Golf is a tremendous sport and referred to as a gentlemen’s game. We, as players, are responsible and expected to call penalties and rule violations on ourselves. After all, that is a difference between golf and other sports.
I will never forget the story about Bobby Jones in the 1925 U.S. Open when he called a penalty on himself, when his ball moved while addressing it. Nobody else on this planet saw it but him. He called a rules official over and told him what happened. The rules official questioned Jones, who did what was right within the rules of golf. He was assessed a one-stroke penalty.
Finishing in second place and one shot behind the eventual champion Willie Macfarlane, Jones’ one-shot penalty cost him the chance to tie for this major championship. Jones was praised for his honesty, and when interviewed by reporters about his action and the praise, he said, “You might as well praise me for not robbing banks.”
It’s been 94 years since Bobby Jones made this gesture of integrity. Since then, there have been countless players who have done the same.
On the contrary, in early December, PGA Tour Player Patrick Reed faced a difficult lie in a bunker shot on the third round of the 2019 Hero World Challenge Golf Tournament at The Albany Resort in Bahamas. The ball had been partially buried – best known as a fried egg lie. This indicates that the golf ball is at the bottom of its own crater that was made when it flew in to the sand bunker. This was a difficult shot and at the time, Reed was leading the tournament. In two consecutive practice swings, Reed brushed away sand from behind his golf ball with his club, clearly giving him a better lie. Folks, this is a blatant rules infraction. After the two practice swings, Reed hit his shot, but did not request the presence of a rules official and never made a comment to anyone that he may have broken a rule.
Fortunately, the camera was on Reed and recorded this ordeal. The rules officials examined the footage and took action. When Reed concluded his round for the day at the scorers’ table, the rules officials enlightened him on his rules infraction and penalized him two strokes for improving his lie. This kicked Reed out of the lead, and Swedish player Henrik Stenson won the tournament. Reed finished in third by two strokes.
The two-stroke penalty was the maximum penalty that the rules officials could place on Reed. Reed stuck with his story and said, “I didn’t know I had done that.”
I don’t buy it. The most crucial consideration a good player has to make before ever hitting a golf shot is in the evaluation of his golf ball’s lie. He gives each and every lie of the ball a good look before all of the other considerations and well before determining which club is to be used and what shot should be played. In golf, we are to play the ball as it lies.
To the public, Patrick Reed was mostly known as a good solid player until he made false comments and excuses after his poor play in the 2018 Ryder Cup. This opened the public’s eyes about Reed’s professionalism. Things had calmed down from that a bit until the recent Hero World Challenge episode.
Reed’s history of issues goes even further. He was removed from the University of Georgia Golf Team because of questionable actions. He then was picked up by Albany State University, where he was caught cheating on academic exams. Reed was raised in a very dysfunctional family, but I don’t give him any “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.
Reed was selected to join Team USA by Captain Tiger Woods in the 2019 Presidents Cup before his escapade in the Bahamas. This event was played in Melbourne, Australia, at Royal Melbourne, one of the world’s finest golf courses.
Everybody in the golf world knew that Reed was going to get his share of razzing from the crowds during the Presidents Cup as a result of his actions at the Hero World Challenge. It started before play began when international team player Cameron Smith publicly called Reed a cheater.
I watched every shot made during this telecast, and through the whole event, I felt the crowds were fairly easy on him until the third day. One spectator had a few choice profane words for Reed as he was walking from one hole to another. Reed’s caddie, Kessler Karain, had his fill of it and lost his composure. He put down Reed’s golf bag and physically pushed the spectator. The tournament committee dealt with his poor decision and banned Karain from caddying for Reed in the final round. Throughout the Presidents Cup, the players for Team USA publicly stated that they supported Reed and his story; however, I have to believe otherwise.
I believe that everyone should be accountable and responsible for his or her own actions. In golf – and life in general – there is no room for liars and cheats. There needs to be real consequences for Reed in these situations. The PGA Tour has sidestepped Reed’s issues long enough. I firmly believe that the PGA Tour should penalize Reed with something like a six-month suspension from play on the PGA Tour and its affiliates; ban him from future Ryder Cup or President Cup teams.
Also, I would be very proud to see his big-money sponsors – Nike Golf, Hublot and Ultimate Software – drop him like a lead balloon. I have to suspect that from now on, there will be a camera lens pointed at every single shot that confronts Reed in competition. I know that if I were a player on Tour, I would want that to happen – just to be sure that he is not cheating or if he is, he is properly penalized.
PGA Tour players should be positive role models. In the case of Reed, he does not set the example most parents would want their children to follow.
For more than 500 years, golf has gained a respectful reputation, which is a reason I love and admire the game. Keep believing in its ideals and follow the rules. Play the best golf that you possibly can. Grind over every single shot, but always, always: Play by the rules.
~ Dave Jennings is the men’s golf coach at Central Alabama Community College.