A controversial rules violation at the LPGA’s Q School has, once again, shined a spotlight on golf’s rules ... and, in this case, the proper announcement and enforcement of said rules.
This one gets a little tricky, so let’s lay out the particulars:
The event: The LPGA’s Q School, the final opportunity for LPGA players to win a Tour card for 2020
The stakes: The top 45 finishers win exemption for the entirety of the 2020 LPGA season
The location: Pinehurst No. 9, site of eight rounds of high-stakes golf
The players: Christina Kim, Dewi Weber, Kendall Dye
Here’s what went down. On the par-3 17th hole during the sixth round of Q School, Kim teed off first. Weber stepped up to the tee, and as she did, Dye made a motion toward Weber’s caddie asking if Weber was hitting an eight-iron. The caddie signaled back that, yes, Weber was using an eight-iron. (Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols reported that Weber accidentally used a nine-iron, but that’s not the point here.)
Here’s the problem: under golf’s Rule 10-2, you’re not allowed to ask another player or caddie for tips on what club to hit. You can look in their bag to see what club is missing. But if a player drapes a towel over the clubs to keep that info secret, you can’t, say, go and lift up the towel to get a glimpse underneath. And you definitely can’t go consulting with another player.
Kim saw all this happening, and notified an official right after the conclusion of the hole, but waited until the end of the round, 10 holes later — the trio teed off on the 10th hole — to inform the duo of their violation. The result was a two-stroke penalty for both players, even though Weber had no idea her caddie had violated the rule.
Weber, who later said she couldn’t eat or sleep all night, shot an 82 in the seventh round to effectively kill her chances of earning a card. Dye stepped to the final hole of the eighth round, a par 3, two strokes outside the line to make the cut for her card. She attempted an ace, but pulled the ball into the water and fell short.
Kim, meanwhile, earned her Tour card ... and waves of scorn from social media that rolled on right on into Monday morning. Both players said they wished Kim had told them of the violation immediately, and they were further upset by a tweet she made later in the day:
Quick PSA-if you’re a golfer, please read and know the rules. PLEASE!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
— Christina Kim (@TheChristinaKim) November 1, 2019
On the other side of the story, Kim has said on multiple occasions that she wasn’t entirely certain of the severity of the infraction, and so didn’t inform the players at the time so that they could play their best rounds.
“Should I have brought it up immediately after I saw it?” Kim wrote on Twitter. “I don’t know. COULD I have? Yes. But I wasn’t going to bring up a POSSIBLE infraction. I needed to know it was definitely one and waited for confirmation from an official.”
Kim stressed that she wasn’t questioning the integrity of Dye or the caddie. “I never ONCE called anyone a cheater,” she noted. “I said it was an innocent mistake due to a lack of knowledge of the rules. The integrity of the other people involved are BEYOND reproach and anyone who thinks otherwise is just plain wrong.” Furthermore, she noted, she had no option to just keep her mouth shut — failing to report a rules violation is grounds for instant disqualification.
Dye, meanwhile, took responsibility for the penalty and expressed regret for involving Weber, while assailing Kim’s “unprofessional and public action” for spreading the story on Twitter:
The rules of golf, while a bedrock value of the sport, often turn the game into an absurd farce of legalistic gimmickry and punitive overreach. In all too many cases, the punishment for violating the rules of the game far outweighs the crime — when you can lose out on a chance at a Masters title over the mortal sin of unwittingly signing an improper scorecard, something’s out of balance.
But in this case, the rules were correct. A two-stroke penalty isn’t insurmountable, particularly with two full days left to play. Plus, as Golfweek’s Geoff Shackelford correctly noted, the violation was symptomatic of a larger buddy-buddy culture at work in golf today — the idea that the players are all in this together against the course. It’s possible to both respect your opponents and want them to play by the rules all on their own, and that’s precisely what Kim did here.
Sure, it seems cosmically unfair that Weber got popped for a violation her caddie committed, but the caddie’s an extension of the player. If the caddie had interfered with a rolling putt, there’d be no doubt that the player should be penalized; same philosophy applies here.
Golf’s rules have served the game (mostly) well for more than a century. They need adjustment in many cases, but not this one. This is a tough break for the two players who lost out on their cards, but ultimately, a painfully fair one.
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