The introduction to the Rules of Golf emphasizes that, since most competition is conducted without the supervision of officials, the game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and abide by the Rules.  “All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be.  This is the spirit of the game of golf.”

The spirit of the game has been strained in recent weeks as insinuations have been made that professional golfers on the PGA and European Tours might have crossed the blurry line between rules infractions and cheating.   Last month, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee wrote a column in Golf.com in which he gave Tiger Woods an “F” for his performance in 2013 (in which he won five events and received Player of the Year honors) due to a series of rules violations.   Chamblee opined that Woods was “a little cavalier with the rules,” and drew a comparison to his own cheating on a grade school math test. 

Chamblee was roundly criticized for his remarks, and Woods’ agent implied that legal action might be taken.   While Woods did commit several rules infractions last year, until Chamblee’s remarks no commentator had suggested that these were anything more than inadvertent infractions that came to light partly due to Woods’ incessant television scrutiny.   Chamblee later apologized on Twitter, although Woods was not satisfied and suggested that the Golf Channel should take further action.  

Simon Dyson, an Englishman who plays on the European Tour, may have come closer to the line at the BMW Masters last month when he tapped down a spike mark on his line off putt after marking his ball.   This was a clear violation of Rule 16-1a.   The violation did not come to light until a television viewer called in after Dyson had signed his score card, and he was disqualified.   (As noted in last month’s column, the PGA Tour is considering restrictions on the reporting of rules violations by television viewers.)  

Things only got worse for Dyson.   Some members of the European Tour’s players committee found his action so egregious that he now faces possible sanctions.   If a three-person panel determines that he committed a serious breach of the rules, he could face a 3-month suspension.    According to a report in Golf Week, there is some inclination to sanction Dyson because he was involved in a serious rules breach several years ago involving his improvement of his stance.   Dyson claims that he has no memory of tapping down the spike mark and had no intention to violate the rules.  

2013 brought many golf rules controversies, and there are continuing calls to modify some of the more problematic rules.  However, despite Chamblee’s unfortunate remarks and the Dyson inquiry, it seems clear that virtually all professional golfers strive to adhere to the spirit of the game and observe the rules, and in fact sometimes call costly penalties on themselves in situations where no other player, spectator, or official could have perceived the infraction.  It’s one of the things that make golf unique.     

 Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions.  Rules inquiries may be directed to rossgolf@charter.net.