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.