Oh, golf. We fall all over ourselves to commend players for calling penalties on themselves, waxing poetic about the integrity of those who play this glorious game.
However, when a player doesn’t call a penalty for what we perceive to be an infraction, his integrity is out the window and all that matters is our judgement.
For an illustration of this fact, look no further than the first round of the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship.
“Ernie Els proved why golf is the most honorable of sports,” gushed Golfweek’s Alistair Tait.
During the opening round of the BMW Championship, Els believed his ball to be plugged near a greenside bunker. If it were plugged, he’d likely want to take an unplayable lie to limit the damage. He marked the ball and inspected it, as is his right. The South African put the ball back in its original position and ended up chipping in for eagle.
However, as the round wore on, Els became concerned he hadn’t placed the ball back property saying,
“I just felt uncomfortable by the way the ball came out…The ball came out too good. So I felt I didn’t quite probably put it exactly where I should have.”
Thus, after consulting a rules official, Els decided he had not placed the ball back correctly and assessed himself a two-stroke penalty (Rule 20-7 Playing from a Wrong Place).
So, there you have it. Man of integrity. Golf’s the only sport where players call penalties on themselves. Etc.
The other side of the ballmarker: Branden Grace.
At the par-4 13th hole, Grace was greeted with a plugged lie in a bunker. Reportedly, he got in the bunker and began twisting his feet until he sunk deep enough in the bunker that his spikes were touching the rubber lining under the sand. He then said it was interfering with his stance and asked for a free drop, which he was awarded.
Was Grace cheating? He was certainly bending the rules, in the minds of many. Danny Willett complained on Twitter, and former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said:
“It was ridiculous. If you twist your feet enough you’re bound to eventually reach the bunker lining. That means anytime a player wants relief from a poor lie he can simply twist his feet until he reaches the bunker lining. That can’t be right.”
@EuropeanTour please explain that drop?! Burying feet enough in to get to the base of the bunker???
— Danny Willett (@Danny_Willett) May 25, 2017
But if Els represents the self-flagellation element of the rules of golf, Grace represents the black letter of the law to use to your advantage when you can. “The rules are there for a reason. Sometimes it works in your advantage, and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case it did,” Grace said.
While we can give Els a medal and throw rocks at Grace, it’s probably best to temper our praise for millionaire golfers’ heroic acts of integrity and back off the desire to revoke tour cards when players slip through loopholes.