“There’s a lot of stupid rules and this is one of them,” said Rory McIlroy after incurring a two-shot penalty post round three of last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy went on to finish joint runner-up, one shot adrift of winner Pablo Larrazabal.
Falling foul of The Rules in the UAE is not a new experience for the 24-year-old. In 2012 he was pulled up by Luke Donald, for brushing away sand that was not on the putting surface, before going on to lose by a stroke to Robert Rock.
But that aside, the Northern Irishman does bring a certain cavalier attitude to the game, which partly explains his popularity. When it comes to The Rules, however, a cavalier attitude is the last thing a professional golfer needs. But that is what he has, as his “There’s a lot of stupid rules,” comment demonstrates.
“There are a lot of stupid rules and this is one of them” – Rory McIlroy.
There is a related story to this latest McIlroy infringement, but before going there we should restate exactly what happened. While playing the second hole of his third round, McIlroy sought relief when his ball ended up in a gallery crosswalk. He went on to par the hole.
When the round was completed, Dave Renwick, the caddie of playing partner Ricardo Gonzalez, advised McIlroy that he believed he had infringed The Rules when taking only part relief from the gallery crosswalk on the second hole. Renwick told McIlroy that his foot had been touching the white line designating the line of relief, when playing his shot. He had not, therefore, taken full relief as required under The Rules.
Faced with a possible two-shot penalty, McIlroy sought help from the officials. They revisited the spot on the second hole where McIlroy was able to confirm his divot mark. From this it was clear he would have had to be standing on the white line in order to play the shot. He added two shots to his score.
After it was all over McIlroy let his annoyance show. “I can’t describe how frustrating it is,” he said. “I should be 15-under and winning by one. I played the least shots of anyone in the field, so I can count it as a moral victory, if nothing else.”
He is not learning from this, is he?
The Rules are there to protect the field as much as anything else. As Renwick said, “If I hadn’t said anything and Rory won the tournament by a shot, that wouldn’t have been right and I couldn’t have lived with myself. I couldn’t have gone to sleep knowing that I hadn’t said anything so I feel I did the right thing.
“If I could have stopped him before he hit the shot I would have but I was 40 yards away at the time.”
Now to the related story.
Being a Kiwi I am very conscious when a New Zealander wins anything big in golf, as it is a rare event (Lydia Ko aside). Back in 1994, Kiwi Grant Waite, winless on the PGA Tour, was playing what was then called the Kemper Open. It was a Saturday afternoon and Waite was leading the field by one stroke from playing partner Tom Kite. Back in NZ I was glued to the TV watching every shot.
On the fourth hole Waite’s ball, despite finding the fairway, had finished in a soggy area affected by heavy over-night rain. The area was designated GUR and was well-defined by a white line.
Waite advised Kite he was taking relief and proceeded to drop away from the condition. As Waite addressed his ball, the camera panned back to show that in taking his stance, Waite’s rear foot was just touching the white line. Immediately prior to starting his backswing, the camera shows Waite stop, look up to Kite and then glance back to his rear foot. He then stepped away, picked up his ball and re-dropped, well clear of the white line. The camera showed him grinning at Kite who simply nodded his head. Waite then played from the correct position and went on to par the hole. He won the tournament by one shot, from runner-up Tom Kite.
What had Kite said? Something along the lines of “We don’t need any penalties.”
Asked at the post-tournament press conference had he ever thought that his sporting intervention had in effect cost him this tournament, Kite replied, “I’ll treat that question with the contempt it deserves.”
This is just one of many examples that set golf apart. Tom Kite has long been a class act. McIlroy may be too, one day. But first, as gifted as he is, he needs to show more respect for The Rules of Golf.