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Golf's Biggest Mistakes

Dustin Johnson's rules violation at the 2010 PGA Championship was just another in a long list of screw ups by professional golfers
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010

(continued from page 1)

Golf, unlike any other sport, is a game played by rules that are largely enforced by the players themselves. Any deliberate violation of the rules by a player will put a black mark by his name throughout his career.

During the 1925 U.S. Open, Bobby Jones addressed a ball in the rough, then saw it move ever so slightly. He called a one-shot penalty on himself as the rules require even though no one else saw it move. When he was complimented on his sportsmanship after the round, Jones replied: "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

That line has become the very definition of golf sportsmanship and there are many examples of players calling penalties on themselves. In 1978 Tom Kite, playing in the Hall of Fame Classic in Pinehurst, soled his putter behind a ball, then saw the ball move a fraction of an inch. He called a one-shot penalty on himself. "If you don't play by the rules, you are not playing golf," said Kite. He lost the tournament by a stroke.

In the 2005 British Open at St Andrews, David Toms spent a sleepless night after the first round. He kept thinking that when he soled his putter on the 17th green, the ball had moved. If it had, he would have to call a penalty on himself. But he didn't. The next day he went to rules officials to inform them of the situation. The officials could not tell from a television replay whether the ball had moved, but Toms was so distressed by the situation that he withdrew from the tournament.

Dustin Johnson clearly wasn't the first player to run afoul of the rules, and run afoul of them in a major championship. There have been plenty of rules disasters over the years, some of them the result of the television age where viewers watching a broadcast have called in after spotting an infraction.

Here are nine more blunders that are part of golf's lore.

Roberto De Vicenzo

Roberto De Vicenzo, the accomplished and respected Argentinean, was one of the world's best players in the 1950s and '60s. In 1967 he won the British Open.

At the 1968 Masters De Vicenzo was in contention on Sunday, and when he made a birdie on the 17th hole, he tied Bob Goalby for the lead. After a par on the 18th, De Vicenzo went to the scorer's table thinking he would meet Goalby in an 18-hole play-off the following day.

He routinely signed his scorecard, which was kept by his playing partner Tommy Aaron. But Aaron had made an error, recording a par 4 on the 17th hole instead of the birdie 3 that De Vicenzo had made. The rules of golf don't penalize a player for signing for a higher score than he made, only a lower one, but it makes the higher score official. Once De Vicenzo, who failed to catch the erroneous digit, signed his card it became his final score. And he was officially out of the play-off, with Goalby the winner.


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