When it comes to rule books, there’s nothing quite like golf’s

Bernie McGuire
Bernie McGuire

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I’m no fan of winter golf. As a general rule, if my dogs are hesitant to venture out for their beloved walks, then why the hell would I voluntarily subject myself to the displeasure of four hours of it. Nor am I much of a range rat, finding the monotony hard to stomach.  As such, my clubs are in effective hibernation for a good three months.

But an unseasonably mild stretch in February caused a premature disturbance of my clubs’ winter slumber.

Harbouring the lowest expectations, I set out for Lisheen Springs on a Sunday morning to play in the member’s competition. Whist the temperature was unseasonable; the wind was not. In extremely blustery conditions, I hacked my way to an eight on the opening hole. With low expectations now turned to none, I then proceeded to play some of the best golf I have in years, cruising through the rest of the front nine in one-under and ultimately finishing up with 37 points.

One of the final groups on the course, once I’d entered my score in the computer, the live leaderboard told me that I was lying in second-place in category one. Off I went, chuffed to bits at my seasonal debut.

Later that evening, whilst performing the hasty “throw all dirty clothes into the washing machine before the wife gets home and accuses you of doing nothing all day” manoeuver, to my horror, I made a discovery in the back pocket of the trousers I had been wearing earlier. In the excitement of realising I was near certain to be in the prizes, I had entered my scores into the clubhouse computer, then walked off without dropping my scorecard into the box.

I quickly typed an email to the club’s competition co-ordinator, with a photo of the scorecard attached, along with the sheepish admission that I’d done something rather foolish. Alas, a swift response informed me that though I had finished in second place, failure to submit my card meant that I had been disqualified. Fair is fair, and rules are rules.

If incorrect scorecard procedure was once enough to get Padraig Harrington disqualified, then why should I be any different. Just another similarity between the three-time major champion and I, I guess.

Anyway, armed with a new found optimism, I was back on the course the following Friday. Playing a scramble, we were well into the round before having to play our first shot from the rough. With arm outstretched at shoulder height, I prepared to drop my ball to play second. I was promptly stopped and directed to drop at knee height by a teammate, and the mini-bend required to bring hand level with knee not only felt rather ludicrous, it looked a touch on the dainty side of normal.

Realising that this was obviously my first knee-height drop ever, I quickly retraced the previous Sunday’s round. Arriving in typical fashion, I had quickly signed in and made a straight line for the first tee, not concerning myself to ascertain whether there was placing or lift-clean-and-drop in place, or anything of the like. My playing partners on the day were similarly tardy, as neither of them had found out either.

So, to be safe, we had played as the ball lay throughout. I had, however, taken relief when my ball came to rest on a path on the par-four fourth hole. And I had dropped from shoulder height. What happened in that case? As none of us knew, I filed it away in the “someday I might ask” folder. Anyway, several dainty drops later, we were sitting over some well-earned refreshments in the clubhouse when I got an unexpected answer to my question.

Rickie Fowler had taken an illegal drop – an old-school, shoulder-height drop – at the WGC in Mexico, and had been assessed a two-stroke penalty. Not just knee height or above, I learned, but exactly knee height. Having recently found common ground with Harrington, now here I was in the same boat as Fowler.

I retrospectively accepted a two-stroke penalty for Sunday’s round, and gave myself a second disqualification. A noble gesture, I know, but it is in such honest assessment that true heroism resides.

But enough about me. What a mind-numbingly stupid rule. Even ignoring the awkward discomfort that accompanies the half-stoop, what the hell was wrong with the previous rule? Surely anywhere between knee and shoulder would be a fairer interpretation should there be insistence that the rule be changed, but penalising a player who has actually already partially penalised themselves is bordering insane.

Rules controversies? I doubt we’ve seen the last of you this year.

My good form? I pray we haven’t seen the last of you.

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