Officially outrageous

TROWLEY BOTTOM, England – What is it about amateur golf officials thinking they can set up courses for seasoned professionals?

Beats me.

International Final Qualifying for the Open Championship at Sunningdale, England, turned into a farce when players couldn’t get near the pin at the par-3 fourth hole.

It brought back visions of the seventh at Shinnecock Hills during the 2004 U.S. Open, when no player could hold the green even with a perfectly struck shot.

Martin Kippax, the R&A’s championship chairman, set up the pins at Sunningdale. Most of them were fine, with the exception of the fouth on Sunningdale’s Old Course.

Eight players completed the hole before Kippax realized he’d messed up. Argentina’s Ricardo Gonzalez five-putted, and Australian Brett Rumford four-putted. Four-putting isn’t unusual, but Rumford had hit his tee shot to 2 feet.

Play was suspended so the hole could be repositioned. The eight players who had already played the hole were carted back out after they had finished 18 holes so they could replay the hole.

The result was a mixed bag. Gonzalez made par the second time and his score changed from 70 to 67. England’s Richard Bland made birdie the first time around but parred the hole the second time to move his score from 72 to 73. Sweden’s Fredrik Anderson Hed was affected the most. He parred the hole on his first attempt but double bogeyed the hole on his second to change a 66 to a 68.

“I chose the pin positions because of the weather we’ve had and the forecast we had for today,” Kippax said. “I was then made aware by a referee on the course that we had a potential problem. I went out and saw that it was in an unplayable position.

“So, after consulting with various people – certainly the European Tour – I suspended play and moved the pin position.

“I admit it was a mistake and the responsibility lies on me and me only. I apologized to the eight, and Richard Bland said it was not in his interests and asked, ‘Why was it there in the first place?’

“They were perfectly justifiable things to say, but I told them it was only going to be equitable if everybody had to play it again whether it’s good or bad for them.”

Plaudits go to Kippax for putting his hand up and admitting his error, but I tend to agree with Anderson Hed.

“I think the European Tour should do the pins,” he said. “Every time I’ve played in an event run by the R&A there have been one or two that were barely playable.”

Bland was just as caustic in his condemnation of the R&A. “It’s not rocket science not to put the flag where it was. Anything with a small bit of speed that didn’t go in was going to roll off the green.”

Kippax has been a fine championship chairman, but if I were Michael Brown, the incoming championship chairman, I’d transfer the responsibility of setting up courses to someone else.

There are enough ex-tournament professionals with vast experience that the R&A could call on. There are certainly enough ex-pros associated with Sunningdale who could have set the pins for Kippax.

It’s ironic that the problem should occur in this of all years, in a qualifying event for an Open Championship to be held at Carnoustie, scene of the greatest screw up in R&A history.

That Open proved amateurs should never set course conditions for the best players in the world. While the R&A has improved dramatically since then, the latest incident proves that the good men of the R&A can still get it seriously wrong.

Imagine a high school political science student setting policies for the government. How about a grade school piano student setting an exam for legendary pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy? What if a novice chess player passed on strategy tips to Garry Kasparov? You get the picture.

It’s time for amateur bodies to call in professional help. Maybe then we wouldn’t see such farcical situations in future.

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