Why TV Call-in Rules Viewers and Booth-Bound Commentators May Not Be Right

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2013

Did Simon Dyson really run afoul of the rules or did TV just make it look that way?
Did Simon Dyson really run afoul of the rules or did TV just make it look that way?Andrew Redington/Getty Images

The whole armchair rules officiating thing has hit a new high or low this year, and it's time for those at home to understand a few things about television versus reality.  I speak with some experience because I produced a golf television program, including instructional segments with guys you've heard of, like Fred Couples, Gil Morgan, Tom Purtzer and others, for 10 years.  I can tell you that what you see on TV is not always identical to real life. A lot depends on the camera angle and the distortion of the cameras. 

You already know that cameras make six-foot putts look like two- or three-foot putts. That should give you some idea of how different things are versus how they look on TV.  The television cameras compress reality.  They distort things.  They remove the look of break in greens.  They eliminate slopes and roll from fairways. They diminish height from tees to fairways and fairways to greens.    

To give you a prime example, when doing instructional on hitting from uphill or downhill slopes or side-hill lies, a location that would look good in reality would be too flat on camera.  We would have to find an exaggerated slope so it would look like a moderate slope for that kind of instruction.

Given the issues with compressing distance, removal of slopes and other distortion issues, if a camera does not have perfect angle, which it seldom has, then it is very hard to make some of these rulings from the comfort of the sofa.

Take Simon Dyson's situation, tamping down a spike mark with a ball (not with his putter as was erroneously reported in a couple places).   

Let's assume Dyson is smart enough to know that he can't touch the line of his intended putt with anything.  If he's not smart enough to know that, then he should be fined or something and it's likely he would have a history of that violation repeatedly on the European Tour.  But I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt there.  He's been playing golf a long time. 

If we assume he knows the rule, why would he violate it on purpose?  Brain cramp? Lunacy? Too much medication for allergies or the flu?  Is it not possible that the television camera showed what looked like one thing and reality was in fact something else? 

We were not on site to see if the line of Dyson's next putt was in fact through that spike mark.  The camera angle was from the side, not behind the ball pointing directly toward the hole. We do not know if the remaining putt had a right to left break in it, in which case he would have started the ball out to the right of what looked like might have been the next intended line.     

I did not see the telecast and do not know if the short putt after his tamping down of the mark broke one way or the other.   But since many players automatically tap down spike marks after they finish putting, it's reasonable to believe that Dyson may be the victim of a bad camera angle rather than a rules violation.  And no, I'm not on his Christmas card list. 

Based on the angle visible on YouTube or absent any other evidence, it's pretty hard to justify the flack Dyson has received.  I need more facts, and so far all we've had is armchair quarterbacking and complaining by people who were not on site or people who did not have the perfect angle to judge.  If Dyson's playing partner said it was the wrong thing, then it probably needs to be looked at.  But absent real proof, which we don't have based on his tamping alone, let's take a breath on his situation.

Let's go to the recent Tiger Woods "oscillation-gate."  Recapping what happened, Woods was in shrubs at the first hole in the second round of the BMW.   He bent over to see if he could possibly move a couple leaves and such away from his ball.  A cameraman had a ground level angle on the ball, and that appeared to show that the ball dipped slightly lower into the leaves, when Woods touched a piece of bark or a hunk of wood, really not giving Woods an advantage.  Woods said he thought the ball oscillated and came back to rest.

Think about this for a minute.  Tiger Woods is standing directly over the ball. He is not lying on the ground looking between his own legs to see it. He pulls something away from the ball, and it rocks slightly and then seems to go back into place.  That's his angle of vision.

However, viewed extra close up, from a ground-level angle that we would almost never have except showing putts, it appears that the ball dropped down a hair, sinking more into the leaves and branches.  Is that an oscillation or not?

It's like the blind men and the elephant story.  The guy who has the elephant's ear thinks the elephant is like paper.  The guy who has the elephant's leg thinks it's like a tree. The guy who has the tail thinks an elephant is like a rope. 

From Tiger Woods' viewpoint, the ball probably looked like it oscillated,  rocked and went back into place.  He did not think he had done anything wrong.   Viewed from the side and magnified, it looks like, when he touched a piece of bark or wood, it went a hair lower and then also rocked back.   Is that an oscillation or is that just causing the ball to move? 

