THE first known rules of golf were drawn up in 1744 in Edinburgh for the world’s first open golf competition. Today the rules are consistently updated and amended by the two governing bodies, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the United States Golf Association. They consist of a standard set of regulations that must be adhered to when playing and penalties exist when infractions occur. The rules are often broken but almost always unintentionally. Grey areas exist when it comes to the rules and the famous saying ‘golf is not a game of perfect’ applies to the overwhelming legislation and the occasional costly oversight for tour pros as well.

There are in fact only 34 cardinal rules of the game but countless clauses and sub-clauses that keep even tour players on their toes. Some of the most famous rule bungles include Dustin Johnson’s unintentional club grounding at the 2010 US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. His ball lay on a sandy waste area that was difficult to distinguish as a bunker. Officials that week deemed all the sandy areas as bunkers, ultimately costing Johnson a place in the playoff and potentially his first Major title.

Annabel Rolley
Lexi Thompson won plenty more fans – but not the tournament – after her ball-marking indiscretion at the ANA Inspiration.

More recently, a television viewer pulled up Lexi Thompson for incorrectly marking her ball during the third round of the ANA Inspiration in April. This resulted in a whopping four-shot penalty, denying her of the championship and what would have been her second Major. Thankfully, only three tournaments later she achieved some redemption by winning the Kingsmill Championship. This was a timely and positive turnaround win for the talented 22-year-old.

Our own Minjee Lee was delivered a harsh lesson when she failed to sign her scorecard after completing the final round of that same Kingsmill Championship. This oversight deprived her of $US24,000, which is a rather catastrophic ramification for such a simple slip-up.

Even Tiger Woods was accused of breaking the rules when he took a questionable drop on the 15th hole at the Masters in 2013. A player on the Champions Tour and rules official of the PGA Tour, David Eger, called in to report to officials that he had watched Tiger taking a divot with his first shot (which ricocheted off the flag and into the water) and how his dropped ball rested in an area lacking a divot. Rule 26-1-a states the ball must be dropped “as nearly as possible” to the previous ball position. He was pinged a two-shot penalty, which is significant when you consider he finished in fourth place, four shots behind eventual winner Adam Scott.

These history-making mistakes are unfortunate and will remain talking points forever, but do these incidences leave tour players as perpetrators or is a rules mistake forgivable every now and again?

Each of these judgment errors were obviously genuine ones rather than any form of premeditated move to create an advantage. It is unfortunate that the rules of golf allow for such harsh punishment, however these are the rules that the game is built on and they are solely responsible for instilling great integrity and honesty in golfers. It is very common for tour players to call penalties on themselves, which is hugely admirable in the sports world. How many other sports have this type of raw transparency?

The rules of golf enforce vigilance and require an in-depth understanding of them and correct application. With these come acceptance, maturity and respect for the game and its fellow players that has been in existence for centuries.

Mistakes will happen, as we do not live in an infallible world. Human error exists in every part of life, from the golf course to the workplace and personal relationships. What we can recognise is that these are genuine mistakes that aren’t hurting anyone or anything. Dustin, Lexi, Minjee and Tiger all lost something that meant a lot to them because of a ‘silly’ golf rule, but if they have any sort of perspective – which they all do – then they’d take a philosophical view and realise that the sun will come up the next day and life goes on.


  Annabel Rolley is an Australian golf professional and host of Australian Golf Digest TV