“This is Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be!”

So did you see the two-stroke penalty that Carl Pettersson was assessed in the final round at the PGA Championship?

He hit his tee shot on the first hole just inside the hazard line to the right of the first fairway. The ball was sitting fairly well in shortish grasses, but he had an issue he had to deal with: you’re not allowed to ground your club in the hazard.

Fortunately, he had an official following his group, so he called him over to consult. He knew that he couldn’t touch the ground in the hazard, but could his club brush the grasses? He was assured that it could. So standing with his feet just on the red hazard line, he played his shot and ended up making his par. Or so he thought.

Unfortunately, on his backswing, he unknowingly swept a small leaf or part of a leaf out of the way with the clubhead. This had the same effect as a gnat being in the arc of his swing, but there was another problem: that leaf, by definition, is a “loose impediment” and as such, you are not allowed to move a loose impediment in a hazard. You must play the ball as you find it.

Regrettably, it took a couple of holes of slow-motion replays in the broadcast truck to confirm that it was a leaf and that it had been moved in the course of his backswing; downswing okay, backswing not okay. And so Pettersson was not informed of the penalty until he was on his way to the 4th tee.

Needless to say, he was not thrilled. He accepted the consequences, but he felt like he had done his due diligence in consulting with the official and that this was beyond ridiculous.

“This is not the way it’s supposed to be!” Isn’t that our initial reaction when we encounter injustice? The Internet was buzzing all day long with commentary on the trivial nature of the penalty, the ridiculous nature of the rule and how Pettersson was screwed out of half a million dollars that he would have won for finishing second by himself. Those two penalty strokes were the difference.

But Pettersson dealt with the whole thing gloriously; he birdied the 4th and 5th hole to get those two strokes right back.

Things may not be unfolding the way that they are supposed to be, but they are unfolding the way that they are. So do you collapse in indignation or do you accept, adjust and go on? For good measure, after making par on the 6th he made a third birdie on 7.

Here’s what Pettersson had to say in the media room afterward:

I wasn’t thinking about the leaves, but going back to Brian Davis [who suffered a similar fate at Harbour Town], the more I thought about it, it was a similar ruling he had.  I knew I could touch the grass.  I just didn’t think about the leaves.  I didn’t think twice about it when I hit the shot.  Rules official came to me and just one of those, you know, one of those bad rules in golf.  Because I didn’t rest the club down.  If you’re in a hazard, you can actually touch the grass.  You just can’t put any weight on it.

But it made me more motivated.  I got a little fired up and made some birdies in a row there.  I came back.  There was only one winner today, really.  Rory played great.  I played good enough on the front nine, though.  Who knows what would have happened; but Rory played great.

Yeah, sucks for me, I would have finished second on my own.

So he clearly wasn’t happy that this happened but he accepted it, adjusted and moved on. He knew that continuing to stew over it wasn’t going to be productive. When your mind is on the fact that you’ve been wronged, your mind can’t be on hitting shots…or whatever it may be that you’re trying to do.

Most people know this of course in the abstract. The question is, how fast can you get through the grieving process when it’s happening to you? How often does it take before all of the charged emotions come up again? How long does it take you to forget it all together?

As measured by Carl Pettersson and most Tour pros, the answer is pretty quickly. Life is too short.

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3 Responses to “This is Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be!”

  1. Ron Sanders says:

    Give me a break. The real question is would he have called it on himself? The answer is obvious. Without TV he would have been on his way.

    Golf needs to lighten up.

  2. Jeff Krause says:

    The definition of impediment is “a hindrance or obstruction in doing something”. A leaf is not an hindrance or obstruction in that is does not have any influence on the back swing. A stone/rock, a twig, or an ant hill is an impediment but a leaf does not impede the swing in the least bit. I don’t think they had a leaf in mind when the rule was written.

    • Bill Rand says:

      While your logic is faultless, Jeff, the Rules of Golf define “loose impediments” as anything natural, including leaves, unless they are fixed or growing among other exceptions.