Self-policing – it’s arguably the tradition and practice that elevates golf above all its rivals.
That golfers at almost all levels willingly go out of their way to penalise themselves for the slightest infraction of the rules is something of which many other sports can only dream.
That it happens at the height of professional battle is not only an eye-opener to outsiders, but so engrained is it in the golf community that it raises eyebrows more when it doesn’t happen than when it does.
A great new addition to the deep annals of golf sportsmanship came recently at the Isuzu Queensland Open when Sydneysider Rohan Blizard did what came completely naturally, even though it MIGHT have cost him the title.
It’s important that distinction on “might” is made because there’s no way of knowing what would have unfolded from either player after Blizard and eventual champion David Bransdon knuckled down for a memorable shootout at Brookwater that took three extra holes to finalise.
But the most important thing is that Blizard’s actions meant nothing else was on either player’s mind; that their enthralling battle was as pure for them as the large and appreciative gallery that witnessed it.
The moment itself was simple. The slightly built New South Welshman made a rare mistake and carved his tee shot on the par-four 12th into the rough right of the fairway, just a metre or two inside the cart path and, despite his ball nestling down in twigs and leaves, within easy viewing distance of fans following his final group.
In fact, it turned out that it had come to rest at the base of a stump of a tree that had been cut down, so clearing the loose impediments around the ball was going to be critical to Blizard, at the time a two-stroke leader, to gauge his swing path back to the short grass.
There were probably 25 people, including myself and Courier-Mail golf writer Jim Tucker, in easy viewing distance of Blizard’s actions. It would not have surprised had none of them seen his ball move as the twigs were scattered.
The black line marking the 2007 Australian Amateur champion’s ball was the only real indicator the ball had edged — possibly two-tenths of one millimetre – in one direction before coming back to rest in almost exactly its previous position. Had you blinked, you’d have missed it. For sure.
But no sooner had it come to rest that Blizard ratted himself out. Instantly, and without one thought for his position in such a prestigious event, he called for PGA Tour rules official Russell Swanson to come and officially assign the penalty.
“Yep, sorry Rohan, that’s a shot penalty if your actions made it move,” Swanson almost apologetically told the leader.
“No worries `Swanno’. It’s my fault, not a problem,” came the instant reply.
And that was it. No angst, no verbal tirades, nothing but clear respect for the game and its traditions; not to mention Blizard’s nearest rivals.
As it happened, he bunted out to about 25m short of the green and followed that with a miraculous chip shot for probably one of the more surreal pars he’s ever made. Some joked at the time that it was the golfing gods offering him some good karma in return for his honesty.
Afterwards, despite the result, Blizard had no qualms about his actions.
“Absolutely not. There’s no other way to go about that situation,” he said in full praise of Bransdon’s victory rather than any introspective look at his own poor fortune.
“It’s just what you do. The ball moved. That’s all there is to it. I know it didn’t move much, but it moved and that’s all that matters.
“I don’t want that hanging over my head if I didn’t call it. It just wouldn’t be right.”
Which just about sums up the entire selfless act.
Of course, it’s not the first time such gestures have transpired.
Kiwi Michael Long imposed a penalty for his ball moving while he was over a putt in the Johnnie Walker Classic at Hope Island, then narrowly missed victory.
American John Morse called a two-shot penalty on himself for accidentally dislodging a leaf from a tree during a practice swing in the Australian PGA Championship at Concord.
And arguably the most famous such incident in Australian golf occurred at The Australian, also in Sydney, during the third round of the 1982 Australian Open when Bob Shearer, playing alongside Jack Nicklaus, insisted on giving himself a two-stroke penalty in bizarre circumstances.
Shearer had caught “fat” a bunker shot next to the par-three 15th, but the ball left the pot and sat on the adjacent grass as the Victorian slammed his wedge into the sand in disgust.
But as he stepped out of the hazard, the ball trickled backwards into the sand and Shearer, despite Nicklaus’ and at least one official’s assurances to the contrary, called himself for grounding a club in the bunker before his third shot.
Interestingly after his triple-bogey, as is commonly the case with those who “do the right thing”, Shearer was rewarded handsomely when he stormed through the field the next day to win his only Stonehaven Cup.
Also fascinating are the tales of those who haven’t acted with, shall we say, less than perfect scruples. But the fact that they make the headlines as incidents out of the box says more about the state of golf’s self-policing ethic.
And also that you might expect the exemplary Rohan Blizard to stand in the winner’s circle some time soon.