Golf at its most basic is an honest game. It is a game where competitors call infractions on themselves and players are held to a high standard for the good of the game. The PGA Tour carries with it more rules than anyone can comprehend. It is up to the players and the rules officials to understand and apply those rules. If the player errors they are subject to any level of punishment from one stroke penalty to disqualification from a tournament. Whether it is your job or not that is a lot of pressure. I know, “It’s their job to know” or “Their caddies should know as well.” However, all players are human and they will make mistakes.
Should they be penalized? Absolutely but only if they “self admit” the infraction, a fellow player in the group witnesses the infraction or if the infraction is caught by a rules official. It should never be decided by a fan calling in from home, emailing the PGA Tour or any other medium to notify the tour of the issues at hand short of the advent of replay. Why would I say this? We will get into that in a minute but first let’s understand how torn the PGA tour officials, players and executives are on this matter.
The PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem weighed in on this at East Lake GC, the site of the season ending TOUR Championship. From his quote you can see the commissioner of the PGA Tour doesn’t even know what to do. When questioned he stated:
“It feels awkward when it happens. On the other hand, I hate to say it’s part of the tradition of the game because actually you can’t really argue that because it’s changed with the degree of television we have. I think we need to do some more thinking about it. I think people in the game need to think about it.'”
Some former players are a bit clearer on the impact of fans “calling in” a rules infraction on players. Broadcaster and former PGA Tour player, Peter Jacobson sees the phone in as a good thing for the game.
“When we have fans calling in after watching it on TV, it strengthens the rules of the game and strengthens how good we have to be.”
The rules that govern the PGA Tour have actually been formally addressed in Rule 34-3/9 which states the following: Testimony of those who are not a part of the competition, including spectators, must be accepted and evaluated. It is also appropriate to use television footage and the like to assist in resolving doubt.
If fact this has happened on the PGA Tour more than most are aware. You can go as far back as 1987 when Craig Stadler was disqualified for kneeing on a towel to hit a shot on a wet morning. This action violated a then new rule and was considered improper building of a stance. Stadler was not disqualified that day but rather the next day at the end of the event.
Another example occurred during the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Camilo Villegas was disqualified for swatting away some loose grass while his ball was still moving. This was noticed by a viewer and called in. That violated Rule 23-1 which states: When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed. This is normally a two stroke penalty but because he finished his round and signed his scorecard he was disqualified.
The most current of course being Tiger Woods at the BMW Championship over his oscillating golf ball that cost him two strokes noticed by PGA Tour cameramen and reported to tour officials. The other was Tiger Woods again at the Masters when a phone in for an improper drop cost him two strokes.
At the risk of sounding old fashioned a cameraman with a television camera should not be the deciding factor. An email should not be the deciding factor. A phone call from Joe Bag O Donuts on his couch should not be the deciding factor. It is up to the players and rules officials walking the course to make that call.
Can you tell me any other sport that allows fans to call in and affect the outcome of an event? Clearly there are not. The NFL, NHL, NBA and even MLB do not allow actions like this because they understand the implications. Can you imagine if a fan called in and told MLB officials that Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall to catch Derek Jeter’s home run in the playoffs against the Orioles? Sure some might not see a problem with that but I do. Umpires are paid to make the call and now baseball has replay to capture those screw-up’s. It is not up to the cameraman or fan to make the announcement. I believe in embracing technology but use it the right way. Replay in golf is actually an option.There is a way to apply and utilize replay without causing much interference and I gave a high level explanation in My PGA Tour Replay Plan: USGA Rules and TV Work Together, How To Guide.
The white elephant in the room relating to “call in” rules infractions is the coverage allotted to each player. It is simply not a fair and equitable representation of the players. People will argue that in the advent of intense television coverage the point is moot. That is and will always be an incorrect statement when the PGA Tour and the television networks are relying on ratings. It does not behoove the tour, CBS, the Golf Channel or NBC to spend large periods of on air time displaying the skills of Scott Piercy (two-time tour winner), Troy Kelly or Scott Brown (one-time tour winner) because the casual or standard tour fan frankly does not care.
Fans turned on the televisions to watch the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Rory McIlroy. Even to a lesser the young upstarts like a Jordan Spieth or middle tier, from a rating perspective, players like Webb Simpson, Graeme McDowell or Bill Haas. Consider that when Tiger returned to full time golf in 2012, according to data captured bySports Media Watch,of the 70 PGA Tour telecasts on CBS, NBC and ESPN, a whopping 50 percent had increases in ratings compared to the previous edition of the tournament. Furthermore, 42 telecasts were up double-digits, and 23 increased by at least 50 percent. With Tiger and Phil both in contention at the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the event saw its highest numbers in 23 years with its final round rating up 113 percent. People might not like it but it is the reality that stars drive ratings so stars are what the tour covers on a broadcast.
With that in the forefront of our minds let’s just think about the idea of fans calling in. Fans will not see the full field in action. Fans will spend 30 to 50 percent of their time focusing on five to 10 players in a 150+ player field. What this equates to is a free pass for roughly 94 percent of the field. I am not excusing infractions and I believe the rules are valid but it is not fair and equitable for four percent of the field to be under a microscope. That will affect win totals, purses for players and the overall understanding or respectability of the stars on the PGA Tour.
Fans “calling in” infractions should not be allowed and should be stopped until the tour has equal television time for all the players in a given tournament. That will not happen until the day ratings do not translate into money. That will not happen in our lifetimes. Instead implement a version of replay for the tour and let’s all move on and enjoy this great game.