Mark your balls wrong, get a three-month involuntary vacation

The European Tour has handed down its decree on the Elliot Saltman cheating case, and the verdict is: death! No, wait, a three-month suspension. Sorry, I was way off.

Saltman, an up-and-comer who won his European Tour card for 2011 in last year's Q School, was facing accusations of cheating when marking his ball on the green. Saltman would mark his ball one way, then when replacing the ball, align it with the marker in slightly different fashion in order to move it closer to the hole, according to accusations made by two of his playing partners in a September qualifying tournament.

Saltman protested his innocence, saying that he agreed to the charges at the time because he was in "shock" and "didn't want to be labelled a cheat." But the Tour did exactly that, saying in a statement that Saltman "committed a serious breach," according to the AP report.

We've railed before about the absurd overreaction of golf's ruling elite when infractions are an issue -- disqualifications for forgetting to sign cards or using swing training aids, extra strokes for inadvertent accidents like dropping the ball on the marker -- but in this case, the punishment is more in line with the crime. Saltman was getting a material advantage -- small, yes, but measurable -- and everyone who's ever marked a ball on a green understands how you can get away with this little technique.

As for precedent, Saltman should be glad he didn't get the effective death sentence handed down to David Robertson, who was fined £20,000 and banned for 20 years in 1985 for marking his ball incorrectly during a British Open qualifying tournament. Now, Robertson allegedly moved his ball a lot more than a couple inches -- up to 20 feet, by some reckonings -- by arriving at the green first, pretending to mark his ball, then carrying the marker on his putter and dropping it much closer to the hole. (Pretty slick trick ... er, no, no, that's horrible.)

Saltman has the right to appeal, but at this point, he may be better advised to ride this one out and put it behind him once and for all. The suspension will be over and done before the cold weather lifts ... assuming the European Tour marks the calendar correctly.

Scottish golfer banned for ball marked incorrectly [AP/Yahoo! Sports]

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