If you are a true golf fan, then this past Thursday was the happiest day for you in a month and a half. The PGA Tour's 2011 season officially kicked off with the annual Hyundai Tournament of Champions from Kapalua, Hawaii.
To be qualified for this event, you must have been a winner of any PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament from the previous year. This year's event featured 33 winners. Phil Mickelson opted not to make the trip, though he was eligible.
After the first round, however, we found ourselves now down to just 32 golfers in a tournament that sees all competitors play all four rounds. Camilo Villegas was promptly disqualified after posting a first round 1 under par, 72.
The fact that Villegas got disqualified is not the main cog to the story, as getting disqualified for any sort of rules infraction is not completely uncommon. The interesting, or frustrating, aspect of this story is how Villegas was disqualified. It wasn't by the rules officials overseeing the tournament or those walking with Villegas.
He was in fact disqualified because a fan watching at home saw his error and promptly called Golf Network as well as the tour, who later reviewed the tape and disqualified Villegas.
So what happened? After hitting an approach shot on the 15th hole, Villegas failed to get his ball up the hill of the green. In turn, the ball started to roll right back at him. As the ball was rolling, Villegas swatted a piece of debris out of the way.
Now, if you are like millions of Saturday golfers, you wouldn't have given it a second thought, but if you are one of those seven-day-a-week golfers who studies the rule book during the evenings as if there were going to be a pop quiz on it, then you know that it is in fact an infraction.
According to the book, "When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed." The purpose of the rule is simple. Had the ball landed against whatever piece of debris it was, Villegas' next shot could have been more difficult, but by moving the object, he made his shot easier.
Had the error been noticed sooner, Villegas would have been assessed a two-shot penalty. As it was, the penalty was never recorded on his scorecard, thus Villegas signed an incorrect card, which calls for an automatic disqualification.
So, now that we are all up to speed on that particular, here lies the problem. Is it fair that a golfer gets penalized for something well after the fact? And furthermore, is it fair that a golfer get penalized if none of the rules officials at the tournament notice and instead have to rely on viewers watching television at home?
The answer to both questions is a simple "no." It is not fair, and the PGA Tour should not allow it. In no other sport can a fan call in to the league and alter the outcome of a game, but yet that is what happened Thursday afternoon.
And the worst part is it isn't the first time that viewers at home have gotten a golfer disqualified. Craig Stadler, Paul Azinger and Juli Inkster have all lost paychecks because Tom Nobody at home on his sofa spotted something that paid officials missed, and felt that it was his civic duty to report it.
But wait, there is still more unfairness to go around. When watching a tournament on TV, during the course of the broadcast only a select few players are actually being shown. So that means the more you are on TV, meaning the closer to the lead that you are, the more opportunity there is for you to get penalized by the general viewing public.
So, one more time, I will ask, is it fair that we as viewers only have a handful of golfers to monitor and watch over, whereas the rest of the field remains shielded from the general viewing public? And once again, the answer is no, it is not fair.
Plain and simple, I think that if the rules officials on site miss a call, then that should be it. You move on to the next shot and whatever happens from that point is fair game. It is no different than any other sport. If the referee misses a penalty, the game goes on, and there is no going back and changing the ruling well after the fact.
So Camilo Villegas will have to wait another week before collecting his first paycheck of the new year. But let this situation be a lesson to all of you watching golf this year.
If you make an effort and study those rule books, thanks to the PGA and their leniency towards letting fans officiate their tournaments, you too can still make an impact on the PGA Tour this season.