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‘Math is hard I guess’: Jordan Spieth’s disqualification reignites ‘dumbest rule in all of sports’ debate

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — With just one errant stroke, Jordan Spieth was out of the tournament. Not with the stroke of his club though, but of his pen.

After making a promising start at The Genesis Invitational, the American saw his pursuit of a 14th PGA Tour title ended prematurely when he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard following the second round in California last week.

The transgression could be traced back to the par-three fourth hole at Riviera Country Club, when Spieth tapped home for his first bogey of the day. Three more would follow, as well as a painful closing double-bogey, as the three-time major winner followed up an excellent opening five-under 66 with a frustrating two-over 73 to slip down the leaderboard.

Only, that number wasn’t on the scorecard he handed in – it was signed with a par at the fourth and a 72 overall. The moment Spieth stepped out of the scoring area, his fate was sealed. Under Rule 3.3b (3) of the USGA Rules of Golf, the world No. 13 was disqualified for returning a score lower than his actual score.

Spieth accepted his banishment – his first in 263 starts on the PGA Tour – without complaint, taking “full responsibility” for his error after believing he had gone through “all procedures” to make sure his scorecard was correct.

“Rules are rules,” he added in his post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

A subsequent congratulatory post for Hideki Matsuyama urging the champion to “double check that scorecard” showed an individual who had made peace with his ejection.

Others weren’t so sanguine and sections of social media fizzed in a cocktail of bewilderment and fury as news of Spieth’s disqualification spread.

Spieth’s fellow pro Michael S. Kim labeled the rule “stupid,” even with “many safeguards,” while PGA Tour caddie Kip Henley lamented “another benchmark in the dumbest rule in all of sports.”

“Seriously, why even have scorecards on the PGA Tour?” Henley asked in another post. “Why don’t professional bowlers keep their own scores?”

Many of the criticisms echoed the American’s sentiments. At tournaments with automated leaderboards, a myriad of TV cameras and a near-endless output of shot-by-shot data, why – some questioned – the need for such a seemingly rudimentary scoring method?

“Why are we still doing this guys?” asked two-time DP World Tour winner Eddie Pepperell.

“Nobody benefits from this. R&A [and] USGA, can we please look at changing this rule to a softer penalty please?”

However, not all are so keen to see the rule ripped up. World No. 174 Dylan Wu likened signing an incorrect scorecard to “forgetting to write your name down on a test.”

“Amazes me how often this happens in pro golf. Math is hard I guess,” posted Wu. “Takes 5 seconds for the Tour officials to read your scores back and for you to check them.”

PGA Tour: No plans to address rule

Under the USGA Rules of Golf, applied to every level of golf competition, players are responsible for keeping track of their score during a round.

The player does not have to be the scorecard marker, it could be a fellow competitor and (or) a walking scorer, but they assume the responsibility of checking the scores and raising any issues to tournament officials.

Curiously, had Spieth handed in a score higher than he actually shot – i.e. a double bogey at the fourth hole and a 74 overall – it would have stood and he would not have been disqualified. USGA rules do not disqualify players for returning a score higher than their actual score, only those returned that are lower.

This technicality cost Roberto De Vicenzo his shot at The Masters in 1968, when playing partner Tommy Aaron incorrectly recorded one of the Argentinian’s final round birdies as a par.

Not seeing the error, De Vicenzo – set to duel co-leader Bob Goalby in a winner-takes-all playoff the following day – signed the scorecard and instantly sealed Goalby his first and only major title in the most bizarre of circumstances.

Nothing so infamous has transpired in the decades since, yet incidents do occasionally occur.

Reigning US Open winner Wyndham Clark was disqualified from the 2019 Players Championship for signing an incorrect scorecard, while Carlota Ciganda suffered the same fate at last year’s Evian Championship.

Ciganda’s ejection was slightly more complex: hit with a two-shot penalty for slow pace of play at the major, the Spaniard refused to add it to her scorecard after her appeal was denied by rules officials.

The PGA Tour, in accordance with USGA guidelines, follows a multi-step process to check the scorecards of fields peaking at 156-strong. Presently, there are no plans to address the ruling, a spokesperson for the Tour told CNN Sport.

“The situation with Spieth was extremely rare,” they added. “There is a lot of technology used at PGA Tour events as it relates to scoring but all of it includes a human element (walking scorers, volunteers, scoring officials).”

CNN has reached out to the USGA for comment.

‘Part of the tradition of the game’

The tour’s current stance falls in line with world No. 3 Rory McIlroy’s “traditionalist” position, who said he did not see the need to change the ruling if it has “worked for so long.”

Even so, the Northern Irishman expressed his sympathy for Spieth at an error “easily done” when leaving the course frustrated and admitted to understanding questions around the ruling.

“If we’re really trying to keep this game un-bifurcated, the pros playing by the same rules as the amateurs, then we all need to keep our playing partners’ scorecards and we’re responsible for that,” McIlroy, who finished tied-24th, told reporters after his third round.

“But I also see the other side of the coin where there’s thousands of people watching us, every shot’s tracked on Shot Tracker and on the PGA Tour app, so is it really needed at this point? I can see both sides of the argument.”

Spieth’s compatriot Xander Schauffele echoed that the rule was “part of the tradition of the game.”

“Jordan knows what happened … I heard he had to go to the restroom and came back like a minute later and the card was wrong,” Schauffele told reporters.

“Maybe, there needs to be some sort of softening on the rules, but for the most part, we all kind of know what goes on in there. It’s really unfortunate it happened.”

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler explained his own process for avoiding such a mishap. After checking his score, the American stands by – caddie in tow – as a rules official logs his scores into a computer in case an inconsistency is flagged.

“I think the rule was originally in there to protect the integrity of the game,” Scheffler said, according to NBC Sports.

“I guess you have to have some sort of punishment to avoid [anything nefarious] happening.”

‘Ridiculous outdated relic’

“The rule is a ridiculous outdated relic at the top level of the sport,” Golf Digest writer Luke Kerr-Dineen told CNN.

“Keeping your own score in golf is a means to an end: the only solution for the countless tournaments that take place at the recreational level and one designed for the professional game during an era before indoor plumbing had become the norm. It made sense then.

“But Jordan Spieth is playing golf on national television, with in-depth data tracking his every shot. His correct score was easily verifiable in a number of ways. To throw him out of the tournament, no questions asked, over a literal clerical error violates the basic rule of common sense.”

Scores should be corrected, with a playing partner’s approval, if they can be verified by a different “tournament-approved” method such as Shot Link – the PGA Tour technology implemented in 1983 that captures real-time shot data – or TV broadcast, Kerr-Dineen suggested.

Kerr-Dineen’s Golf Digest colleague Joel Beall, however, remains firmly in the camp of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ “Spieth was the aberration that proved the rule is correct,” he explained.

“It’s not a dumb rule,” Beall told CNN Sport. “This is not other sports, where there is one scorer for one game played at the same time.

“Most professional golf tournaments are run by volunteers, and with thousands of shots being hit a day, and such a low percentage of those shots are captured by video.

“Maintaining your score is integral to golf’s ethos of being a game of honor, and there are countless stories from tours around the world of manipulation of scorecards to underline its importance.

“There are a ton of archaic rules in golf, but this isn’t one of them.”

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