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Front and center at Augusta

Something interesting happened at the Masters Golf Tournament over the weekend.  I’m not talking about the sudden death playoff where Adam Scott beat Angel Cabrera to win the championship.  And I’m not talking about Tianlang Guan, a fourteen year old eighth grader from China, who became the youngest person not only to compete in the Masters, but also to make the cut and win low amateur honors.  He accomplished this by scoring no worse than a bogey on any hole (pretty amazing for anyone, much less a fourteen year old).  What captured my attention was a two shot penalty assessed to Tiger Woods between the second and third rounds.

To set some context you have to understand that what makes golf different than any other sport is how serious they are about following the rules.  If the phrase “rule of law” applies to any sport, it has to be golf.  There is nothing more dishonorable in golf than a failure to abide by the rules.  The idea of falsifying your score or ignoring one of the regulations just doesn’t exist.  It’s not like baseball where putting a foreign substance on a ball or using a loaded bat isn’t viewed as a big deal --- it’s more about whether you can get away with it or not.  It’s not like basketball where the referees just ignore the majority of fouls and violations and call only the most flagrant.  No, in golf the overwhelming majority of penalties are self-assessed.

With this as a background we’re ready to wade into what happened this weekend with Tiger Woods.  In his play during the second round on Friday, Woods made an illegal drop of his ball.  Because the rules can be fairly complex at times (in this situation, for example, he had three different options to choose from), Woods was unaware he had done anything amiss. He wasn't alone. Tournament officials reviewed his actions and said there had been no violation.  Later that night, after Woods made some comments to reporters about dropping his ball a couple of yards from where it originally was, tournament officials took another look and concluded that he actually had broken the rule (and implicitly admitted that they had made a mistake by not originally noting it). 

So Woods had made a mistake.  The officials had made a mistake.  If this were some other sport, it would make the headlines the next day and that would be it.  Everybody would feel a little embarrassed, assurances would be made to the public that they would do better next time, and then they would wait for it to blow over. 

That’s not the way they handle things in golf.  Instead of sweeping their mistakes under the rug or minimizing them with some spin, they put them in the limelight by calling in the sport’s highest profile player, explaining the situation to him, and then assessing the penalty that was called for (two shots).  Woods later said he “absolutely” agreed with the ruling (“I made a mistake”).   

How do you explain all of this?

Honor.  Integrity.  Truth.  In a world where these are in too short of supply, it’s good to see them front and center in a weekend at Augusta.

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