With recent rulings, fair is a relative term

August, 25, 2010

PARAMUS, N.J. -- Golf is a game of rules. Break the rules and you must pay the penalty -- even if the offense was unintentional.

Even so, some of these black-and-white situations have morphed into shades of gray in recent weeks.

First there was Dustin Johnson, who unsuspectingly grounded his club in a bunker on the final hole of the PGA Championship, resulting in a two-stroke penalty that left him out of a playoff. Then Juli Inkster, who placed a swing weight on her club during a delay at the Safeway Classic, which was noted by a television viewer and led to disqualification. And on Wednesday, Jim Furyk showed up six minutes late for his pro-am time at The Barclays, which was enough to make him ineligible for the tournament.

What do each of these circumstances have in common? They are all a byproduct of inequality within the game.

Think about it. If Johnson isn't playing so well, there would be less attention placed on his bedeviled bunker shot and it may not result in a penalty. If Inkster isn't a high-profile player, she wouldn't have been shown on the telecast during a delay. If Furyk isn't one of the 54 players designated for pro-am duty (out of 125 in the field), his faulty alarm clock would have no effect on his playing status.

Doesn't seem fair, does it? Well, it isn't.

As for the latest case, at least one very visible player disagrees with the current penalty.

"The rule itself applies to only half the field," Phil Mickelson said of the PGA Tour rule that was instituted four years ago. "So if you're going to have a rule that does not apply to everybody, because not everybody played the Pro-Am, you cannot have it affect the competition. It's got to be a different penalty. It can't be disqualification if it only applies to half the field. So this rule, it's not protecting the players. It's not protecting the sponsors. It applies to only half the field and yet it affects the integrity of the competition. I cannot disagree with it more. I have no idea how the commissioner [Tim Finchem] let this rule go through. It's ridiculous. I made my viewpoint very clear to him."

Yes, the rules of golf -- whether from the actual rulebook or as instituted by an individual tour -- are in place for very good reasons. When they don't serve every player equally, though, that's when they fade from black-and-white to some form of disillusioned gray.

In each of these instances, the player involved was penalized for being part of the upper echelon of the game. That goes against the spirit of such rules and makes golf appear as some sort of athletic Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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