USGA ATTEMPTS TO LIMIT WAIVER OF DISQUALIFICATIONS USED BY MASTERS RULES COMMITTEE ... OR, WHEN IT IS BETTER TO BE INCOMPETANT THAN LAZY
Well, we thought the PGA Tour parsing the use of IGF-1 blood testing was a failed attempt to parse language. The USGA and the R&A show how it is really done. The governing bodies for the Rules of Golf released a statement on the Tiger Woods ruling at the Masters. They clearly do not want it to set a new precedent.
While it is clear the USGA's technical analysis was akin to what we did here the Saturday morning of the Masters, perhaps the USGA and R&A are not as interested in world peace and the fate of mankind like the Masters Rules Committee.
If you recall from our technical and legal analysis, the problem was that Rule 33-7 and the decision under 33-7/4.5, which is what was reported and what people believed to be the basis of the waiver, does not really apply to the situation with Tiger Woods. The analysis and application of the Decisions under the rule implies that a waiver was not technically appropriate in Tiger's situation.
Ignorance of the rules is not a defense. As we pointed out at the time and as stated by the USGA and R&A in this recent statement, "His [Tiger's] two-stroke penalty resulted from an erroneous application of the Rules, which he was responsible for knowing and applying correctly. Viewing the incident solely from the standpoint of Woods’ actions, there was no basis to waive the penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d."
Ruh roh! (this combined emotion of fear, confusion and hunger is often incorrectly attributed to Scooby Doo but was really Astro's from the Jetsons ... and certainly not to be confused with the prehistoric and uncouth Dino). Scooby and USGA Senior Director of Rules John M. Bodenhamer (seen here at a younger age in a white sweater and with more hair) illustrate here that they don't actually have appropriate catchphrases to deal with this unique situation.
What to do?
First the easy part: the ruling bodies confirmed that the Masters Rules Committee erred in the initial decision that Tiger's drop was within the meaning of "as nearly as possible." This is not really and issue and pretty much everyone agrees with this.
Next, the USGA and R&A next confirm there is no specific Decision upon which the Masters Rules Committee could have appropriately waived the normal disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard.
So, there are really three options for the ruling bodies:
The first two were clearly upalatable (although we like the second option).
The USGA and R&A chose option 3. They indicated the Tiger situation did not fall within any of the existing Decisions. They say that this type of waiver is essentially limited to a situation in which the rules committee considers a rule and makes a decision (in Tiger's case, they originally felt that the drop was fine) unbeknownst to the player, and they are wrong -- then the disqualification can be waived.
Keep in mind this concept of "exception facts" is somewhat in contrast to what was said by the committee that Saturday morning. If you review the press conference of Fred Ridley (Chairman of the Competition Committee at the Masters) at the press conference at the Masters that Saturday morning, he indicates that he told Tiger and the committee felt there was "ample reason under Rule 33-7 not to impose the penalty of disqualification and to waive that penalty." Maybe not that ample.
The most telling quote from the USGA and R&A statement is this:
The Woods ruling was based on exceptional facts, as required by Rule 33-7, and should not be viewed as a general precedent for relaxing or ignoring a competitor’s essential obligation under the Rules to return a correct score card. Further, although a Committee should do its best to alert competitors to potential Rules issues that may come to its attention, it has no general obligation to do so; and the fact that a Committee may be aware of such a potential issue before the competitor returns his score card should not, in and of itself, be a basis for waiving a penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d. Only a rare set of facts, akin to the exceptional facts at the 2013 Masters Tournament as summarized in the previous paragraphs, would justify a Committee’s use of its discretion to waive a penalty of disqualification for returning an incorrect score card.
There is not a lot of discussion about what else could be "exceptional facts." It does beg the question: what if one member of the Rules Committee had been informed about the drop, thought about it, and on his or her own, mistakenly thinks the drop is fine and then does not tell the other members of the committee members? Is that a disqualification? Is that within or outside "exceptions facts." The USGA and R&A have attempted to narrow as much as possible the excuse of ignorance.
One fact remains unchanged: the moment Tiger made the drop and played the shot, it was a penalty that could have been determined at that moment.
It is now interesting that the USGA and R&A is saying the defense of ignorance of the rules by a player can be used (i.e the player can only get a penalty versus a disqualification). In other words, there is the inference that if the Masters Rules Committee had simply not been vigilant or not bothered to think or decide on Tiger's drop before he signed his card, he would have been disqualified.
In other words ignorance is a defense when the Rules Committee of a tournament screws-up ... but not if they are just lazy.