The 2013 Masters will go down in Australian golf folklore as probably one of the most exciting, nerve-wracking, fist-pumping , heart-thumping, take-your-breath-away, get-the-monkey-off-our-backs golf tournaments in the history of our sport.
For the rest of the world, however, it may be more remembered for a pair of incidents that may have irreparably changed the game.
But first, let’s celebrate The Good: The Green Jacket is finally ours! Mere words cannot express what this means to Australian golf. The decades of hope and heartbreak, faith and failure, dreams and despair cannot truly convey the deep-seated emotions that have rocked Aussie golf fans for as long as we can remember. It’s almost as if we’ve been holding our collective breath for decades, and can finally exhale in a blue-faced, light-headed euphoria.
And let’s not forget how good this is for Adam Scott himself. It wasn’t that long ago that his game was in shambles. Many an eyebrow was raised when Greg Norman named him as a captain’s pick for the 2009 Presidents Cup. This leap of faith resulted in a resurgence by young Scotty, who promptly clawed his way back to the top. Following a heartbreaking loss at The Open Championship last year, Scotty bounced straight back again at The Masters. This sort of redemption can only awaken a deeper hunger inside him. Yes, he IS that good. Yes, he CAN win more majors. And yes—whether he likes it or not–he is now THE face of Australian Golf – he is supplanting his childhood hero Norman; he is now an idol that the fresh-faced junior golfers will aspire to. His name will forever be etched in Australian golfers’ minds.
Indeed, Adam Scott’s victory at Augusta is exactly what Australian Golf needs, at exactly the right moment.
But therein lies the challenge to the Australian Golf Industry. We MUST build upon this. And it MUST happen right away. We failed to build on the momentum from the recent Presidents Cup (in fact, the following months/years were some of our poorest ever for golf) so there is no better time to go “over the top” and get the sport of golf into the minds of potential golfers everywhere.
Of course, with The Good comes The Bad.
I’m referring, of course, to the two “rules” incidents that happened early in the tournament. Namely, the “Slow Play” ruling against 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, and the “Dropgate” ruling surrounding Tiger Woods.
Earlier this year, the USGA was very clear that they would be targeting slow play. Like the highway roadside signs that say “This week, Police are targeting: Drink Driving” the USGA appear to have an agenda to speed up the game, in the hopes that this will result in more people playing golf, etc.
If this is indeed the case, then they have demonstrated their intentions loud and clear. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of Tianlang, whose brilliant play could have been one of the best stories to come out of The Masters. Instead, it made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
I’m not alone in my belief that the USGA and R&A are slightly misguided in their priorities. Slow play and broomstick putters aside, we must at some point address the “elephant in the room”: the golf ball. It goes too far. It’s causing billions of dollars in lengthening/renovations to great courses, thus making courses harder to play (and longer to complete a round). It’s making the game about Driver-Wedge versus Driver-Long iron.
If the USGA wants to really combat slow play, then they need to work with TV broadcasters to stop showing every pre-shot routine by the professionals. These mind-numbingly slow moments are now being emulated by everyday hacks, beginners and juniors. While Tiger is debating whether or not to scratch himself, there are, believe it or not, dozens of other players out there actually swinging a club!
Speaking of Tiger and TV, let’s move on to The Ugly.
By now, you’ve heard (too much) about the “Dropgate” saga, where Tiger made an illegal drop, which was flagged by a TV viewer, causing a “no infraction” ruling, which was then adjusted after Tiger admitted that he took the drop a few yards further back…it’s a madhouse.
Firstly: Tiger broke the rules. Plain and simple. He made an illegal drop to gain an advantage on his approach shot. And yes, he was given a two-stroke penalty. AFTER he signed his scorecard. Normally this is a DQ. Would ANY other player be given the same slap-on-the-wrist treatment? Probably not. Would most professionals immediately withdraw themselves? I reckon they would. For Tiger to play on (claiming that he was simply abiding by the decision) was, in my opinion, an absolute travesty.
Golf is a game built on integrity. It is assumed that a golfer will do the right thing; to call a penalty on him/herself; to know and abide by the rules without exception, despite the stakes or importance of the tournament.
Unfortunately, golf is also a game ruled by politics and TV ratings. So was there more to Tiger’s “Non-DQ” than just a simple ruling? Maybe. TV Ratings aside, if Tiger isn’t in The Masters, then it really isn’t The Masters these days, is it? But that doesn’t make the situation right.
Secondly, just when did it become acceptable in ANY sport for the TV viewers (maybe we call them the “Fourth Umpire”?) to ring in and discuss rules infractions with the event’s officials? Can you imagine how this would be viewed in AFL, Rugby League, Cricket, or any other sport? Could John Q Couchpotato simply call Billy Bowden on his mobile phone during the Ashes and inform him that the England batsman is using an illegal bat? Preposterous.
Not only is the Fourth Umpire a blight on the sport of golf, it is also completely biased against the most popular or successful players. In any given tournament, for example, TV viewers could see almost EVERY shot that Tiger Woods will make. Every practice swing, club change, pre-shot routine, etc. Same goes with whomever is leading the tournament on any given round. Meanwhile, there are 90 other players out there who don’t get a single second of coverage. So there are likely dozens of miniscule rules infractions in any given tournament that could go unnoticed.
In this case, if we want to keep golf fair to everyone, the “Powers that be” must draw the line, and maintain a “closed loop” regarding the rules and TV viewers.
Thankfully, the right man won the event this year. Our man. Our Adam. And that, for me, is good enough. For now.