Golf may be the only sport that talks about “the spirit of the game.”
When a defensive end lays a late hit on a quarterback, no one talks about the spirit of football. The player accepts the penalty — if indeed a flag is thrown at all — and they move on with the game. We’ve seen flagrant fouls on basketball players that are called and even seen players ejected. But no announcers talk about “the spirit of basketball.”
Baseball does have its unwritten rules, but they seem more about whether to throw a 90 MPH fastball into someone’s ribs or thigh. And yes, there is some talk about steroid users and the Hall of Fame.
But it is in golf, with its etiquettes and traditions and protocols, where talk is about how the spirit of the game is as important as the letter of the law, the actual rules of the game. And that’s one of the great things about the sport. The spirit of the game does set the game apart from other sports because it is believed that there is something beyond the rules that makes the game special. It is the idea that sportsmanship walks hand in hand with the rules.
It is the calling of a penalty on yourself. It is the acknowledgment of great play by an opponent. It is seeing the opponent as just that, not as an enemy.
The spirit of the game versus the rules of the game showed up again last weekend at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, and it showed up because of a familiar figure in such battles, Patrick Reed. Reed won the tournament by an impressive five shots, but it was the debate over how Reed handled a rules decision in the third round that dominated talk. Note that this is about a rules decision, not a rules violation.
No violation, but not much vindication
In the end, Reed, a past Masters champion and the 2014 American Express winner, was judged by PGA Tour officials not to have violated the rules of golf concerning an embedded ball on the 10th hole. A rules official even verified for Reed that the ball was indeed embedded.
What Reed and PGA Tour rules officials couldn’t do was silence the questions over how Reed had violated the unwritten rules of the spirit of the game. He should have called a rules official early. He should have not put the ball in his hand as long as he did. He should have notified his playing partners. He should have just handled the matter with more delicacy than he did.
And there is the problem, at least for this weekend. By the rules of the game and by the judgment of tour officials, Reed was justified in his actions. By the spirit of the game and because of his past actions, Reed wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt among those who might have been looking for him to violate a rule anyway.
The uproar on television and social media — well, at least as much uproar as can be generated for a golf controversy – has lasted far longer than it would have in other sports. “Play on” is what other sports would say, the rules were followed. But even fellow players such as Xander Schauffele and Lanto Griffen used phrases like “I wouldn’t have put myself in that position,” or “it’s sad,” to describe the Reed situation.
The worst thing that you can be branded as in golf is being a cheater. But pretty close is being called someone who doesn’t abide by or respect the spirit of the game.
Reed walked away from his five-shot victory with $1.35 million, but with players and fans chatting about his behavior and at least one sports betting site providing refunds for gamblers who didn’t bet on Reed to win, something that speaks to the integrity of the game itself.
In that regard, it was a bad week for the spirit of the game, and that’s never a good thing.
Larry Bohannan is golf writer for the Palm Springs Desert Sun. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @Larry_Bohannan.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/02/patrick-reed-rules-saga-golf-spirit/