Rules and Those Who Make Them
In addition to being Father’s Day, today is the last day of the United States Open Golf Championship. That is not a coincidence. It always is.
The golf we Americans see on television as we nod off on Sunday afternoons is produced by four groups. The Professional Golf Association Tour (PGA Tour) runs the pro tour and manages the overwhelming majority of events. The Augusta National Golf Club runs the Masters, which is technically an invitational so the event and its television rights belong to them. The Professional Golf Association, which represents the teaching pros, runs the PGA Championship and the United States Golf Association (USGA), an organization focused mostly on amateurs, controls the U.S. Open.
The Masters has protocols or customs that are essentially rules. Violate them at your peril. A “requirement” to refer to the fans as patrons might be a little stuffy, but it is in the shoulder-shrug category. Misogynistic practices relating to women golfers are less so.
The USGA also has a custom that distinguishes it from other events. The golf course will be the toughest that it can be made to be.
The fairways will be several yards narrower than the pros are used to seeing week in and week out. The rough will be higher and, if possible, more tangly. The greens will be like wavy sheets of glass to make approaching and putting even more difficult than they usually are.
Essentially, these are the “rules” for the event and the players have to accept them if they want to play. Clearly, this does not present a problem as pretty much all of the best players in the world choose to do so, if they can qualify.
Are you expecting a “but?” If so, here it is.
The “rule” of the U.S. Open Championship that tries to make it as difficult as possible violates the most basic tenet of good rulemaking.
Good rules apply to those who make them as well as to those against whom they are enforced. In fact, this question alone provides a pretty good start to determining whether a rule is good or not.
The great and the good in their USGA ties and blazers who will present the trophy this afternoon are not remotely good enough to play in this event. If their home courses were set up like their championship course, the popularity of the game would plummet, as solid players posted dreadful ego-shattering scores.
Essentially, the USGA officials have created a contest between lions and gladiators with the course playing the role of lion and the players the role of gladiator. The television spectators stave off slumber as they await the carnage.
To be clear, I haven’t the smallest objection to making the U.S. Open the most challenging tournament of the year. It is far more interesting than the January Hawaii farces where the winner finishes four rounds 25 under par. But I do pause at the thought of rule makers creating requirements for others but not for themselves.
The two champions of this practice are parents (do as I say not as I do) and the United States Congress, which routinely exempts its members from rules that apply to the rest of us.
Might rules be less arbitrary if those in authority had to consider living under them?
I suspect there would be less rule making for appearance’s sake if the governed demanded that the rule makers live under the regime they created. “We have to have a rule like so-and-so to show who we are as Americans.”
Rules for appearance’s sake tend not to have been thought through as carefully, but by then, they have become sacred text and are difficult to change no matter how bad they turn out to be. The rule makers have checked the public relations box and moved on. We live with the consequences.
I think about rules quite often, mostly because I chafe at arbitrary authority. I plan to write more about this idea and I welcome any thoughts on the topic.
Note: please don’t confuse this story with a commentary on the rules of golf generally. Those are idiotic and could be the subject of many future stories, but at least they apply to those who made them.