Calling oneself on infractions — is what makes the game unique and that which helps support its integrity. To expect golfers to do so, requires that the intent of the rule be clear and unambiguous.
The basic principles must never be compromised. In being too comprehensive when writing the rules inevitability leads to ambiguity, making it more difficult to interpret and in turn to self-enforce.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of our book, From Sticks and Stones, that we thought you might enjoy. As always we welcome your thoughts/comments by leaving your reply at the bottom of the page.
A Clear Path Forward
“You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”
It’s one of the most famous quotes in golf, and it reflects something good and precious in the game that’s been slipping away from us, something we need to restore as much as we can.
In the first round of the 1925 U.S. Open, Bobby Jones’s ball was in long grass beside the eleventh green of the Worcester Country Club. As he prepared to hit his shot, he saw the ball settle slightly into the grass. Though no observers believed he had caused the ball’s movement, he promptly called a one-stroke penalty on himself and ignored USGA officials who told him this was unnecessary. The incident contributed to an opening 77; he ultimately lost the championship in a playoff with Willie Macfarlane. Take away the penalty stroke and there would be no playoff, and Jones would have five U.S. Open wins, an unequalled total.
He dismissed after-the-fact comments on his honesty and sportsmanship with the quote above. Less remembered is the second sentence he put with it: “There is only one way to play the game.”
Golf, unique among sports, has always been a game of honor. Its roots are in match play, one against one, but in its truest form it is one against oneself. It is the most beguiling method of testing and measuring ourselves that man has ever devised, and even in its competitions it needs no umpire or referee to stand over the participants and ensure their compliance with the rules. (Officials are provided to answer questions when needed, but that’s a very different thing than having someone blow a whistle or throw a flag when your ball moves at address.)