It's been a year of ridiculous golf rules violations, a year in which the rule book altered the course of tournaments for apparently minor violations. Defenders of the game's Sacred Rules have had their hands full justifying ridiculously over-the-top punishments for minor violations. Consider Michelle Wie's absent-minded club grounding; nitpicky local rules that hammered Ryuji Imada and Nick Faldo in China; a non-functioning alarm clock that got Jim Furyk kicked out of a tournament; and most famously, Dustin Johnson's bunker-not-bunker misfire that cost him a shot at the PGA Championship.
Now, though, we've got one that might just top them all. Ian Poulter, on the green in a sudden-death playoff at the Dubai World Championship, accidentally dropped his ball onto the small platinum coin that Poulter uses as his marker, flipping the marker over.
No big deal, right? Simply replace the marker and go on with your game, right?
Wrong, friend, wrong. Poulter incurred a one-stroke penalty for disturbing his marker. And you might have incurred one there yourself, just for questioning the rules. Careful, or you'll get hit with another.
The penalty cost Poulter a chance to win the tournament, allowing Robert Karlsson to ease his way to the title. (To be fair, Poulter had a 40-foot birdie putt while Karlsson's was inside 5 feet, but Poulter has a way of draining these long ones regardless.) Karlsson won $1.25 million in the European Tour's final event of the year.
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Poulter, in keeping with golf tradition, informed rules officials immediately of the infraction, and boom, that was that. He had violated Rule 20-1/15, which chief referee Andy McFee indicated read as follows: "Any accidental movement of the ball marker which occurs before or after the specific act of marking, including as a result of dropping the ball, regardless of the height from which it was dropped … results in the player incurring a one stroke penalty."
Certainly, Poulter did the right thing in reporting the violation. The fact that the players police themselves is what makes golf a unique sport. But the rule isn't the problem; the severity of the punishment is. As with so many other infractions in golf, the penalty is totally out of proportion to the degree of the "crime."
Still, Poulter's colleagues gave exactly the kind of sympathetic, sorrowful reaction you'd expect from your golf buddies. "Poults may not have won the Dubai world championship," Rory McIlroy Tweeted, "but he could be in with a shout for tiddlywinks world championship." And Lee Westwood called him "sparrow legs Dubai tiddlywink champ."
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Poulter indicated that he'd still use the coin, which has his children's names, in future tournaments. The rule book, of course, had no comment. And don't you dare think to question its tweedy absurdity and total lack of common sense. Don't you dare.
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