Don't blame referee for penalizing Tianlang Guan
With his intimidating girth and baritone BBC accent, John Paramor might have made a terrific Bond character.
In the eyes of many Friday, he is already cast (unfairly) in the villain’s role at the Masters Tournament for the one-shot penalty heard ’round the world.
The chief referee of rules on the European Tour was the last person a 14-year-old kid playing Augusta wanted to see striding across the 17th fairway delivering bad news. Tianlang Guan was fighting to make history by making the cut in a major, but he made history of another sort by earning the first slow-play penalty ever in the Masters.
“I’m just the instrument,” Paramor said after Guan was assessed a one-stroke penalty for violating Rule 6-7 in the Rules of Golf and the tournament’s pace-of-play policy by exceeding the 40-second time limit on his second shot on 17 “by a considerable margin.” Guan had been warned four previous times on the second nine as his group fell two holes behind the threesome in front, including a first warning on the 13th fairway.
“I respect the decision,” Guan said to ESPN in his only post-round interview.
The penalty and potential missed cut because of it did not sit well with 61-year-old Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion who played the first two rounds with Guan and Matteo Manassero.
“This isn’t going to end up pretty, I don’t think,” said a visibly shaken Crenshaw. “I’m sick. I’m sick for him. He’s 14 years old, we’re playing … when you get the wind blowing out here, believe me, you’re going to change your mind a lot. I’m sorry, I’m a player. But it is not easy to get around this golf course the way it’s set up for two days.”
It’s impossible not to feel bad for Guan – who had to sweat out the afternoon hoping that his idol, Tiger Woods, or anyone else, would not reach 7-under par and push him outside the 10-shot rule to make the cut.
But being 14 years old is not a valid excuse for not listening to repeated warnings to speed up. Guan’s age did not factor in Paramor’s ruling.
“No. It’s the Masters,” he said. “The Masters competition.”
Did Paramor feel he had no choice to show leniency?
“I feel like that every time I go out,” he said. “That’s my job. That’s what I do.”
Paramor is a professional, and this isn’t the first time he’s faced scrutiny for simply enforcing the rules. It was he who gave Padraig Harrington and Woods a slow-play warning in the final pairing on the 70th hole in the 2009 WGC event at Firestone. Woods criticized Paramor, blaming the ruling for forcing Harrington to rush a pitch that went into a hazard and cost him the tournament.
It’s a shame that Guan is the one to be made an example of when slow play is pervasive in golf and players get away with it almost all the time. The last time a PGA Tour player was assessed a penalty for slow-play was 1995, when Glen “All” Day got docked a shot at the Honda Classic.
But USGA President Glen Nager announced at the association’s annual meeting in February that slow play was a point of emphasis and that he would start initiatives to alleviate what has become an excruciating scourge of the game.
“Slow play drains enjoyment from the game – and discourages participation,” Nager said. “Pace of play is an issue that demands our complete attention.”
Well, this certainly got everyone’s attention. Paramor and the Masters were getting excoriated in social media for “picking on a kid.” Would they have been as outraged if Kevin Na or Jason Day had been charged? It’s not their fault that Guan was so slow that notorious deliberater Bernhard Langer was waiting to hit in the group behind much of the day. Crenshaw’s caddie, Carl Jackson, said, “There were many times he (Guan) could have been penalized yesterday” and that he needs to “fix his routine.”
“He was slow, yeah,” Manassero said.
“There’s no question he played slowly at times, but he was working things out,” Crenshaw conceded.
Most players were sympathetic to Guan’s situation and the difficult conditions, but not to the extent that rules officials should have looked the other way just because of his age.
“You feel for him, but the rules are the rules, obviously, at the end of the day, and we all play by them,” Adam Scott said. “For a 14-year-old it’s all a learning experience. He’ll never get a better one than that, probably.”
The ruling didn’t sit well with Brandt Snedeker.
“I wish they would have made an example out of somebody else except for a 14-year-old kid, you know?” he said. “Make an example out of me or somebody else, but a kid just trying to make a cut in his first week of the Masters? But I understand that slow play is a problem and it’s just a tough situation. I feel bad for the kid.”
Hopefully, that message will resonate beyond Friday. At age 22, Jack Nicklaus was assessed a two-shot penalty for slow play by PGA official Joe Black while winning the Portland Open. Nicklaus’ response was to work on speeding up his routine.
“Joe told me, ‘Jack, you’ve got to be ready when it’s your shot,’ ” Nicklaus said. “I always thought it was rude to get the line of a putt or figure out yardage while another player was playing and it might bother them. But I had to do those things before playing for my own sake. And it turned out it didn’t bother them at all.”
The beauty is that the penalty did not end up costing Guan the cut and a chance to be the youngest golfer to ever reach the weekend of a major championship. His infraction does nothing to diminish his accomplishments, which included playing the last 11 holes in even par – plus one – despite demanding conditions and a difficult life lesson.
His clutch up-and-down from the bunker on 18 showed Guan’s mettle.
CLUB’S STATEMENT ON GUAN’S PENALTY
According to Fred Ridley, the competition committees chairman at Augusta National Golf Club: “Tianlang Guan was assessed a one-shot penalty for violation of Rule 6-7 of the Rules of Golf and the Tournament’s Pace of Play Policy. His group, which included Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, was deemed out of position on No. 10. Guan began being timed on Hole 12 and received his first warning on Hole 13 after his second shot. In keeping with the applicable rules, he was penalized following his 2nd shot on the 17th hole when he again exceeded the 40 second time limit by a considerable margin.”