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Spike problem, or are the rules in good repair?

Simon Dyson was given a serious rebuke from the top brass for doing it.

Sergio Garcia was incensed after he was wrongly accused of tapping down spike mark
Sergio Garcia was incensed after he was wrongly accused of tapping down spike mark

Sergio Garcia was left fuming after being accused of doing it. Perhaps even educated fleas do it?

The tapping down of a spike mark on the putting surface is one of golf's no-nos. Repairing pitch marks created by the dunt of a ball is fine but faced with the tramplings of other players' feet in your line of putt? Well, that's just the rub of the green.

In the aftermath of the furore caused by the Garcia incident in Abu Dhabi recently - a viewer phoned in to say the Spaniard was illegally tapping down a spike mark when, in fact, it was a pitch mark - the call from some quarters to allow players to repair all impediments on the greens grew in volume again.

David Rickman, the executive director of rules and equipment standards at the Royal & Ancient, certainly does not turn a deaf ear to these cries but the doyen of golf's countless commandments prefers a quiet, considered response.

"We have looked at what can be done on the putting green before and will look at it again," he admitted. "The repair of spike marks was something that was tried on the European Tour in the 1970s and that experiment wasn't successful because of the impact it had on the pace of play.

"That [pace of play] remains a fundamental concern and is one of the unintended consequences that can arise from changes."

The Abu Dhabi event whipped up another desert storm when Rory McIlroy was penalised two shots for unwittingly failing to take full relief following a free drop. McIlroy, who had only himself, and perhaps his caddie, to blame for failing to notice the infringement, groaned that it was one of golf's "stupid rules" before adding that he spends little time familiarising himself with the rule book's various nooks and crannies.

"I guess that's why we have ­referees here," he said. Sympathisers suggested that, as in the Open Championship, referees should follow every group in events of sizeable stature.

"We have had referees with every match at the Open since 1990 and to have a highly skilled referee on hand at such a massive championship is valuable, but it is perhaps not practical to expect to have this at every event," responded Rickman, before reminding players, quite rightly, that they are responsible for their actions.

"Nothing that has happened recently should divert us from the point that golfers need to know the rules and accept that responsibility.

"One of the beauties of golf is that it is a self-regulating game and we should be careful not to diminish that in any way. The rules are there to protect the players, not to trip them up. As we have said before, we are currently reviewing the rules of golf along with the USGA to look at ways of simplifying them where possible. But we are doing this from a standpoint that the rules are among the strengths of the game rather than part of the problem."

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