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Golf has many arcane rules of etiquette that may seem odd to the newcomer.

You can’t walk across another player’s line. You can’t talk through a backswing. You cannot hit the caddie’s mother.

Over the weekend, what may be the most delightfully stupid argument in sports erupted at The Open. Okay, it didn’t “erupt.” It sort of bubbled up and simmered.

It started on Friday with a no-name threesome including Kyle Stanley, an American journeyman, and Robert MacIntyre, a rookie Scot.

At the 17th, Stanley sliced a shot to the right. It landed in a gallery and apparently hit MacIntyre’s caddie’s mother.

Hitting a spectator is a risk everywhere in golf and especially here at Royal Portrush. The course is tiny, all the holes wedged together and interwoven on a narrow strip between a small road and the sea. If you hook a golf ball, it’s nearly guaranteed to end up in a crowd.

Nonetheless, MacIntyre was very put out. He claimed Stanley had not yelled “fore” after his errant shot, as is the custom. He somehow made a connection between this alleged breach of etiquette and grievous bodily harm.

“We’re shouting as it’s coming into the crowd and he’s just standing there watching it,” MacIntyre said afterward. “And so I told them how it was.”

‘Told them how it was’ is apparently a Scottish’ism for telling someone they’re a donut. According to MacIntyre, Stanley did not receive this news very well. By most sporting standards, this is tame stuff. By golf standards, it’s a bottling.

This may be the most interesting scandal in golf since … (sound of paper shuffling) … it may be the most interesting scandal in golf. An idea blossomed in public mind and that idea was, “fight, Fight, FIGHT.”

But since no one had noticed the set-to as it happened on Friday, Stanley had already gone home.

For nearly 24 hours – that’s about 40 news cycles – Stanley’s good name was rubbished up and down Ireland and Britain. The news was reported this way (you’ll have to imagine the screaming at the end) – he hit someone’s mother?

Stanley came out after his round on Saturday to address Fore-Gate, now confronted by a phalanx of journalists with a lot of questions.

According to Stanley, he did not yell “fore” because a half-dozen people already had: by his count, his own caddie, his playing partners (that would mean MacIntyre) and at least two marshals.

The issue was quickly becoming, “Must you yell fore if someone else has yelled fore, in order that you be seen to be pointlessly yelling fore just like everyone else?”

And the correct answer to that is, “no.”

As soon as one person yells “fore,” the onus passes on to the crowd to be paying attention and protect themselves. That’s the sensible position, making Stanley the adult in all this.

If you are hit by a golf ball at a golf tournament where they are golfing, that’s your fault.

If you catch it in the teeth twenty feet from the tees, that’s your fault. Because you decided to stand where people are hitting golf balls.

If you want to be guaranteed not to be hit by a golf ball while you’re watching golf, the only safe place to stand is your living room.

The idea that this is somehow Stanley’s fault is so ludicrous you half-suspect the whole thing is a practical joke. Alas, no.

“I’m not really sure why he decided to make such an issue about it,” Stanley said. “I know it hit his caddie’s mom’s hands off the bounce, and that’s unfortunate.”

Hold up, what? Her hands? Off the bounce? MacIntyre had given the impression poor Mum might have had her skull cracked open.

This was getting sillier and more delicious by the moment.

But I’ll give MacIntyre this much – he may be a John Gielgud-level melodramatist, but it’s hard not to like a guy who loves his mother. He loves his mother so much he’s extended his wildly disproportionate protection instinct to other people’s mothers.

Nor is Stanley completely in the clear in all of this. He didn’t do anything wrong, but he also didn’t apologize. He made a point of saying that.

If you hit someone’s mother, you should apologize. Regardless of the hows and whys, you apologize.

Clearly, this has become a deeply macho standoff, with one guy refusing to acknowledge the preposterousness of his argument, and the other refusing to do the decent thing because he’s no flincher.

At this point, the only aggrieved party is the caddie’s poor mother. Not because she got hit a glancing blow by a golf ball. But because her son’s boss has made her an object of international curiosity without so much as a by your leave, and the guy on the other end of it hasn’t reached out to say, “Ma’am, I feel bad about making you feel bad.”

By Saturday afternoon, this was a DefCon1 situation in the tabloids.

At the end of his round, MacIntyre came out looking deeply uncomfortable. Hands in pockets, body turned away from microphone, eyes darting around. But he would not budge.

“I done my part,” he said, shrugging. “It’s just the etiquette of the game.”

He kept talking about lessons you’ve learned and having said his piece and not needing to say any more – obviously, what he had been coached to say.

MacIntyre is only 22 and having a bit of a moment, golf-wise. He’s on 2-under going into Sunday and should walk away from Portrush with some serious money and a big reputational boost.

And yet this is the thing he’s decided to be remembered for. He may believe he’s right, but given how it’s ended up, he is by definition wrong.

You could draw a few lessons here: when in doubt, beg pardon; or, don’t take your private squabbles into the streets if you don’t want everyone involved.

But the most pressing one – as well as perhaps the most basic rule of life – is leave the other guy’s mother out of it.

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