instead he played on.
Think about what would’ve happened if he HAD disqualified himself. The integrity of the tournament would’ve been preserved, the credibility of golf itself would’ve been retained (in fact increased), and next time out he’d have been welcomed as a true sporting champion, not just a golfing one.
Instead he finished four shots behind the winner, and left people talking more about what happened at the 15th on Friday afternoon, rather than Adam Scott’s terrific win on Sunday evening.
And you can bet your life that the next time there’s a golf tournament on TV, there’ll be thousands of rules “experts” sipping a beer and scrutinising every shot, every drop and every decision.

11 comments on "C’mon Tiger, you should know better"

  1. Peter FitzSimons on 15 April 2013

    Bloody well written, and I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Nick F on 15 April 2013

    Tiger needs a new PR man. There was talk of Father of the Year before the tournament. Just imagine the “spin” if he had done the honourable thing and disqualified himself. Part of his rehabilitation was based on the fact that as humans we are all flawed but at least he is a dedicated pro who is aware of what he owes the sport that has made him great. Apparently less than his sponsors think he does.

  3. Peter in Devon on 15 April 2013

    Maybe cycling should have an “Exceptional Circumstances” caveat? Any rider who “didn’t know” he had banned substances in his blood can be let off.
    (Maybe PMcQ can introduce this when he gets re-elected?)

  4. Nick F on 15 April 2013

    If this had happened at the Open, there would have been a quiet word in the scorer’s hut, where a polite man from the R&A would have given Tiger the chance to disqualify himself or they would have disqualified him themselves.

  5. Stuart on 15 April 2013

    Well written, there is even precedent for top Golfers disqualifying themselves, look at Ian Woosenam who 2001 admitted on the 2nd tee to the match referee that he had too many clubs in his bag, OK, no disqualification, but that 2 shot penalty and the resulting “head” issues, probably cost him the open.

    Tiger should have owned up, at the time, or removed himself from the competition.

    • Jaimie Fuller SKINS Chairman on 16 April 2013

      Great example Stuart. One point i was trying to make was that with golf, regardless of the nature of the breach, a breach is a breach is a breach. Woosnam’s example shows that even when there is absolutely no impact whatsoever on the result, the culture and tradition of the game requires strict consequences. I’m sure that this is drilled into every young golfer who wants to take the sport seriously and frankly that sort of leadership is missing within so many sports. Rugby has its challenges but it is lightyears ahead of football when it comes to player behaviour and respect (or lack thereof) for the referees. It takes strong leadership which MUST start at global governing level and filter down through national federations and competition organisers. No wonder football is in the state it is when one considers the political wasps’ nest (not to mention massive cash cow) that is FIFA. And don’t get me started on cycling….

