The incident was bad enough but the response to it – much of it from people who should know better – was genuinely confronting.
For those who missed it (and there are a lot since the tournament wasn’t shown on FOX Sports, a column for another day), two of the game’s most controversial figures of 2019 were embroiled in another brouhaha at the WGC Matchplay in Texas over the weekend.
Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar faced off in Saturday’s quarterfinals in a match that was routine enough until the par-3 7th hole.
Kuchar, 1-up at the time, made a bogey after finding the greenside bunker leaving Garcia a putt of just over 7 feet for par to square the match. The Spaniard missed and, according to Shotlink, had four inches remaining for the half.
But things went off the rails when the 2017 Masters champion carelessly backhanded the tiddler, which Kuchar had not verbally conceded, and missed it. Cue drama.
The American called in rules official Robbie Ware to get clarification how to proceed and when the situation was explained, Ware confirmed Garcia’s miss counted and the Spaniard was now 2 down.
Given the two players involved and their already controversial behaviour this year (Kuchar’s caddie-gate debacle and Garcia’s temper tantrums in Saudi Arabia) it was no surprise the incident caused an outrage.
What was surprising, though, was the response from some of the game’s most respected commentators and players who suggested Kuchar was somehow in the wrong.
The Rules of Golf do not allow a concession to be made after the fact and all parties agree Kuchar never formally ‘gave’ Garcia the putt.
So there is absolutely no dispute Garcia made a mistake and the missed putt counts.
Under the circumstances, one would think the moralising in the aftermath would be simply a reminder to players to keep their wits about them when playing competitive golf.
Instead, the narrative morphed into Kuchar being in the wrong for calling in the rules official in the first place, many suggesting it was a cunning ploy for him to win the hole without seeming to be the bad guy.
That may be true, and if it is it is despicable, but even if his motives were impure that doesn’t mean it was the wrong course of action.
Many are suggesting Kuchar should simply have pretended he had already conceded the putt and moved on. That, though, would be equally disrespectful to the game, no?
“The rules are known before the field hits off and any suggestion of not playing by them – no matter how noble the intent – is misguided. And ultimately to the detriment of the game.”
To advocate a course of action where a player ignores an infringement – when it clearly happened – surely opens a can of worms with a lot more downside than upside?
If that rule is to be quietly ignored because it seems the ‘fair’ thing to do, which other breaches are we to overlook because the penalty for a misstep seems ‘unfair’?
Should a player be allowed to improve his lie in a bunker because their ball unfortunately landed in an unraked footprint?
Of course not, and it would be absurd to suggest so.
Among those who said Kuchar erred in informing the official were SKY Sports commentator and former European Tour player Tony Johnstone, highly respected writer Robert Lusetich and Golf Channel’s Jaime Diaz.
All three are among the best in the business and their credentials speak for themselves. But on this, it is simply impossible to agree with them.
Garcia made a mistake and not only is it not up to Kuchar to ‘fix’ it, it would be a slippery slope for the game were that course of action to be taken.
The rules are known before the field hits off and any suggestion of not playing by them – no matter how noble the intent – is misguided. And ultimately to the detriment of the game.
Rod Morri is founder of the TalkinGolf Podcast Network, home of the State of the Game, iSeekGolf, TalkinGolf History and Feed The Ball podcasts.
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