Golf Rule

In all the controversy over the slight rotation of Dustin Johnson’s ball during the last round of this year’s U.S. Open, the complaints have been about how the USGA officials handled the possible rule infraction, not whether the rule itself was stupid. It seemed rather clear to me that when the ball, sitting on the fifth green, moved one dimple after he grounded his putter beside it, his action was the proximate cause and, under the applicable rule, he had to take a penalty stroke. The official on the spot was wrong to tell him otherwise, although I don’t blame him for not thinking quickly enough in the pressure of that situation. Once the officials decided a video review was necessary, they clearly had to tell the player and ask him if he could think of any reason the ball had moved. Allowing for all due process, it’s easy to see that it would take another couple of holes to reach a determination, which means Johnson – and all the field still on the course – should have been advised of the penalty stroke no later than Johnson’s 14th hole. That’s still a problem, but not as bad as waiting for the round’s conclusion, as occurred.

But no one is asking, why is there such a rule in the first place? Why penalize a player for conduct that in no way helps him? The ball was further from the cup after it moved – how is that a benefit? If there is no advantage gained, why penalize? More appropriately, the rule could be written that if any act of the player not otherwise addressed in the rules has the result of advancing the ball, the player shall be penalized a stroke.

The silly strictness of golf rules contributes to the elite nature of the game. The beginner, even the average player (like myself), doesn’t know all the rules and is made to feel like he’s not quite in the club. Of course, the average player (like myself) willfully ignores even some of the rules he does know. If your club accidentally touches the ball before you strike it, that’s a penalty. If your club accidentally touches the sand before your bunker shot, that’s a penalty. Neither gives you an unfair advantage over your opponent or the course. There are even more arcane penalties, such as two strokes if your shot bounces back and hits you, even though this could never be an intentional result of cheating, nor is it appropriate compensation for any yardage saved by your body being in the way.

Golf is tough enough as it is. Why have rules that serve no purpose but make it harder?

Typical Twins

The Twins offense had an unusually good night against the Tampa Bay Rays last night: Nunez had two hits, two stolen bases and two runs, although his ground-ball double play with the bases loaded in the fifth was the decisive losing moment. Joe Mauer had two singles with men in scoring position, although only one scored and the game was out of reach by then. Brian Dozier had two hits – best of all a rare double to rightfield, albeit on a weak swing. And even Byron Buxton had a two-hit game and showed off his speed on the bases. Max Kepler made two plays in right that Sano would not have. The Twins and Rays both had 11 hits. Four of the Rays’ hits, though, were home runs.

On the negative side, Trevor Plouffe batted cleanup and was a black hole, where all rallies went to die. He swung Dozier-like, pulling everything and looking frustrated. Worse, he’s hitting .245, 100 points below Danny Valencia, a Twin discard who is alive in Oakland. I hope it has become as clear to the Minnesota front office as it is to me that Sano has to be the Twins third baseman of the future – with a possible shift to first when Mauer is gone. This was to be the year that Plouffe and Dozier reached their primes and carried the team. Both have flopped, and a new direction is required.