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Dermot Gilleece's Blog : Costly Brushes with the Rules

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece on Rory McIlroy and "Tournament Experience"

Posted Apr 14, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece


                We can take it that Rory McIlroy is totally innocent of any rules transgression in greenside sand on the 18th hole here at Augusta National.  That assessment is based on events after last Friday's incident, rather than the incident itself.

                More specifically, it has to do with a golf official named Fred S Ridley, who happens to be chairman of the US Masters Competition Committee.  As winner of the 1975 US Amateur Championship, Ridley is the last holder of that particular title not to turn professional:  a true, blue career amateur.

                After being honoured as the 58th President of the US Golf Association, he became the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the PGA of America.  It is unlikely McIlroy was aware of these distinctions when Ridley phoned him at 6.30 on Friday evening to inform him of what he and his fellow committee members had seen on the CBS tape of the bunker incident.

                According to the player: "He asked if I wanted to see the tape before they made a decision and I said 'No, because I am confident I haven't done anything wrong.'"  Two hours later, McIlroy received another phone call, this time suggesting that it was in his "best interests" to come to the club and see the tape.

                All of this had to do with an allegation, reported to the committee, that McIlroy had kicked the sand in anger after failing to escape from the bunker at the first attempt, so incurring a two-stroke penalty under  Rule 13-4.  Then came wise-acres from both sides of the Atlantic, claiming that the tape clearly showed the indiscretion, when in fact it was inconclusive, at best.

               Now, let us assume that on viewing the tape, the esteemed members of the Augusta National Competition Committee, led by the distinguished Mr Ridley, we left in some doubt as to McIlroy's innocence.  They would hardly have been swayed in his favour by the player's refusal to answer their first call to view the tape.  In fact one could imagine them being downright incensed by such impertinence, if they thought he had a case to answer.

               Another compelling point was the short time it took them to announce their decision after McIlroy joined them in the viewing of the tape.  It was only about 10 minutes later that I received the news of his exoneration from blame, in the media centre.  Which would have been at least a few minutes after their decision was actually reached.

               So, we can take it that their meeting with McIlroy simply confirmed what they had already decided.

               Meanwhile Padraig Harrington, who is no stranger to costly brushes with the rules, took the view that the incident and subsequent investigation, were all part of a  valuable learning process for McIlroy.  "It's what is called tournament experience," said Harrington, who incurred two, seperate penalty strokes in this year's Masters.  "I've no doubt Rory will learn from it."

               For his own part, McIlroy denied that there was any question of anger in his behaviour in the bunker.  He further stated that it was a habit of his to smooth the sand after taking a bunker shot.  The same could be said of most amateur players and given that he is only 18 months in professional ranks, McIlroy has clearly yet to become accustomed to the idea of his caddie performing this task.

               Meanwhile, as Harrington suggested, he claimed to have learned a very valuable lesson.  "I'm not going to make the mistake again and put myself in that position," he said. "I know I didn’t do anything wrong but I don’t want to be in this situation again."  Just so.


-Dermot Gilleece

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