In this case, the rules official had to take the side of the ball moving because it looked like it did something, even though we may never know for sure what that something was.  Look at it again.  You have to magnify it so much to see anything happen that you have to ask yourself, really? 

And because Tiger has been in the news with rules issues several times this season, the 14th hole, TPC issue, again, it's all about the difference between cameras and reality.  If anybody's playing partner says it crossed the hazard at point X, that's the point you need to use.

"He asked me exactly where it crossed.  I told him I thought it crossed on the corner of the bunker right where he took his drop, and it's all good," Casey Wittenberg, Woods' playing companion said at the time.

According to Mark Russell, a rules official with the PGA Tour, the area looked different on TV, and Woods' drop was fine.  Mark Rolfing, NBC walking announcer with that group, concurred. Again, the television cameras made the decision on the course look wrong when it in fact it was correct.

The Masters, well, that was a perfect storm of violations and not just those of Tiger Woods, who apparently took a drop from the wrong location.  There aren't enough fingers on the average human body to point out who made errors in that one, it appears.

However, the actual drop that should have happened and didn't, according to the USGA explanation of the rules on water hazards are as follows:

There are two types – water hazards and lateral water hazards. By definition, a water hazard  (e.g., yellow stakes and/or lines) is any sea, lake, pond, river, ditch, surface drainage ditch or other open water course (whether or not containing water) and anything of a similar nature on the course. All ground and water within the margin of a water hazard are part of the water hazard. A lateral water hazard (e.g., red stakes and/or lines) is a water hazard or that part of the water hazard so situated that it is not possible, or is deemed by the Committee to be impractical, to drop a ball behind the water hazard in accordance with Rule 26-1b. 

If a player's ball comes to rest in a water hazard (yellow stakes and/or lines), the player has three options. The player may:

1. play the ball as it lies without penalty ( Rule 13-1); or under penalty of one stroke; 

2. play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or 

3. drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.

Refer to Decision 26-1/1.5 for an illustration of the meaning of “behind.” 

A question we get at Golf House on a regular basis is, “If my ball crossed over a water hazard (yellow stakes and/or lines) onto land and then rolls back in the hazard, where can I drop?  Can I drop on the green side of the water hazard?”  

First, a player may drop his ball in accordance with (2) and (3) above. Second, the green side of the water hazard is not behind the water hazard. If a ball last crossed the margin of a water hazard as described in the situation above, it appears that the ball crossed the margin of the hazard three times (e.g., first, the initial time it crossed; second, when it crossed over the hazard onto land; and third, when the ball rolled back into the hazard). So when the Rule states that the ball must be dropped “keeping the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is to be dropped,” it is referring to the third (final) time. It is the reference point for the 26-1b option only.

So had Tiger Woods played his penalty shot from slightly closer to his original spot, he would have been fine, although "as nearly as possible" could be subject to interpretation. A good attorney would have a field day with that. 

Again, on television, it looked like Woods played that shot from somewhere between a foot and two feet behind the original ball.  He said later it was a couple yards. Unless anyone was there and measured it, the real difference may never be known.  Somewhere between two feet, less than two yards, is the best we can do. 

But if Woods is correct on the distance, the cameras lied in terms of how far it looked.  The rules officials must also have thought it was two feet, because that's what it looked like on TV, and that's why there was no initial controversy.  So TV lied to them also. It was only when Woods said two yards that they got nervous.

That brings up other questions. Is two feet "as nearly as possible" or is two yards "as nearly as possible?"  Or does a specific distance have to be used?  Nearly as possible is not defined, and so in some regard, was Woods really wrong in his drop?  Lawyers would have a field day with that. Two yards is four feet different than two feet.  Is one any better or worse than the other? 

But the whole flap started because TV compressed the distance making it look like Woods' drop was closer to his original shot than he said it was.

So next time you see something happen on TV during a golf tournament and you are just sure it is a rules violation, take a breath.  The cameras may be lying to you.  Not on purpose, really, but they may not have the very best view, and they do distort and compress reality.

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.