How a leaf and a stupid rule cost a golfer $485,000

Golf is a pretty crazy sport even at the level of club players and lesser amateurs.  At the pro level, it can be insane.  Case in point, the P.G.A. Championship that just ended.

Carl Pettersson hit a shot on Sunday on the first hole of the last round, and the ball landed inside of the red hazard line.  He was three shots behind the leader at that moment.  Well, when he hit his next shot, his lob wedge made contact with a leaf, according to this story in the Aug. 13 online New York Times.

That hitting of the leaf put Pettersson in violation of PGA Rule 13-4C that says a player can’t “touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard” when hitting a ball in a hazard.

I love Pettersson’s reply to the media afterward:  “I didn’t even realize I moved it because I’m trying to hit the ball.”

What ended up happening is, he got penalized two strokes, which means his first-hole score went from 4 to 6.  The Times says if it weren’t for this penalty, Pettersson would have finished in second place.  Instead, he tied for third with three others.  Prize difference?: $485,000.

Pettersson was quoted as saying, “I don’t think it affected the outcome of the shot.  It’s just one of those things.  We have a lot of stupid rules in golf.”

I agree, this is a stupid rule.  How can hitting a LEAF with your club cost you a penalty of two strokes?  Especially in such a huge tournament?  Do the rules think that hitting a leaf is going to give you a BETTER shot?  I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about golf – or physics – but I can’t see how a leaf can make any difference one way or the other.

(Those of you reading this – if you play golf, remember this rule and if some Sunday your opponent hits a leaf when his ball is in a hazard, go up and say, “Sorry, Bob, but you’re in violation of PGA Rule 13-4C.  That’s gonna cost you two strokes.”)

For the average weekend hacker, this rule, even if the hacker is aware of it, doesn’t matter.  For men and women who earn their livings and support their families from the sport of golf – and their success at it – the rule has to matter.  For Pettersson, it maters to the tune of $485,000.

Of course sports have to have rules, and it’s even more important at the top levels.  But I think it’s time for governing bodies of some of these sports to go back into their rule books and review some of the more “stupid rules,” to quote Pettersson.

PGA Rule 13-4C.  Two strokes and nearly a half million dollars.

Nick & Ellie