Drew’s Morning Dish — Tues., April 16

April 16, 2013 | Drew Forrester

As a high school golf coach, I have thirteen young men who love golf and idolize players like Tiger Woods who play professionally on the PGA Tour.  I would have taken ten minutes during our practice on Monday to point out the great demonstration of integrity that Woods displayed by removing himself from the tournament.

Instead, on Monday, I told them the truth as I see it:  I told them I’m disappointed in Woods for not proving to them that he’s different.  I told them to learn the rules and to follow them.  I told them to use Tiger’s decision as a teaching moment…that no one round of golf or one title is more important than your role as the player who is fortunate enough to influence young men and women across the globe who follow your every move on the golf course.

Here’s my own horror story with the rules of golf and the set of circumstances that I encountered four years ago.  I’m not bringing this up to say “look what I did”.  I’m bringing it up to show how easy it is to screw up and how easy it is to just say “I screwed up.”

I was playing in the Middle Atlantic Amateur in 2009 at Belle Haven CC in Alexandria, VA.  In my first round, I played the par-3 sixth hole and hit my ball on the green, but it spun back and went into the water guarding the front of the putting surface.  I was playing a Titleist golf ball with a blue “E” (for my son, Ethan) written next to the number 2.  Having seen my ball spin back into the water, I played my next shot from a drop area some 100 yards from the green, but prior to playing the shot, I said to my playing competitors, “This is a number 2 as well, but the markings are red instead of blue.”  I showed them the ball and hit the next shot on the green.

Once on the green, I stood some ten feet or so from the hole and watched my other two competitors in the group play their second shots when the rules official/marshal who was walking the 18 holes with us approached me from behind and gently placed my ball that was in the water in my hand.  “Here,” he whispered, “They’re too expensive to just leave in the water like that.”  I turned around and thanked him and slid the ball into my pocket.  One of my competitors hit a poor second shot from just off the green and his next shot took him a minute or two to survey from above the hole.  Finally, it was my turn to putt.  I was thrilled to roll my ten footer in for a hard earned bogey-four.  “No damage done there, it’s only a bogey,” I thought as I reached down to pick up my ball from the hole.  As I picked the ball out of the hole, I noticed the “E” was nearly worn off the ball from the early morning dew that was still on the course.  I remember thinking to myself, “That’s odd…” and on the 7th tee I took out my blue marker and went back over the “E” so it stood out again.

I hit a nice drive at #7 and walked out to get my ball.  From a few feet away, I saw a ball with red markings on it.  That wasn’t mine.  I saw another ball slightly ahead of that one.  It had a black line under the word “Titleist”.  That wasn’t mine, either.  The other drive was in the left rough.  I was confused.  One of my playing competitors looked at the first ball in the fairway and said, “I think this is yours…red #2 with an “E” on it, right?”

“Right.  Red #2 with an “E” on it…that’s me,” I thought as I walked over and saw that it was, in fact, my golf ball.

Then it hit me.

I had finished the previous hole with my ORIGINAL ball that went into the water.  The blue #2 with “E” on it.  The one the marshal slipped in my hand after I hit the red #2 on the green from the drop zone.  I hit the “blue ball” in the water.  I dropped the “red ball” in the drop zone and played it to the green.  I needed to continue playing the hole with the “red ball”, the one that was “in play” on the hole.  In the aftermath of the lengthy time it took my playing competitors to play up to the green, I completely forgot about the fact I had to play the Titleist #2 with red markings.  I had simply reached into the wrong pocket, grabbed the ball with blue markings, and putted it in.

But I didn’t realize it at the time.  I was so happy to escape with a bogey-four, I marched off to the next hole thrilled to be +1 for the first six holes.

Then, without announcing I had changed balls, I played the red ball off the #7 tee.

I had no idea what to do, but I knew I was in big trouble.

Remarkably, with that swirling through my mind for the next three hours, I was able to play the first 17 holes in +4 for the day.  Honestly, the biggest reason why I probably played so well is I knew from the moment it happened that I was going to be disqualified once I brought up the issue to the rules committee.  In a weird way, it allowed me to play much more freely over the final twelve holes, knowing I was basically “playing for nothing”.

Walking off the 18th tee, I said to the rules official walking with us (yes, the guy who slipped me the ball), “Hey Richard, I think we have a problem.”

I then told him what happened as we walked up the fairway.  “I played the wrong ball at the 6th hole.  I didn’t finish the hole with the ball that was in play.”  I went through the entire process of how I discovered it.

“Are you 100% positive that’s what happened?” he asked.

“No question about it,” I replied.

“I think that’s a DQ, Drew, but let’s check it out and make sure when we get in,” he said.

I figured that.

He was beside himself with grief, saying, “I shouldn’t have given you the ball until the hole was finished.  This is completely my fault.”

But it wasn’t his fault.

He was just being nice by giving me my ball that was in the water.

It was my fault for not paying more attention.

I’m responsible for my golf ball.  He’s wasn’t.

Afterwards, Maryland State Golf Association officials were perplexed about the ruling.  They even called the USGA to ask about the penalty since they’d never encountered something like it before.

While I was eating lunch, they informed me I was disqualified.

I expected it.  I had earned it, in fact.

I felt foolish explaining to my friends how I got disqualified from a great event like the Middle Atlantic Amateur.  But it happened.  I wasn’t trying to cheat.  I just screwed up.

So, I just told the truth.  I had one golf ball in my right pocket and one in my left pocket that was given to me by the rules official who had fished it out of the pond.  I goofed up and put the wrong ball in play.  And then I realized it on the 7th hole when the red Titleist ball suddenly showed up again.

All Tiger had to do on Saturday morning was tell the truth.

