Big issues on display at Augusta

AUGUSTA, Ga., -- It's quiet now at Augusta National. In another month, the course will close until October.

Townies driving along Washington Road, the busy thoroughfare that runs past the 365-acre former indigo plantation, won't be able to visit their wealthy neighbor for another year.

What local businesses call the 13th month is officially over.

The patrons shuttle back to distant lands with trunkloads of souvenirs to prove they were here when a woman first walked into the clubhouse wearing a green jacket at the Masters, and a 14-year-old Chinese kid made the cut, and a 14-time major champion broke a rule, and an Australian finally won a green jacket.

The 77th Masters is complete, but it will linger like a small boy waiting patiently for an autograph from his favorite player, like a patron seeing Amen Corner for the first time.

It's always fitting when the Masters, the mecca of golf, becomes the setting for the game's most pressing issues. The club has been firmly ensconced in the culture wars for decades, finally relenting last August on the inclusion of women into membership with the acceptance of Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.

Those two women were on display this week in their green jackets to let the world see how far the club has come through the years.

Yet the most significant issues arose on the golf course, as if there was a specific order to the unfolding of some of the chaos that now pervades the game.

First, there was Tianlang Guan getting penalized one shot on Friday for slow play.

Everybody knows that slow play is a problem in the game. The governing bodies want to do something about it, but it goes deep to the way the game is played now, beginning at the junior level.

Guan represents all the kids around the world learning to play the game at a snail's pace. He's merely symptomatic of a problem that will be around until more rules officials like John Parramore enforce slow-pace penalties in competition.

Maybe kids who saw Guan nearly miss the cut because of the penalty will try to improve their pace of play. While it's unfortunate that Guan didn't get to have this lesson on a smaller stage, it was an excellent teaching moment for all of us as we consider the long-term impact of what slow play means for the game.

If we're saying that Guan is the future of game -- and he just might be with his strong performance in Augusta -- how are we not moved to act to continue remedying this problem?

The rules are the rules. We heard Parramore say it about the Guan saga, and we heard it again on Saturday when Tiger Woods took an illegal drop after hitting his third shot into the water at the par-5 15th hole. The four-time Masters champion signed for an incorrect scorecard. Case closed. He's disqualified from the tournament. But wait a minute. There is a loophole in the rules that let him play on.

The rules aren't as black and white as you thought they were. Like our Constitution and tax code, they can be amended, tortured to death in meetings and, yes, scoured for loopholes.

Integrity, integrity, integrity. You hear these words all too often around golf. It's as if golf is the only sport that dares to have ethics. Tiger didn't call a penalty on himself as we so often do in our sport. Instead, he let the referees do it.

Perhaps many of us placed Tiger in the untenable position of asking him to disqualify himself from the tournament, when under the circumstances that was ultimately the call of the competition committee. But I wonder how different Roberto De Vicenzo's life would have been if he hadn't signed an incorrect scorecard at the 1968 Masters.

An appropriately placed loophole in the rules could have helped him become the first Argentinian to win the Masters long before Angel Cabrera did it in '09.

Depending on how you look at it, Cabrera was a victim of another rules controversy on Sunday, the proposed ban on the anchored stroke, set to go in enforcement in 2016.

By becoming the fourth player in the last six majors to win with the controversial method, Adam Scott added more ammunition to fight over the legality of the ban.

As so often happens at the Masters, and for that matter at most golf tournaments, the 32-year-old Australian won the tournament with his putter, in this case one that had a handle that rested on his chest.

The whole nasty, divisive fight was right there in your face on Sunday afternoon in the biggest tournament in the world. Scott socked it to the pro-ban contingent when he made a 12-footer for birdie to beat Cabrera on the second playoff hole.

With a stellar performance on Sunday, Scott seemed to say: I make putts with this thing, and I'm not giving it up until it's illegal. Run and tell that to the USGA.

The PGA Tour has told the USGA that it doesn't support the ban. All that Augusta National chairman Billy Payne would say on the matter last week is that he hopes the governing bodies can reach some "common ground" under one "set of rules."

After Scott's showy performance with the anchored putter, common ground under one set of rules may come sooner than we first imagined when this issue first took hold in November.

How could the governing bodies go so far against a trend that's gripping major championships? To impose the ban in '16 would be like taking away the 3-point shot in basketball. The anchored stroke is a very potent character and weapon in the majors.

Now that the method has made an impact on all four majors with Scott's win Sunday at Augusta, its reach encompasses every tentacle of the sport.

When Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts started the Masters in 1934, they didn't intend for it to be a prism through which to see the game. It was a little invitational for amateurs and pros that sportswriters came to on their way back from spring training in Florida.

But now the tournament contains the entire sport in one week. Only a place as big and grand as Augusta National could hold it all in without bursting at the seams.

It's quiet now, but everything that rises in the game will again converge next April on this wondrous and complex place in Georgia.