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Golfing etiquette compromised by double standards at Augusta

From a place associated with golf at its purest, a message to remind us of the latest damage done to the reputation of the sport last weekend.

Tiger Woods takes a drop at the 15th hole after his ball went into the water. Picture: Charlie Riedel/AP
Tiger Woods takes a drop at the 15th hole after his ball went into the water. Picture: Charlie Riedel/AP

I watched the closing holes of the Masters with Neil Hampton, general manager of Royal Dornoch, among an eclectic group. From an array of backgrounds, the conversation ranged widely, but among those with an active interest in the sport, there was unanimity on one matter: we should not have been watching one of those still competing in the event that was on our screen.

The circumstances of Tiger Woods' breach of the rules when he dropped the ball have been fully reported. So, too, has the fact that the incident had been brought to the attention of officials before he signed his scorecard and they had, rather implausibly, chosen to conclude that there had been no problem and that it was only the interview he subsequently offered that gave him away.

We will never know whether Woods' utterances demonstrated genuine ignorance, were designed to call bluffs by demonstrating that he felt he had nothing to hide, or were merely an egotistical attempt to remind us that he is so brilliant that he might have hit the pin again. Instead, all he did was demonstrate his own guilt.

Golf's rules are, admittedly, many and complex, but this was not one of the trickier ones for a player of his experience and, among our group, Hampton was best placed to express just why Woods' continued involvement in the tournament had been so wrong.

"We are trying to encourage more juniors to play our game and one of the most important things we address is the ethics involved: how to treat your fellow man, and doing so with integrity. We're looking to put great people out into the world through golf, so this is sending the wrong message to the youngsters," he said.

"We are trying to get them to police themselves but now they can look at that and say, 'if Tiger can do it, so can I'.

"He has been given a chance to stay in the tournament by people who have selfish reasons for wanting him to stay in: because it is good for their viewing figures or whatever. However, having realised that he made a mistake, Tiger should have withdrawn from the tournament."

The son of a professional and greenkeeper, Hampton has been immersed in the sport all his life and, consequently, is fully acquainted with the incident which ingrained in all golfers the understanding that you are fully responsible for your own actions.

It was at the very same Masters tournament close to half a century ago that Roberto De Vicenzo won the tournament on the course and lost it immediately after finishing by signing for the wrong score.

Hampton consequently noted that, if exceptions can be applied when television evidence is available, it may now be time to reassess that dreadful injustice.

"One of the best comments I saw was someone suggesting that they should now use TV evidence, go back over De Vicenzo's round and then get him back there to give him his green jacket," said Hampton.

Joking apart, the seriousness of the situation was exacerbated by having occurred so soon after the youngest golfer to make it into the Masters field, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, had a one-shot penalty imposed on him for slow play, something unheard of in majors or on the PGA Tour.

He was, quite simply, the one player in the field insufficiently streetwise to know how to beat the system once "put on the clock".

To protestations that common sense should have been applied, golf insiders defended John Paramor, the European Tour official who issued the penalty, on the basis that the rules were the rules, he had no scope to bend them and that, even if the youngster was ignorant of them, it was irrelevant.

Apparently, that is far from being the case if a player is important enough.

The double standards that riddle this sport which so prides itself on an increasingly artificial-looking emphasis on "etiquette" are in evidence again. We can, let's hope, look forward to further examination of that in the weeks ahead as two of the last shameful bastions of sporting sexism, the R&A and the "Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers", prepare to combine forces to stage golf's premier tournament, the Open Championship.

It would be unfair to go into Hampton's view on those fellow Scottish clubs but suffice to say our mixed company enjoyed full access to all facilities at one of the sport's greatest venues the following day.

As for his views on the treatment of the junior golfer whose brilliance can genuinely offer inspiration to all his contemporaries, the soft-spoken but commendably principled man from Dornoch confined himself to saying: "Don't get me started on that . . . "

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