“I screwed up on Friday.  It’s golf.  There are a lot of rules.  And those rules require precision and knowing them to the letter.  I, unfortunately, didn’t follow the drop rule to the letter.  I certainly wasn’t trying to cheat.  I just didn’t know the rules well enough.”

That, clearly, would have been the truth.  Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer on planet Earth, didn’t know a simple drop rule in the Masters.  It was either that, or, he was trying to circumvent the rules which, of course, is code word for “cheating”.  Tiger Woods isn’t a cheater in golf.  And as the great Seve Ballesteros said to Paul Azinger after a rules snafu in the 1991 Ryder Cup when Azinger and Chip Beck played the wrong ball in an alternate shot competition:  “Cheating and not knowing the rules…those are two totally separate things.”

Woods could have captured the golfing world on Saturday by saying, “I can’t continue playing in this year’s Masters.”

He then could have followed that up by simply saying, “I think the right thing to do now is to withdraw from the event given these extraordinary circumstances.  While the Augusta officials are willing to let me play, I think it’s best that I don’t given that I signed an incorrect scorecard following my second round.”

That’s what the best player in the world should do when he’s in charge of setting the bar.

Instead, Tiger lowered the bar.

He played on when he shouldn’t have.

Instead of winning on Saturday morning, he decided to stick it out and try to win on Sunday afternoon.

Winning on Saturday would have been much better for him in the long run.

And it would have been much better for the game of golf and the legion of young boys and girls who are growing up with the sport and need constant reminders that golf is policed by the players themselves and the rules must be abided by at all times.


8 Comments For This Post

  1. PghSteve Says:

    Thanks for this long explanation. It certainly answers my question form a previous post.

    Wonder what baseball and football would be like of more players had the sort of integrity expected of golfers.

  2. Gil From Perry Hall Says:

    Please help me understand. The circumstances worked out that you were DQ from the tournament. But it appears to me, that you are saying that if the officials stated “Because of our complicity in the snafu, we are assessing you a two shot penalty and you can play on” that the honorable thing would have been to say no, regardless of your participation I should have paid more attention, I DQ myself. I get it sort of. It seems to me that the rules established seek to account for a myriad of conditions in order to normalize the game and let ability and the moment dictate a fair competition.

    You said all Tiger had to do was tell the truth. Did he lie (either explicitly or by omission)? If so, then DQ would have been the least of his worries as a bald faced lie in this circumstance would warrant a ban at the site, event or worse. I thought his drop was an honest mistake and that Tiger owned up to it when he became aware.

    I hear what you are saying but I am not getting the message. Perhaps this is because I am not a golfer. (DF: He only “owned up to it” after it was brought up to HIM. He didn’t own up to it. He was forced to own up to it.)

  3. The Armchair QB Says:

    No questioning Tiger Woods’ prominence in the world of golf. However, he has forfeited the mantle of “role model” in both his professional and personal life! As for the Masters fiasco, in 1968, Roberto de Vicenzoo had forced a tie in final round of the Masters with a birdie on 18, but was dropped to second place when he INADVERTENTLY signed an incorrect scorecard. Hypocrisy by any other name is still…..HYPOCRISY!

  4. Al from Arbutus Says:

    Nice article… agree with 99.9% of what you said… just 2 questions:
    1. – What happens when a player takes a drop on firm and sloping ground and it rolls more than 2 yards away from the original position? It seems like that might happen quite often…
    2. – What about these pictures (link to story at end of this post)… It looks like (maybe) even though Tiger said he dropped 2 yards away, maybe he didn’t… Typically, do pro golfers know EXACTLY where they hit their previous shot from? … Do they ALWAYS recognize their divot even if they’ve walked 100’s of yards to see where their ball landed and then have to walk back???

    (DF: If it rolls more than two club lengths away, you have to re-drop it. If it rolls closer to the hole, you have to re-drop it. He had his caddie stay at the spot to make sure he knew where it was. He also left a divot from his 3rd shot which CLEARLY showed where he played the shot from.)

  5. Jason Manelli Says:

    Drew, you are absolutely, 100% wrong. I don’t play golf but this was the best piece written anywhere about the Woods/Masters scoring situation. The way you tied it together with your own experience made me really understand the integrity underpinning golf, and the missed opportunity Woods had to teach everyone a little more about golf and himself. As to your anecdote about the Mid Atlantic tournament, all I cans say is, your parents and Glen Burnie High did something right and should be proud.

  6. pgavin Says:

    Very balanced post and spot on. The huge question for me is this. I have been to numerous Pro Golf events and whenever there is the slightest question about drops, sprinkler heads etc. the PLAYERS almost ALWAYS call in an ON COURSE official. So…. one can only conclude that Tiger KNEW that he was circumventing the rules for his own betterment.

    I once saw Tom Purtzer call in the Official when his ball landed on a burned out section(hard pan) right next to the green. Why doesn’t Tiger call in Rules guy???? No doubt that they would be “right there” to assist Tiger??? Amateur Mistake or Blatant Rules infraction????

  7. Chris Says:

    Don’t follow or play golf but this was an extremely informative and well written piece. It gave an extreme golf novice a clear understanding. Best piece I’ve read about this locally or nationally. The golf network needs to hire you to work for them. I have to say it again. What an expertly written article.

  8. joe of bel air Says:

    I don’t know why you are surprised Drew at TW. Anyone who cheats on his wife with a boat load of whores is certainly capable of cheating on the golf course. (DF: The two have ZERO to do with one another. There are PLENTY of pro golfers – well known publicly – who had marital break-ups caused by their infidelity and none were also found to be cheaters on the golf course. And again, YOU are calling Tiger a cheater. I’m not. As Seve said: “Cheating and not knowing the rules are two totally different things.” But keep up with your Tiger hate. It’s good for balance.)

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