This weekend’s much discussed ruling by The Masters to penalize Tiger Woods, yet allow him to continue play, speaks to issues far more significant than Tiger or the game of golf. How this is being discussed across message boards speaks to where we are as a society, and not all of it is pretty – even on the right. Perhaps especially on the right.
Consider: For any society to function and facilitate liberty, there must be some guardrails and reliably upheld rules and laws, because without such, chaos rules – and liberty and chaos are simply not compatible. The same is true, in microcosm, for competitive sports. Without some rules, there is no legitimate competitive game of course.
However, when the letter of the law violates the spirit or intent of the same law, we are faced with a critical choice. If, in puritanical dogmatism, we stick to the letter of a law simply because that letter exists – while knowingly violating the very intent of that very rule or law – then we have overshot and chosen tyranny over liberty. Rules that exist outside the essence of any activity, whether we are talking business, golf, tiddly-winks or government, are by definition tyrannical and anti-liberty. To favor such rules over the intent inherently elevates the activities of bureaucrats and referees over the more foundational activities of the actual participants. This is to follow a mindset that is obsessed with what, all the while ignoring the more important question of why. While all of this may sound a bit grandiose and a stretch, this is suitable analogy for the situation in Augusta.
Tiger violated two rules by the letter of the rules of golf, one being by executing an improper drop and the second by signing an incorrect scorecard. Without beating the golf nuances to death, it is imperative to understand that the scorecard violation was only triggered by a post de-facto ruling on his first act. At the time he signed the card, he had every expectation that it was correct. In fact, at the time he signed it, it was correct. Only the later application of a 2-stroke penalty made his score incorrect. He clearly was within the intent of this rule.
And make no mistake, the scorecard rule was the most discussed across the internet over the weekend, and the reason must gave for supporting a total disqualification of Tiger. It is also the rule with the most application to the rest of our society.
So, why do golfers have to sign a correct scorecard in the first place? Tradition. This rule dates back to a time when even competitive golf was often played out of eyesight of anyone, including your direct competitor, and without this strict code of honor the competitive aspect was meaningless. The very essence of the game depended upon a correct card being signed, and as such, there was a very good why undergirding this rule. Clearly the card is nothing but an exercise in paperwork and show now. I think it’s fine to keep the signing tradition in the sport, but even turgid golf itself softened the DQ rule two years ago, removing the automatic disqualification requirement for this violation. You might say that the rule makers foresaw something just like this happening in advance, made allowances for it, and therefore properly applied the current standards to Tiger in this case.
To argue otherwise is to abandon the very core and crux of the game, elevating a now needless exercise in bureaucracy above the game itself, and elevating the ruling minions above the very players.
As conservatives, we naturally recoil at this when it applies to ObamaCare, the NLRB, the EPA, the IRS, and in every other situation where liberals put nameless faceless bureaucrats in charge of the dynamic movers and shakers in our society and our economy. I submit this analogy is valid. This concept is not about Tiger, the Masters, or even golf. It is about the very concept of what the rule of law means. Somewhere, between chaos and bureaucratic nonsense, a middle ground lies. For once, golf got it right. Don’t count on the IRS or your ObamaCare representative to do the same.
C. Edmund Wright is the author of the recently released WTF? How Karl Rove and the Establishment Lost…Again