Rory McIlroy felt he was a victim of “one of golf’s many silly rules” on Saturday when a two-shot penalty was imposed on him at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for taking an incorrect drop.
McIlroy’s contention was that he did not gain any advantage from hitting the shot from where he did, and had he known the correct rules of full relief from ground under repair, which is what spectators’ pathways are deemed to be, he could have taken a re-drop to get a better lie and possibly have got a birdie on the par-5 second hole.
There are obviously two ways of looking at this. A golf purist would perhaps shrug and say rules are rules, but from a wider perspective of fans, this is just another one of the archaic rules that needs to be changed or abolished.
Fans with limited knowledge of the game, and that is a majority, are drawn by personalities to the golf course for tournaments.
Many of them were bewildered by the turn of events on Saturday, unable to fathom how McIlroy could have dropped down the leaderboard after posting a 68.
The first set of Rules of Golf was established way back in 1744 and to be fair, many rules have developed over the years. These are a collective wisdom of many experts of the game and cannot be ditched without proper debate.
But golf is in danger of shooting itself in the foot. It really is time the game’s governing bodies not only did away with some of these rules, but also make them simpler to understand for the fans.
When Ian Poulter dropped his ball on his marker during his playoff loss to Robert Karlsson in the DP World Tour Championship a couple of years ago, the marker did not jump several feet closer to the hole. When a player signs a card for a score higher than what he actually shot, he is already in pain. Why punish him further?
Similarly, why should a player suffer if his ball is moved by the wind?
However, I think McIlroy would do himself a favour if he took time to learn the rules. He casually dismissed a question from the media on whether he kept himself updated on the Rules of Golf, or refreshed his knowledge. McIlroy replied: “No, I guess that’s why we’ve got the referees here. They sort of do that stuff. I’ve got better things to think about.”
This is something that is intrinsic to their trade. It is imperative that players have excellent knowledge of the rules, otherwise they will be faced with more situations like this.
At least Dave Renwick, the caddie of McIlroy’s playing partner Ricardo Gonzalez, noticed the breach of rule. Gonzalez is obviously in very safe hands.
If McIlroy goes on to win the tournament from here, it will be a fantastic story. But if he falls short, let’s hope he doesn’t lose by one shot, because that would be a disaster for him and the sport of golf as a whole.