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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)

"It's Murphy's Law," she said afterward.

Porky Oliver

The portly Ed "Porky" Oliver had a reasonable career during the 1940s and '50s. He won eight PGA Tour events, but was probably better known for finishing second in the majors. He lost to Ben Hogan in the final of the 1946 PGA Championship when it was a match play event. He finished second to Julius Boros in the 1952 U.S. Open and second to Hogan again, this time at the 1953 Masters.

Oliver's first big shot at glory was short-circuited by the rules of golf. At the 1940 U.S. Open at Canterbury in Ohio, Oliver was in contention after three rounds. There was a storm on the horizon, so Oliver and five other players teed off about 15 minutes early for their fourth round.

Oliver shot a 71 and was tied with Gene Sarazen and Lawson Little and should have had a spot in the play-off. But the rules of golf require that you tee off at your designated time. Oliver was disqualified.

Ian Woosnam

The rules of golf limit a player to 14 clubs. So why was it that Ian Woosnam, in contention for the 2001 British Open at Royal Lytham, ended up with 15 clubs in his bag?

Woosnam had been practicing with two drivers on the range before the round. His caddie, Myles Bryne, left both of them in the bag as they went to the practice green for a few putts before teeing off. Then there was a complication. Woosnam and his caddie had gotten their tee time wrong and they were due on the tee almost immediately, so off they went in a rush.

And here's why this particular mistake could only happen at Royal Lytham. The first hole is a par 3, so neither player nor caddie were looking for the driver on the first tee. Woosnam made birdie 2 on the first hole, then Byrne realized as they were going to the second hole that there were two drivers in the bag. It's a two-shot penalty per hole for each hole played with an extra club, so Woosnam had to write down a bogey 4 for the first hole. Woosnam made two bogeys in the next three holes and finished third to David Duval.

Jackie Pung

Jackie Pung was a native of Hawaii who had overcome personal hardships to become one of the better women golfers of the 1950s. Pung played for the money as a means of supporting her two daughters, and her story touched many in the golf world.

At the 1957 Women's U.S. Open at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York, Pung seemed to have edged out Betsey Rawls by a shot for the title, and the gallery was thrilled for her. But about 40 minutes after the round had ended, the USGA announced that Pung's playing partner Betty Jameson had incorrectly marked down a 5 on the fourth hole for Pung when it should have been a 6. Pung had made the exact same mistake on Jameson's card. But Jameson knew where Pung stood in relation to par and wrote down her final score correctly. But since Pung had signed the scorecard that had a lower score on a hole than she had shot, she had to be disqualified, much to the distaste of all involved, even the USGA officials.

And those officials were among many donors who took up a collection for Pung. They raised more than $2000, which exceeded Rawls' first-place check.

Jesper Parnevik and Mark Roe

This is yet another scorecard blunder, though like all of them completely innocent of malice. Parnevik and Roe were paired together for the third round of the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George's. Parnevik was an established touring professional, Roe a career journeyman.

Roe shot a 67 which put him into contention for the title. But bizarrely he and Parnevik had not exchanged scorecards before the round as the rules required. They were writing down their scores, correctly, on scorecards that had their names on them. This was a violation of the rules that could result in each of them being disqualified.

The scorecards were checked over by officials in the scorer's room after the round and initially there was no problem. The Royal and Ancient said that if the mistake were caught in the scorer's room, it could have been rectified, but once the cards were signed, they became official. Upon further review, the players were disqualified.

The seeming injustice of the situation prompted the R & A to change the rule and allow such scorecards to stand. But not until after the tournament, so it didn't help Roe at all. He never contended in a national championship again.

Byron Nelson

One of the game's greatest players and greatest gentleman, a rules violation cost Nelson a chance at winning the 1946 U.S. Open at the Canterbury Golf Club in Ohio.

Nelson, Lloyd Mangrum and Vic Ghezzi finished tied for the lead after 72 holes, prompting a 36-hole play-off the next day. In the first round of the play-off, Nelson's approach shot to the 13th green finished just off the putting surface. Many fans crowded around the ball and when his caddie stepped into cluster, he accidentally kicked the ball. Since a caddie is considered part of his player's equipment, Nelson had to take a penalty stroke for the violation. If not for the penalty, Nelson would have won the play-off. All three men tied again, and Mangrum won the second play-off the next day.

Jeff Williams is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.


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