Tiger Woods, Barbara Boxer, the Rules of Golf and the Electoral College

Bear with me for a minute.

Let’s say it’s 2000 and Tiger Woods is charging toward the 72nd hole of the Masters. Were he to win, it would give Woods all four major professional majors in 2000. We’re not talking about some feeble Tiger Slam. No, I’m talking about all four majors in the same calendar year.

Wow. What happened?

On the 72nd, hole, the legendary par-4 finishing hole at Augusta National Tiger Woods smashed a perfect drive, just right of the fairway bunkers. But, as it bounced to a stop it skipped into a fairway divot. The announcers and Woods moaned in near-poetic unison.

Pure injustice…


Woods glowered at the ball and the divot. He cursed the golf gods. He cursed the player who created that horrid divot. He cursed his bad luck. But, more than anything he cursed the rule of golf that prevented him from taking relief from a tiny bit of missing turf in the middle of the fairway. Clearly, this was an area of the golf course that was damaged and according to the rules, ground under repair. But it wasn’t…So Woods played the ball as it sat; made bogey and missed winning the 2000 Masters by a single stroke.

Then. again in my alternate time, just a few months ago at the 2016 PGA Championship, Woods stood over a putt that would have won him  his 15th major championship. Halfway to the hole was a nasty spike mark, dead in Woods’ line. Again, he stared at the mark and cursed the universe and the USGA rule that prohibits the repair  of such marks. He settled over his putt and made the perfect stroke.

The ball rolled end over end, destined for the hole, right until the moment that it hit that single unrepairable spike mark.

Tiger Woods was denied another major and the legions of golf fans felt denied. Through no fault of his own, the arbitrary, senseless rules of golf had seemingly conspired to the deny the best player of our era a deserved win.

Also in this fantasy world, imagine this:

Tiger Woods saw fit to use his immense wealth and fame to coerce the USGA and the R&A to correct the silly, foolish rules that upset his path to history. The golf world would have turned against him instantly. This would not be the actions of another athlete who cheated on his wife and children. No, these would be the actions of a man who found himself at odds with the very same rules he had played under his entire professional and amateur career. His motives would be clear to everyone and so his legend would be destroyed. The same fans who could forgive his foolish and inexplicable banging of strippers and Perkins’ waitresses could never accept his effort to change the rules for the sake of his own record. Woods’ fans could accept any weakness but a surrender to the same rules that everyone plays by.

This is exactly the mistake Barbara Boxer has made in the aftermath of the hotly contested 2016 presidential election. She has seen her party and platform stung by the effect of the electoral college for the second time in less than a generation and she’s not going to stand still for it. But, the problem is that her motivation is too clearly in the interest of her party rather than her country. I think there’s a simple test to prove my belief. Boxer has been a US senator since 1992. In that time, there have been seven presidential elections but the only other time she has devoted any energy to the electoral college was in 2005 when she challenged Ohio’s electors in a futile effort to delay the re-election of George W. Bush, who had just won the popular vote over John Kerry by more than 3 million votes.

Me? I’m on the fence about the electoral college. However, I do firmly believe that Rule 16-1c (the rule that prohibits repairing a spike mark on the green) is fundamentally unfair.

At the same time, I think the rule that disallows taking relief from a fairway divot should stand. The text of Rule 13 is simple.

Play the ball as it lies.

I wonder if Barbara Boxer plays golf?


Tiger Woods, Barbara Boxer, the Rules of Golf and the Electoral College

The best major championship in golf?

US Open: Tour players are seldom embarrassed and I enjoy it when the USGA’s motive over four days is to do just that. A little humility is a good thing especially when you’re driving courtesy cars every week. I find must-make par putts far more interesting than a procession of makable putts for birdie and eagle.

The Open Championship: The R&A doesn’t have the same flair for penal setups as the USGA and their rota is a bit tiring. Still, I love the spectacle, the weather and the galleries. Bring on the wind and rain, preferably both at the same time.

