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Morri: A Troubling Trend At The Top

The reaction to Phil Mickeslon's actions at Shinnecock Hills might be more disturbing than the behaviour itself
If you’re a fan of the professional game you would no doubt be aware of the questionable drop and its undignified fallout at last week’s Quicken Loans tournament on the PGA Tour.

In a nutshell, Sung Kang and Joel Dahmen disagreed vehemently about where Kang’s ball had last crossed the margin of a hazard on the 10th hole.

Dahmen later called Kang a cheat on Twitter – the most shocking allegation one player can make about another – and that understandably grabbed all the headlines.

But there was another, perhaps more disturbing element to this saga.

One of the details that later emerged was an exchange between a rules official and Kang where the South Korean claimed to be ‘95 per cent’ sure his ball had crossed the hazard line a second time.

Even when it was pointed out by the official – seemingly trying to encourage Kang to think long and hard about his next step – that 95 per cent ‘is not 100 per cent’, Kang held firm.

He took his drop where he felt he was entitled - some 40 metres from the green instead of 180 metres - got up and down for par, finished third and qualified for the Open at Carnoustie.

Should he go on to survive the cut there perhaps he will consider only playing 95 per cent of the tournament.

Kang’s actions have been covered extensively – and rightly so – but there is a nagging question raised by this incident.

Is what unfolded at TPC Potomac really a symptom of a broader trend in the game?

I readily admit to being in the ‘Generation Grumpy Old Man’ demographic but I can’t help but wonder if the current crop of top professionals don’t view the rules of the game as seriously as previous generations.

It would be difficult to imagine Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or Ben Hogan taking that drop based on being ’95 per cent’ sure.

The rule of thumb in golf – especially professional golf - has generally been to take the course of action that leaves NO avenue for your integrity to be questioned.

Yes, at times that will mean you will be unfairly disadvantaged but, just like bad bounces, these things have a way of balancing themselves out in golf.

The ’95 per cent’ comment from Kang, followed by his willingness to proceed based on that uncertainty, is just the latest in a series of troubling trends.

There was Jimmy Walker (a major winner) all but admitting ‘backstopping’ is an unspoken agreement amongst Tour players during a Twitter argument with Mike Clayton.

Then there was Phil Mickelson’s shameful disregard for the rules of the game when slapping a moving ball during the third round of the US Open. The act was clearly borne out of frustration but what of the response to it by two of the game’s most articulate and thoughtful young stars?

Both Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth thought what Mickelson did was ‘funny’. Granted, there are more important issues in the world than golf but within golf that is a genuinely shocking reaction from two of the game’s most influential players.

Golf has always overplayed the ‘self-policing’ and ‘integrity’ cards. Only a fool would believe that deliberate cheating doesn’t happen in the game.

But for the vast majority of golfers it doesn’t and the potential stain of being known as a rules fudger or blatant cheat is enough to discourage such behaviour.

As New Zealand based former touring professional John Parry Evans put it on Twitter: “The rules are complex, but when I played you knew all of them and breached any at your peril, a lifetime of ostracism awaited.”

Perhaps that ‘lifetime of ostracism’ no longer applies? If not, the game is worse for it. Much, much worse.


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