June 8, 2001
Jason Ritthaler learned two painful but valuable lessons about tournament golf and sportsmanship during this year’s state high school golf championship tournament.
Ritthaler graduated this week from Cape Henlopen High School. This spring he frequently played as the fifth or sixth golfer for the Henlopen Conference Champion Vikings. Ritthaler’s steady play during the season, usually scoring in the mid-40s, earned him the right to play for his team in the state tournament held May 29-30 at DuPont Country Club.
Six golfers for each school played the first round, but only the top four scorers for each team qualified to play the second round.
Ritthaler started off well in his first round. He birdied the first hole and then parred the second. He was paired with a golfer from another school, who failed to play the two holes as well as Ritthaler.
Excited about his initial scores, Ritthaler approached the third tee thinking he might be able to make the cut.
Then things went a bit off.
As Ritthaler explained recently, “I didn’t notice it, but I had mistakenly teed up my ball on the third tee about two inches in front of the tee markers. After I hit my drive, the other player then pointed the mistake out to me, and told me I had to re-do the shot and take a two-stroke penalty.
“It was pretty clear that he knew I was making the mistake, but he was right. Thinking about the penalty strokes took me out of my game, though. I took a double on that hole, and then had triple bogeys on the next two holes after that.”
Ritthaler missed making the cut for the second round by four strokes.
Cape Region golfers can learn a few valuable tips from Ritthaler’s experience.
First, always double-check the tee marker locations as you prepare for your first stroke on each hole. The teeing ground for each hole is a rectangular area on the tee box, with the front and sides determined from the outside limits of the two tee markers. The back line is two club lengths away from the front line.
It’s the player’s responsibility to make sure the ball is teed up properly in that space. In stroke play, a tee shot played from outside the teeing ground is cancelled. The shot must then be re-played, with the two-stroke penalty.
Second (and this is, of course, only my opinion), no player should wait to watch another player make this kind of mistake, and then point it out. That’s not good sportsmanship.
Warning a player about this kind of potential penalty stroke situation is not considered illegal advice under the Rules of Golf. It’s simply the right thing to do.
For example, in the 1993 Kemper Open outside Washington, DC, PGA Tour Players Grant Waite and Tom Kite were battling for the win and playing in the same pairing. Waite hit a shot that landed on or near a cart path, coming to rest at a place that entitled him to take relief from the pavement. Following the rules, Waite picked up his ball, dropped it within one club length of the nearest point of relief, and took his stance for his next shot.
At that point, Kite warned Waite that the edge of the heel of one of Waite’s shoes was still on the cart path, which meant that Waite had not yet taken complete relief. Waite thanked Kite and re-dropped the ball. He eventually won the tournament, beating Kite by a single stroke.
Kite displayed the kind of sportsmanship that is part of the true spirit of the game.
Golfers that play gotcha with the Rules of Golf may think they are simply using good tactics to gain a competitive edge. However, for many golfers of a certain age there’s a simple two-word phrase for these creeps that can be printed in a family newspaper—”Eddie Haskell.”
For golfers as young as Ritthaler, ask your parents or check the TVLand Channel for the Leave It To Beaver Show, and you’ll see what I mean.