The Masters: As much as I admire Jones, I despise the patrician and elitist nature of AN. But, the back 9 is an amazingly good theater every year. If I had been Rickie Fowler and some AN clown told me to turn my hat around I would have told him to pack sand.

The PGA: The PGA is has no identity. It’s just another event that’s called a major. Many of the courses are ho-hum and so are a lot of the winners. I think they should make it back into a match play event but the potential loss of TV money means that will never happen. They could have two days of stroke play and take the top guys and play 18 hole matches on Saturday and have a 36 hole championship match just to maximize the suffering.

The best major championship in golf?

Revisionist History is Alive & Well at Golf Digest

Question: Did Martha Burk, who wrote a letter to Augusta in 2002 and led a protest in 2003, help or hurt the cause?

Answer: I think Burk set back the process by years.

Sometimes a troubling bit of revisionism can reside in a single sentence. The question quoted above was posed by Golf Digest. The answer was provided by Golf Digest Editor, Marcia Chambers. As is often the case with revisionism, I have every confidence most readers will have missed it, or at least will wonder how it could possibly be relevant.

Chamber’s response revises history by her use of the word, process. Her sentence makes it appear that prior to Martha Burk there was a process in place at Augusta National to admit women members. This would be analogous to the contention that Rosa Parks set back the process pf racial desegregation by refusing to sit in the back of the bus in Alabama back in 1955.

Quite simply, organizations, whether golf clubs or municipal transit companies, do not like to be told what to do.

As I grow older, even small examples of revisionism are troubling to me. It’s easy for me to imagine a young person reading Chambers’ quote and imagining Burk as a common rabble-rouser just out to make trouble.

The PGA Tour’s history does not allow for much leeway when it comes to issues of equality. The end of its Caucasian Clause came in the year of my birth, 1961. It feels real to me since its stain continued into my own time.

Too long ago for you?

In 1984, Shoal Creek Country Club hosted the PGA Championship. At the time, the club had no black members. It is stunning to think that the PGA of 1984 wasn’t savvy enough to be aware of that fact at the time. If that’s easy enough to forgive, how can we forget that when 1990 rolled around the PGA again awarded Shoal Creek with its most prestigious tournament?

Though six years had passed, there were still no black members at Shoal Creek.

Fortunately, the Martha Burks of that time and place were not silent: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference threatened a boycott and sponsors like IBM pulled millions of dollars of commercial advertising from the broadcast. In a matter of weeks, Shoal Creek hastily accepted a local black businessman as an honorary member.

The only difference between Shoal Creek and Augusta National is muscle. In 1990, Shoal Creek feared both financial loss and a damaged reputation. Augusta did a simple calculation based upon the immense wealth of their brand and decided to weather what in the end was merely a bothersome squall of adverse of public opinion.

But know this:

Had Martha Burk stayed silent in 2002, today poor Condi Rice would probably be teeing it up at her local muny. The truth is Martha Burk started the very process Marcia Chambers now says she delayed.

Augusta National is a singularly magnificent golf course. Its co-founder, one of the great gentleman of sport this country has even known. But, its history is always complex and sometimes conflicted.

Marcia Chambers, by way of an implication, brought by a single word in one sentence, has only added to that complexity.

A comment from Martha Burk:

Thank you very much. The piece is a concise and very accurate frame, not only of Chambers’ statement but of the Shoal Creek situation and the response re ANGC. Maybe now that female members are allowed, the asterisk will be removed from the “official” PGA tour event list — an exception they carved our for Augusta in the wake of Shoal Creek when Augusta opened to African American men, but no women, contrary to the new PGA policy against race and sex discrimination. As you know, some clubs dropped out of the tour rather than admit women, but Augusta got to have it both ways.

As for Chambers, I am puzzled. She and I were in contact during the controversy, and she seemed to be entirely with me and what I was doing.  Her book, The Unplayable LIe, had called attention to the problem of sex discrimination in golf long before I got involved.

Again, thanks for an honest and straightforward critique.

Martha Burk

Revisionist History is Alive & Well at Golf Digest