Ranking the 8 Biggest Rules Controversies in Golf History

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJuly 12, 2012

Ranking the 8 Biggest Rules Controversies in Golf History

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    Golf is already a fickle, very difficult game.

    The unparalleled strictness of its rules doesn't make matters any less complicated.

    The elite golfers of the world can even get stung for violating golf's code of conduct, however minor the infractions may be.

    These rules have yielded all kinds of wild occurrences, from players losing out on playoffs at majors to an ongoing cheating scandal.

    Here is a ranking of the eight biggest rules controversies in golf history.

8. Tiger Woods and the Boulder

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    Not much suspense on the introduction's inquisitional caption.

    This incident was relatively small on the scale of golf's history considering the tournament and what was at stake

    However, this is Tiger Woods we're talking about. The circumstances surrounding him are bound to be unprecedented anywhere he goes.

    A boulder obstructed Tiger's path at the 1999 Phoenix Open.

    In one of the most bizarre golf sequences ever, a gaggle of fans used their synchronized strength to move the boulder clear of Tiger's path.

    Tiger went on to hit his shot free of interference from the "loose impediment."

    The controversy of course lies in whether any other golfer would have had the benefit of that many spectators to come to their assistance.

    As GolfWeek.com's Jim McCabe argued, the spirit of the rule may have been violated here.

7. Juli Inkster at the 2010 Safeway Classic

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    The World Golf Hall of Famer was called for a rules violation during the 2010 Safeway Classic thanks to a fan watching on TV.

    A sign of the times, isn't it?

    The use of any sort of practice aid during a round of golf is a violation of Rule 14-3 in the U.S. Golf Association's rulebook.

    Reporting from AOLNews.com indicates that the doughnut mechanism Inkster used was specifically included in the aforementioned rule.

    The seemingly miniscule mishap while passing time on the tee box resulted in Inkster's disqualification from the tournament.

    She was just three strokes off the lead after a two-day total of eight under-par.

    A win at age 50 would have made Inkster the oldest winner in LPGA Tour history.

6. Arnold Palmer's First Masters Victory

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    This is a case far removed from the circumstances of Juli Inkster.

    Palmer arguably benefited from the times he lived in, because this rules upheaval would definitely not swing in his favor today.

    ESPN.com's Bob Harig aided the resurfacing of this controversy in his 2008 piece, and it still remains captivating even though it happened over 54 years ago.

    At the 1958 Masters Tournament–The King's first major victory–Palmer was paired with Ken Venturi in the final round.

    In the heat of Amen Corner, Palmer's tee shot on the par-3 12th hole plugged just over the back of the green.

    After consulting his playing partner, Palmer concluded he was entitled to relief. Rules official Arthur Lacey had other ideas and demanded that Palmer play the ball as it lied.

    Palmer chopped at the embedded ball and it barely moved. He went on to make a double bogey on the hole.

    Then something strange happened.

    Dissapointed by the ruling he received, Palmer declared a second ball. He took a drop from where his original tee shot plugged, and got up and down for a par.

    The ruling was revisted by officials on the 15th hole, and it went in Palmer's favor.

    That par, along with an eagle at No. 13 turned out to be just enough momentum for Palmer to win by one stroke.

5. Seve vs. Zinger at the Ryder Cup

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    This rival duo developed quite the feud in the 1989 Ryder Cup at Belfry, accusing each other of cheating.

    That carried over to 1991 and was nicely documented by Bob Wolfey of The Milwaukee Journal.

    Ballesteros remarked later that year at the Volvo Masters that the American team consisted of "11 nice guys and Paul Azinger." He also poked fun at the American for never winning a major championship.

    On Day 1 of the Ryder Cup, the two got to square off on the course.

    Chip Beck and Azinger were paired together for a highly touted foursomes match against Ballesteros and fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal.

    This led to one of the best matches of all time, and the European tandem won 2 & 1 on their way to an undefeated run that year.

    The ramifications of the Seve-Zinger dispute sparked a lot of tension and competitive fire that year.

