Equitable system needed if there is to be justice for all

 

CADDIE'S ROLE:OF ALL the caddie nightmares that us loopers can have, one of our colleagues had the ultimate one last week at the BMW International Open in Cologne.

We often relay amongst ourselves, in some darkened wine cellar far from the ears of the rest of the tour, just what it is that makes us jump and wake up in the dead of night. Many of us have had the recurring dream of not being able to find the next tee while our player is waiting frantically for us. Not being able to lift the bag because its got 58 clubs in it or picking up our man’s ball in the rough to brag that you finally located it.

This time the caddie’s nightmare became real. Jose Manuel Lara’s Argentine bagman Mathias Vinson was banned from the European Tour for his reaction to discovering on their second hole of the tournament that he had 15 clubs in the bag.

Apart from the feeling of shock, Mattie was initially in denial and his instant reaction was to sidle into a nearby thicket and deposit the offending 15th club there out of harm’s way. A crazy idea of course in measured hindsight but for a caddie working for a player with status on a tour without too many spare players knocking about as a back up, it wasn’t an entirely inconceivable plan.

He is an educated man who has studied English at Oxford University and he is liked and was well-respected on tour. Us caddies come from all walks of life, Mattie is from the leafier suburbs of Rosario not the barrios.

I happened to meet him after the ill-fated round. I was sitting on a bench outside the bag room musing over the round.

Mattie came out of the bag room with an uncharacteristically long face on him. I suggested jokingly that he had had an even worse day than me. He told me he had discovered the extra sand wedge in the bag on the second tee, panicked and without thinking tried to hide it in a bush. After a short while he recognised that he had to be honest and went back into the thicket to retrieve the club and proceeded to explain the situation to his player.

It was automatically a four-shot penalty, two shots for each hole with the extra club with a maximum of four shots.

Considering we are hoping at best as caddies to save our man a shot a week, this puts the four shots into perspective. Little did either of them know it meant instant disqualification for the player. The caddie and the player are inextricably linked with matters of the rules. You cannot knowingly break a rule during competition. So despite shooting three under for the next 16 holes, it was all futile for Lara, he was informed after the round that he was disqualified.

The tournament director and chief referee, who has been uncompromising of late (he gave Ross Fisher a one-shot penalty in Wales a few weeks back for slow play), had to make a decision then on what to do with the offending caddie. It was decided that he was going to be banned from the tour indefinitely.

I talked to Lara and his playing partners Damien McGrane and Peter Hedblom. It was Damien who saw Mattie charge into the bush with the bag on his back. He was immediately suspicious and challenged him. Damien reiterated what Mattie had told me, that he panicked and did a really stupid thing which moments later he realised he had to try to rectify.

The two accompanying players are not sure if their witnessing hadn’t changed the caddie’s mind more that his own feeling of guilt. How will we ever know? We can only deal with the facts presented to us and surmise.

It has to be said that if there is a rule infringement during a round of golf it is not frequently until the player signs his card, maybe four hours later, that he can be deemed to have cheated. This leaves a long time for the conscience to adjust any irrational thought process that happened throughout the round.

There is no doubt the rules of golf have to be treated as sacred. It is one of the few sports where the seemingly most innocuous of infringements result in disqualification.

We are all guardians of the rules when we play golf, this applies to both competitors and their bagmen. The trouble with the system as it stands is that there is no real forum for a fair hearing when it comes to the caddie. Aristotle suggested that respect for the rule of law is more important for a just society than democracy.

If there is a true rule of law, nobody is above the law and everyone has the same rights. We have had serious incidents over the years on tour where players have been accused with evidence of rules infringements and the authorities have opted not to administer tough justice. Some of the whistleblowers have been caddies but the system has always taken the side of the player.

I am not suggesting taking sides but perhaps introducing a more equitable justice system on tour.

If you are to believe Mattie, he is being punished for ultimately owning up. He has lost his right to caddie for who knows how long and there will be a cloud hanging over him if he does return. If you take Lara’s playing partners’ version of what happened he would not have admitted guilt if they had not suspected something untoward in the bushes off the second tee last week.

The tour seems to have decided to deal firmly with any infringements recently and I welcome this. But when the outcomes of such decisions are so life-changing it will not be long before the litigants are strolling European fairways alongside us.

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