Golf only sport where conscience and sense of fair play are the referees and umpires. Just ask McDowell.
When Apolo Anton Ohno crossed the finish line in the 500-meter short track speed skating finals in Vancouver, he and everyone else thought he had won the Silver Medal. Not so fast.
During the final seconds of the race, Ohno made a smooth move to pass his opponents. In the process Canadian Francois-Louis Tremblay spun out along with South Korea’s Sung Si-bak who appeared to lose his balance. It looked like a demolition derby.
Those watching wondered what happened. Had Ohno’s hand or right leg touched Tremblay sending him into the padding? If so had it been intentional or simply a slight contact to keep Ohno from crashing into his opponents as he sped by?
As Ohno skated casually around the ice waiting for the Canadian judge to check the video of the finish, a replay revealed he did indeed touch Tremblay, but to those of us watching, it looked more like a light touch of the hand to maintain spacing rather than a shove. That’s in fact what Ohno said it was. Still, he was disqualified.
Canada’s Charles Hamelin got Gold and South Korea’s Si-bak and Tremblay were reinstated giving those skaters Silver and Bronze. But that’s the nature of the game, the way speed skating, a fast-paced rough sport, is done.
Even if interference had been intentional, Ohno would no more have called the infraction on himself than the Colts’ Dwight Feeney would admit to holding. That’s the referee’s job.
Then there was Graeme McDowell playing the Honda Classic in Palm Beach gardens. Going into the 18th on the second day, he was right up in the top tier when his second shot came to rest partially in the water.
McDowell wearing immaculate canary-yellow slacks, eased his way down the bank, took his position in the water, and hit a great shot to the fairway.
Another shot to the green and two putts and he would have a miraculous save on this par 5. Not so fast.
Walking up the fairway, he mentioned to Dottie Pepper that he might have hit the water on his swing back. If so, this would mean he had “grounded” his club in a hazard, a two-stroke penalty.
A replay of the shot would show a suggestion of water dripping from his club on the take-back. Double bogey. Call it water torture. In McDowell’s words, “A bitter-sweet ending to the day.”
A slight of hand, a mere dribble. But rules are rules and penalties can be severe.
But golf is different. No other sport requires you call a penalty on yourself.
Talking to Dottie (Pepper) later, McDowell said, “I felt perhaps I had turned my club on my backswing and as soon as I did it, I kind of felt like something was up and obviously mentioned it to you.”
Sure you can argue that with PGA golf, cameras are always turning and errors will usually be picked up, keeping players “honest.” That even though a stroke or two can mean big money, not reporting the infraction and “getting caught” could be a lot more costly.
But I would like to think PGA players like McDowell and Paul Casey respect the game enough to take the high road in these matters. Casey did. Two shots off the lead in the 2008 Masters, he called a penalty on himself on the par 3-sixth for his ball moving a nano-inch as he stood over his 3-foot putt.
For sure cameras aren’t recording our shots when we tee up for our club championships. Playing this past year in a match-play tournament, my opponent, Arlene, holed out for the win. Walking off the green, she said, “Your hole.”
“Don’t think so,” I replied. We both got 5s".
“Nope. I moved the ball when I was lining it up.”
I had not seen the nudge, nor had our playing partners. Only Arlene.
That’s what makes golf such a great game, such a fantastic test of character. We are reminded of this again and again as players like McDowell, Casey and our golfing pals play the game as it was meant to be played; where conscience and sense of fair play are the referees and umpires.
Golf is different. No doubt about it.
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By the way, in stroke play, Arlene would have needed to move her ball back to its original position before putting it. Not sure if it's the same in match play or loss of hole?