Golf Tidbits: Players need to own the rules

1:25 PM, Jan 21, 2014   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Professional golfers got to where they are for a reason - they excel at a very difficult sport. What makes the sport even harder?

The rule book.

So many rules questions can come into play in one round that it's mind-blowing.

For the third time in four years, there was a big rules question at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. The offenders of the violations were Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

In 2011, Harrington's ball moved when he picked up his ball mark, and because he didn't take a penalty or replace his ball, Harrington was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Woods, in 2013, drove in sandy area with underbrush covering the sand. His ball was embedded, and playing partner Martin Kaymer agreed. The tour's chief referee didn't.

The 2-stroke penalty caused Woods to missed the cut.

This past weekend, McIlroy took a drop in the rough from a pedestrian walkway. However, after taking the drop, he was still standing on the line of the walkway when he played his shot.

The rules state you must be completely clear of the hazard when playing your next shot. McIlroy was given a 2-stroke penalty, and lost the tournament by one.

How does this continue to happen at the top level of the game? First off, the players seemingly don't know the rules well enough. Secondly, there aren't enough rules officials at these events.

Annika Sorenstam was not only one of the greatest golfers of all time, she was a stickler for knowing the rules. So much so that she regularly attended USGA rules seminars.

If you ask other LPGA players, they might say Sorenstam used that to her advantage from time to time, but I'd point the finger at those other players for not knowing the rules as well as Sorenstam did.

There are two things that I would do if I led a major golf tour: 1) make players pass rules tests on a regular basis, and 2) have rules officials on every hole at every event.

If players want to play at the highest level, they should be able to figure out where to drop when their golf ball crosses into a red- or yellow-staked water hazard.

They also should know that they need to be fully clear of a hazard after taking their drop. By the way, McIlroy was called out by another caddie in his group for that violation.

That caddie may get a bunch of ugly looks from other players for a while, but kudos to him for spotting the violation and having the guts to call it.

As for the second part of my thoughts, adding an official to every hole seems to contradict making players know the rules. I'll grant you that.

However, if the players aren't able to figure out the proper ruling, having more than a couple officials at each event will make it easier to get the rules decisions done quickly and accurately.

The majors have rules officials walking in every group, as does the WGC- Accenture Match Play Championship. The big tours - PGA, European and LPGA - should be able to pay for 18 officials each week.

If they don't want to buck up for said officials, revert back to my first thought. Make the players pass rules tests a few times a year. If the tour can grab a player right after a round for a drug test, why not grab him for a rules test?

Professional golfers should start acting more professional, and that includes knowing the rules through and through.

REED SPRINTS TO SECOND TITLE

Patrick Reed broke through for his first tour win in August. This past weekend, he blitzed the field en route to win No. 2.

The 23-year-old struggled in his first year as a pro last year. From the start of the season through July 4th weekend, he played in 20 events and collected just two top-10 finishes versus nine missed cuts.

Something clicked for Reed at the John Deere Classic. He shared seventh there and followed with a tie for ninth at the Canadian Open. He was not eligible for the next two events, but that didn't halt his momentum.

Reed carded three rounds in the 60s to get into a playoff at the Wyndham Championship. In that playoff, he beat fellow rookie Jordan Spieth for the title.

At the Humana Challenge last week, Reed started with three straight 63s on three different courses. He set the tour record for lowest score in relation to par after 54 holes, and was the first player in tour history to shoot 63 or better in each of the first three rounds.

"(It) almost seems like I'm in a putting coma. The hole seems huge, it almost feels like I can't miss," Reed said after the third round.

He led by a touchdown entering the final round and only needed a 1-under 71 to cling to the title. The only reason his final margin was two strokes is because his two closest competitors closed with a 63 and a 62.

Reed blitzed the field with 30 birdies. Not only is that a lot, even for the Humana Challenge, Reed only had 44 total birdies in his previous four events combined.

His momentum might be halted a little bit as he withdrew from this week's event with a rib injury.

Let's hope that doesn't last. A fun, new rivalry between Reed and Spieth is something the tour can build around as some of the older stars starting moving over to the Champions Tour.

MINI-TIDBITS

* As great as Bernhard Langer was on the PGA Tour, he continued that stellar play on the Champions Tour. With five birdies in the last six holes, he broke through a crowded leaderboard for his 19th win in 127 career starts on Sunday.

* The LPGA season opens this week in the Bahamas. The weather surely can't be as bad as last year, when a foot of rain fell on the course two days before the event started. They managed to play three rounds on a 12-hole course to get 36 holes in. Nothing like that will happen this week.

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