KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - While most of the fans who'd attended Day 2 of the PGA Championship had already left the island (or waiting in traffic to do so), word came down from the PGA of America: Michael Hoey of Northern Ireland, one of only five players to shoot under par on Friday, had been disqualified from the championship.
Since the sun had long since gone down and there was no one anywhere near the course, the question became, what Hoey could have done to DQ himself at this late hour? As it turned out, he reported a rule violation on himself, and the resulting cascade of regulation left him disqualified.
From the AP report: "Hoey wiped away sand on the ninth hole. His mistake was not replacing the sand on his ball." Read that again: His mistake was not replacing the sand on his ball. In other words, if Hoey had simply tossed a handful of sand atop his ball, he'd still be playing the weekend. But because he didn't, and because he received a two-stroke penalty, he signed an incorrect scorecard, and when you do that, you're out the door. (A cringeworthy side note: had he signed a correct scorecard even with the penalty, he would have made the cut on the number.)
Hoey received praise for self-reporting and continuing golf's tradition of honorable play, but that's misplaced emotion. The important element of this saga is not that Hoey was honorable enough to disqualify himself from a major (which he was), it's that he could even be disqualified for not dusting his ball with a coating of sand like it was a birthday cupcake needing sprinkles. This is major championship golf, and we're kicking a guy out because he didn't build a little sandcastle atop his Titleist?
(Also, it's worth noting that there's no realistic way a player in 2012 could believe that they had "gotten away with it" and not self-reported the violation. This is not to cast any aspersions on Hoey's character, of course. But golfers never know when they're being filmed, and if a golfer did try to "forget" that he failed to recreate the lie properly and was discovered by an intrepid couch referee, the resulting blowback would be far, far worse than withdrawal from a single major.)
Golf is a game of rules, yes. But it shouldn't be a game constricted by rules. Cheating on your scorecard, using the ol' foot wedge in the rough, even testing the lie of a bunker before playing ... all these are valid, understandable rules that can and do have a dramatic impact on the play of the game. But requiring the replacement of a coating of sand for a ball already enmeshed in a bunker, amid a course that's basically one gargantuan sand trap with a thin veneer of paspalum grass? That's demanding obedience for the sake of demanding obedience, not for the integrity of the game. The fact that players regularly need to consult with Tour or course officials to determine if they're about to unknowingly make a mistake that will cost them thousands of dollars, or even a spot in a tournament, speaks to the rattling, creaking misfires of the system.
Again, credit to Hoey for being a stand-up man and accepting the punishment he knew was coming. It's a shame the people who could bring similar rationality to the game's rulebook aren't also stepping forward.