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Golf rules more important than fairness or justice ...


I know I have touched upon this thorny topic before, but I can tolerate rules that have at their core a commitment to fairness, justice and common sense, maybe even equal parts of those three laudable goals.

I don’t much care for rules that derive whatever legitimacy they have from a sense of haughtiness, exclusivity and arbitrariness mixed in with a kind of cosmic disdain for the the laudable traits that I mentioned in the first paragraph.

I am, of course, talking about one of my favorite games, golf, in general and the pukey two-stroke penalty assessed on Dustin Johnson on Sunday in the final round of the PGA Tournament in particular.

There are more weenie rules in the game of golf than you can shake a hybrid five-iron at, and while it’s certainly reasonable to expect professionals to know and adhere to them – even in their preposterous, wretched totality – that doesn’t get you away from the reality that people end up being penalized for things that involved no attempt to cheat or gain advantage.

Since golf deals with the great outdoors and literally tens of thousands of venues that each offer unique concerns about dimensions, topography, etc., you can understand that the sport would have to have more rules than, say, canasta.

But the rules of any sport or game ought to be grounded on (no pun intended) the idea of ensuring fair play and a just result, and yet so many of the golf rules are instead based upon the notion of celebrating the game’s storied history and its self-aggrandizing sense of the sanctity of its rules.

And so an ESPN columnist jabs at Johnson by noting that the golfer should have read the notices posted in the clubhouse, and further takes the opportunity to slam him for his difficult-to-watch final-round 82 in this year’s U.S. Open. Nice touch.

No less of an authority than Whistling Straits owner Herb Kohler offered this: “As long as the edges of those bunkers are defined, it’s a bunker,” Kohler said. “And whether it’s outside the ropes or inside the ropes, it’s a bunker.”

See, that makes it just peachy. No matter that it didn’t look like a bunker, or that there were hundreds of spectators standing in it. We have 1,200 bunkers on our course and we’re so proud of each and every one of them that we could just gush about their intrinsic elegance. Can you tell that I have a kind of visceral hatred of bunkers? It's no accident.

The same morning that I visited the ESPN site – this morning, obviously – there was a poll on the site that asked if the ruling had been correct, and fully 61 percent of about 55,000 readers said No.

I am not a believer that the hoi polloi are automatically correct in their collective wisdom or even should have a say in some matters at all – you know, like questions of basic civil rights and protections for their fellow citizens – but in this case I think the vote says something important.

It wasn’t fair. It was 100 percent in line with the rules, it was properly interpreted, duly explained and assessed, but it still wasn’t fair or right.

Not that that matters.

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