The Augusta National Golf Club is to “conservative” what the Sun is to “hot.” The place is tight, get it? You can picture a group of men named “Beaufort” and “Aubrey” summoning their man-servants for slippers and another flight of bourbon samplings. Not a place to embrace change very lightly. It’s a stuffy place is the point I’m trying to make here.

So where did this sudden glimpse of progressive judgment come from, and why is everyone so twisted off about it?

Quick recap ~ Tiger Woods, after a really tough break, is forced to take a “drop” that incurs after a penalty situation (as in, his ball “sleeps with the fishes“.) He does so [incorrectly as we will soon find out] and finishes his 3rd round at the Masters; Woods signs his scorecard, goes back to his Tiger-den to do whatever super-human things Tiger does, and waits for his final round on Sunday. The “drop,” executed incorrectly, was addressed with Tiger before he left the grounds so there was no need for concern. He even mentions his thought process in the post-round interview; his drop was intentionally done at a distance further back to allow for a better club/swing selection. (This is all very “golfy,” but hang in there with me.) A television viewer (many, actually) notices the drop, notices the comments regarding the drop, and calls in to report his concern with Masters Rule Officials. At this point, it gets very dicey – Tiger’s illegal drop should have resulted in an additional penalty (2 strokes). By signing his scorecard with an incorrect score, he could have been immediately disqualified from the tournament. By “could have,” I mean that 99,999 people out of 100,000 people not named Tiger would have been (and have been) DQ’ed. He was later given the 2-stroke penalty, but there are many people now screaming “INJUSTICE!!!” that he would be allowed to continue the tournament. Puh-lease.


So what is the positive lesson we can take from this as HR professionals? Well, there are actually a few:

  1. Golf’s rules are asinine ~ read them sometime, you’ll agree. Archaic, Draconian, and full of rules that make little sense. Case in point, the “incorrect scorecard” DQ. Stupid rules should be challenged, amended, or over-ruled. In this case, the PGA had very recently (2 years ago) added a bailout rule to allow some discretion by scoring officials if a situation like this should occur. Discretion = Good.
  2. The rules are different for some people ~ Sorry folks, but this is Tiger-Freaking-Woods. Do you hate him? Do you love him? Good, that’s what the PGA is counting on. If he’s disqualified, the tournament, the sponsors, and the spectators are literally robbed of their investment. Woods is Michael Jordan multiplied by Babe Ruth – he made the current state of golf into what it is. So, if Tiger gets a little more discretion, deal with it. The day before, a 14-year old wunderkind was penalized a stroke for slow play (virtually unheard of in a Major) – you know why? No skins on the wall, pal, that’s why.


    Sure, now you tell me

  3. Honesty still means something ~ Many of us have done workplace investigations where we knew a steady stream of cowdung was being sent our way. Tiger did something admirable in all this ~ he admitted his mistake, didn’t hide from it, accepted responsibility, then moved on. He could have ranted and raved about the fact a Television viewer turned him in for a violation, but he didn’t do that, nor did he complain after the fact about the updated decision by the Rules Committee (from no penalty to a 2-stroke penalty).
  4. The gray area is alive and well ~ If you want to succeed in the highest-levels of Human Resources, you better learn to navigate in the foggy borders of right & wrong. Anybody can read a rulebook or a corporate policy – it’s the enforcement of the rule that will define you.

Thank you, sports, for all of your wonderful applications in life and business. Because of you, I get permission to watch just a little bit more than I might normally be allowed. “It’s for work, Honey!”

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder of the HR Hardball™ Straight talk, no-nonsense approach to workplace issues. 

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