  6. Marc on 15 April 2013

    To put it all in perspective you should all read this article I found. And the guy had much more to lose!
    Here’s one heck of a painful yet admirable story. To understand exactly how painful and admirable, if you’re not a golf fan, you need to know a couple facts going in:
    1. Golf is a game of self-imposed, self-administered rules. Particularly when cameras aren’t around, the burden is on you to admit if you violated those rules.
    2. Q School is a series of golf tournaments in which participants compete to earn their US PGA Tour card, entitling them to play for the tens of millions of dollars on offer week-in, week-out during the next year. This is the last year of Q School; next year it will be replaced by a completely different system.
    All right, so, with that in mind, we give you the story of one Blayne Barber. An exceptional amateur player – he’s been a member of the US Walker Cup team, and is therefore considered on the fast-track to a glittering career — he advanced easily out of last week’s Q School first stage.
    But something continued to trouble him about his play in the tournament’s second round at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Specifically, one tiny leaf.
    Barber wasn’t sure if he had brushed a leaf in the sand trap of the course’s 13th hole. His caddy, who happens to also be his brother, insisted that he hadn’t touched it. But just to be on the safe side, he penalised himself a stroke.
    It is a strange rule: after all, something as minor as brushing a leaf clearly offers the player no benefit.
    But the rules of golf are clear: if you accidentally clip a ‘loose impediment’ in a bunker – that could mean a leaf, twig or anything similarly natural – it is deemed a penalty because it is an action that might shift the sand to make your shot a little easier. It is immaterial whether the sand does shift or not.
    So to make certain he was completely within the rules, Barber decided to penalise himself by a shot.
    Problem is, the penalty for such an infraction is two strokes, not one.
    Barber only realised that when talking to a friend later that evening, a conversation which raised another problem: having signed his card for a one-shot penalty that should have been two, he knew he had therefore signed for an incorrect score. The penalty for signing for a score lower than the one you have actually achieved is disqualification.
    At first, he tried to play on: his caddy kept insisting there was no movement of the leaf, and Barber kept on playing the tournament’s next two rounds, rationalizing that it was an unnecessary penalty and he tried to tell himself that his mind had just been playing tricks on him.
    But his conscience wouldn’t let him go.
    “I continued to pray about it and think about it, and I just did not have any peace about it,” Barber later told Golfweek. “I knew I needed to do the right thing. I knew it was going to be disqualification.”
    He called the Tour six days after the tournament’s end, and submitted to disqualification because he had signed an incorrect scorecard.
    His disqualification moved a full six players into the next stage, because those players tied for 19th and now were tied for 18th, the cut line for advancing to the next stage of the lengthy Q-school process.
    One sad irony: Barber was five strokes ahead of the cut line, so even the added penalty would not have hurt him. Still, Barber is content with his decision, even though it means he will have to qualify tournament-by-tournament throughout 2013.
    “I just feel peace about it,” Barber said. “Doing the right thing and doing what I know is right in my heart and in my conscience is more important than short-term success.”

    • Jaimie Fuller SKINS Chairman on 16 April 2013

      Thanks Marc for pointing out a great positive example of how the culture within golf creates a sense of honour that should be an example for all professional sports. We do tend to focus on the negative examples of the sportsmanship debate (there are so many of them!) but what we really want to get to is where these become the exception and stories like yours become the norm. No idea if it is possible but we will give it our best to try and make it happen.

  7. andy chrysiliou on 16 April 2013

    Could not agree more. There are some games based on honor and tradition and at the highest level players should conduct themselves with respect thereto.

    I think that Woods needs to look at himself and ask the question whether he is a true sportsman or whether he considers himself bigger than the game itself. Hopefully cameras will now show us more of other players in TV broadcasts!

  8. Craiggg on 16 April 2013

    Unfortunately, it’s gone the same way as cricket…that other bastion of fair play?? Do you walk, or do you stay??? You know you’re out, but the rules or laws say you can wait for the umpire to rule. The “chaps” rule is that if you know you are out, if the other “chap” says he caught it etc etc, then you should tuck the bat under the arm regardless. Rugby started with the two captains adjudicating on decisions, but that proved an impossibility so a referee was added.

    Sometimes professionalism, and money in sport really sucks when doing the right thing, no matter what, should STILL be about doing the right thing!

    Yes – he should have fallen on his sword, and yes, the officials should have extracted the digits a little quicker and made a decision that didn’t leave every golfer gasping and wondering WTF???? …. and of course, there is always the America’s Cup and the NY Yacht Club committee.

    Actually, what really amazes me is that the officials think they have probably “won” somehow with the “correctness” of their decision, yet death in fact draws closer, one cut at a time!

  9. Susan Bursill on 22 April 2013

    Couldn’t agree more with you Jaimie, well said. Also really enjoyed reading the reply from Marc – the story of Barber -what a wonderful example of true sportsmanship. Speaking of which I wanted to let you know that on Australian TV tonight, is a must watch story on the Four Corners show, on ABC titled “Who’s Cheating Whom?”
    Their expose on Cycling and on Lance Armstrong- was top rate.