Golfing stands out from other sports in its standards

By Mark Singletary

The Daily Record Newswire

I was hooked on golf when I was 11 years old. My uncle, a golfer, invited me to tag along and watch the best women golfers in the world compete in the Babe Zaharias Open. The event was being held for the last time at the Beaumont Country Club and I was really happy he invited me.

At 11, I wasn't much of a golfer and didn't even know that much about the game. Most of my golf buddies would say the same thing now, but my appreciation for the sport and awe for the players has grown over the years.

I've been lucky. I've been to and watched lots of professional golf tournaments in person since that first encounter in Beaumont. I've gone to two U.S. Opens, a couple of senior tour events, more than 20 PGA Tour events and just the one LPGA event.

I've watched and reported on professional golf in Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Tennessee and, of course, New Orleans.

I have lots of memories connected with those events, but a few of them stand out as extraordinary and truly special.

That first tournament was won by Mickey Wright, a World Golf Hall of Famer. I'll never forget standing next to her golf ball and being shooed away by the marshals. Now, I understand they're just doing their job, but back then I just thought they were being bossy.

I've seen Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson play dozens of times, but have never watched them win in person. I've seen David Toms win in person, but that was in Memphis, Tenn. I moved to New Orleans in the fall of 2001 and wasn't here to watch Toms win the Compaq Classic that year.

I watched the 2001 U.S. Open in Tulsa, Okla., in oppressive heat and then, eight years later, watched the best golfers in the world tee it up in the chilly dampness of Bethpage State Park on Long Island, N.Y.

The list of memories goes on and on, but none are more dramatic than witnessing professional golfer Webb Simpson stand on the 15th green and watch his golf ball wiggle in the wind last year. Because of an arcane rule -- one the golfer must call on himself -- Simpson was penalized one stroke. Because he grounded his club, placing it in a hitting position behind the ball, he was deemed to have influenced the ball and caused it to wiggle. In fact, the 25 mph wind gusts howling across a closely mown putting green did that, but golf stands alone with its rules and self-policing.

That wind gust probably cost Simpson the golf tournament. Had the scoring played out the way it did after the rules violation, Simpson would have won the tournament. Instead he had a playoff with Bubba Watson, who eventually won. It was a strange day, and yet so memorable.

Golf has arcane rules and golfers are expected to call violations on themselves, and that's what makes golf so special and better than all the other sports.

I love football, baseball, basketball and tennis and can occasionally tolerate soccer. None of those sports has a requirement that players call fouls on themselves. It's impossible to imagine even the saintly Drew Brees going over to an official during an NFL game and confessing to a rules violation.

It's unheard of, and more importantly, unexpected and unacceptable behavior.

But golfers are called to a higher standard. The rulebook is sacred and golfers are taught to keep their own score and to keep it accurately. To do that, one must know the rules and be comfortable calling a penalty one oneself.

Published: Fri, May 18, 2012