Bans make LPGA look desperate

Mark Garrod says golf rules are rules that either obey or pay for – but the punishment should fit the crime

Rules are rules and in golf. You either obey them or you pay a heavy price.
But the one that led to Swedish stars Helen Alfredsson and Maria Hjorth and China’s Shanshan Feng being slung out of the opening major of the women’s season last week is surely a clear case of the punishment not fitting the crime.
The trio did not even get to tee off in the Kraft Nabisco Championship in California because they were late. Not for the opening round, but for the pre-tournament pro-ams.
Such things do not exist for the men’s majors because it is felt the players should be left on their own to prepare for the four biggest titles in the game.
Imagine one on the eve of The Masters, for instance, although most of the field at Augusta do participate in a competitive, but fun, par three event.
The Ladies Professional Golf Tour, though, is badly short of sponsors – last week’s event was only the fourth of the season and two of the previous three were in Asia – and they believe a pro-am is one way to woo sponsors back to the game.
Indeed, such is the importance placed on pro-ams that the LPGA is even prepared to ask their leading lights to play on a different course
the day before a major starts.
So it was at Rancho Mirage. On Tuesday and Wednesday half the teams were on the championship Dinah Shore lay-out, half on the Arnold Palmer course.
Feng was the first to fall foul of the system. Her amateur partners teed off without her on the Tuesday and, although she then joined them and played the rest of the round, the penalty decided by the LPGA was banishment from the event proper.
Solheim Cup player Hjorth and Alfredsson – winner of the title in 1993, US Open runner-up only two years ago and Europe’s Solheim Cup captain three years ago – both played that day, but were the second and third reserves for the Wednesday pro-am.
And that is when events conspired against them.
When former Kraft winner Amy Alcott, now 54, withdrew from the pro-am and the tournament Korean Seon Hwa Lee stepped in.
Then, in the very next group 10 minutes later, another ex-champion Patty Sheehan – rather bizarrely given a spot in the pro-am when she was not playing the championship – was a no-show as well. She later said she did not even know she was supposed to be playing.
Under the rules Hjorth was required to be on hand to replace her, but could not be found in time. And nor could Alfredsson, who according to reports was having breakfast in the clubhouse at the time.
American pin-up girl Natalie Gulbis was third reserve and she did not play either, but she escaped being thrown out because she was able to use the one pro-am exemption all LPGA members are allowed each season.
Alfredsson, a member of the Tour’s board of directors, was seen in tears and refused to speak to reporters after her appeal against the decision was rejected.
Well at least now it has happened the rule, or at least the punishment for breaking it, can be re-examined. Except it presumably has been already – just two years ago Chilean Nicole Perrot was chucked out of the same event for the same offence.
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said: “It’s tough for everyone, but it’s tough to bend a rule.”
His chief communications officer David Higdon added: “Helen spoke to Mike about it and tried to explain she was available and wasn’t contacted.”
Hjorth then revealed that she had tried to use her exemption like Gulbis, but was refused it.
“Very annoying!” she said on Twitter.
“When three people get DQ’d (disqualified) for the same thing, is that not wrong?”
She also suggested a fine might be more appropriate.
So the event went ahead without them – and without any replacements for them, although there must have been others champing at the bit to get some more golf in this year.
The title was won on Sunday by Taiwan’s world number six Yani Tseng, the second major of her career.
She beat Norwegian Suzann Pettersen by one after England’s Karen Stupples, leader with a round to go, dropped back to joint fifth with a 78.
Pettersen’s loud expletive after missing the green at the short 17th shocked the television commentators so much they did not quite know how to react.
That could land her in trouble and not for the first time you have to wonder why a foreign player swore in English and not their native language?