    "The War on the Shore" moniker was used by the media to describe the event at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

    A pressure-cooker final day was defined by another Mark Calcavecchia collapse and a heartbreaking miss by Bernhard Langer to give the Americans the Cup.

    However, the cheating controversy was at the epicenter of what created so much intensity in the first place.

4. Dustin Johnson at the 2010 PGA Championship

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    Was it a bunker or wasn't it a bunker?

    Hundreds of spectators stood mere feet away from Johnson as he hit his approach shot to the par-4 18th at Whistling Straits.

    The shot went well left of the green, and Johnson failed to get up and down. This forced a three-way playoff alongside Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

    Or so it seemed.

    After consultation with rules officials, it was determined that Johnson grounded his club in a bunker on his second shot.

    The Straits Course is known for having a multitude of sand traps, but with so many people blocking his view, Johnson couldn't determine he was actually in a bunker.

    That's why he ground his club.

    Johnson, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, is arguably the best American golfer under the age of 30.

    That's why it was so unfortunate that he was denied a great chance at his first major win under these circumstances.

3. Jane Blalock

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    A winner of 27 LPGA Tour events, Blalock also holds the Tour record with 299 consecutive cuts made.

    One mark that remains on an otherwise illustrious career, though, is the stretch of cheating she went through beginning in 1972 at the Bluegrass Invitational.

    The leading money winner on the Tour that year, Blalock improperly marked her ball on the 17th hole and failed to incur a two-stroke penalty on herself for committing the act.

    Blalock was never even in contention for the lead, according to the report by Bob Weston of The Beaver Times in Pennsylvania.

    The consequences were very costly. Not only was Blalock disqualified from the event, the LPGA executive board alleged that Blalock cheated in two events prior to her disqualification.

    A story by Sports Illustrated's Barry McDermott discusses details of Blalock's struggles.

    Shortly after the Invitational, Blalock was suspended from the LPGA Tour for a year.

    Blalock filed a five million dollar lawsuit against the Tour thereafter. Her lawyers also motioned successfully that Blalock could continue playing while the case played out.

    In Amy Alcott's book, The Leaderboard: Conversations on Golf and Life, Blalock gives insight as to how she handled the controversy, and how it impacted her on and off the course.

2. Roberto De Vicenzo

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    De Vicenzo, the sweet-swinging winner of the 1967 Open Championship, was looking to grab his second major in three tries.

    Then, something went terribly wrong at the 1968 Masters Tournament.

    Often, "terribly wrong" means a bad shot or a choke job in golf. In De Vicenzo's case, it had nothing to do with his play, but rather his scorecard.

    Playing partner Tommy Aaron had De Vicenzo marked down for a par 4 on the 17th hole, despite the fact that the Argentine actually made a birdie.

    With neither player noticing the error, the scorecards were submitted.

    As a result, De Vicenzo lost out on an 18-hole playoff the following day to champion Bob Goalby by one stroke.

    De Vicenzo famously remarked after learning of the rules infraction: "What a stupid I am!"

    If you asked me, the particular rules of golf that applied were stupid.

    Then again, that's golf!

1. Casey Martin

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    Martin made an inspiring comeback to competitive golf at this year's U.S. Open.

    The universal feel-good story was a far cry from the polarizing episode Martin had with the PGA Tour during the early 2000s.

    After a successful college career at Stanford—including a brief time with Tiger Woods as his teammate—Martin took his talents to the Tour.

    He struggled through a medical condition in his leg that he was born with known as Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome.

    Because of his condition, Martin sued the Tour for not allowing him to use a golf cart in competitive play under the American with Disabilities Act.

    Incredibly, the case of PGA Tour Inc. vs. Martin went all the way to the Supreme Court and was decided in 2001.

    The verdict: 7-2 in favor of Martin.

    In its majority opinion, the Court stated that Martin's need to use the cart did not "fundamentally alter the nature" of the game.

    Who knew golf could reach the highest court of law in the United States?

    It's difficult to imagine controversy over any rules deliberation topping this one.