PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem went on the record earlier this week regarding players being penalized by fan phone-ins while watching television coverage. Finchem, while not taking an official stance on the practice, did encourage more calls of this kind in order to further enforce rules during tournaments. In doing so, the Commissioner has compromised the integrity of the game and is jeopardizing the tradition of golf itself.
At the Hyundai Tournament of Champions earlier this season, Camilo Villegas was playing a pitch to an elevated green around 15–20 yards away from him—it was his second attempt at the same shot. The ball would fail to make it to the top of the hill and begin to roll back to Villegas.
In obvious disgust, Villegas would take the divot created by his swing and toss it away as the ball rolled back towards him—an obvious violation of Rule 23-1 (USGA Rule 23-1 states that a “loose impediment” cannot be removed that will affect the movement of the ball while the ball is in motion.)
However, this infraction was not noticed by the rules official following the group nor by Villegas himself. He would finish out the hole and his first round of the tournament. However, his round was not over. Fans began contacting the PGA Tour (some via twitter) advising them of this rules violation, and the PGA subsequently concurred. When Villegas arrived at the course on Friday he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Just two weeks later, European tour mainstay Padraig Harrington would suffer the same plight as Villegas for a different rule violation.
Harrington was removing his marker from his ball on a putting green during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. As he did, the ball would move a small distance (three dimples according to hawk-eyed television talking heads) therefore subjecting him to a two-stroke penalty for not replacing the ball.
Harrington contended he thought the ball rolled back into its original position, but TV screens showed otherwise. Slow-motion, high-definition replays showed this was not the case thus subjecting Harrington to a penalty after he signed his now incorrect scorecard—like Villegas he was disqualified from the tournament.
We forgive Mr. Harrington for forgetting to wear his high-definition goggles that previous morning.
Even before the Harrington incident, debate had already begun about allowing this type of refereeing. No real official stance was taken by the PGA, but the opinion consensus was there. Most did not want to see post-round, television replay officiating affecting the ultimate outcome of golf tournaments.
However, it is clear Finchem feels otherwise and it seems difficult to even imagine why?
Golf has always celebrated itself as a gentleman’s sport where players—if they were to commit an infraction—would openly call penalties on themselves, not relying on referees or umpires to do so. While touring professionals have the luxury of rules officials in every group, the burden still falls upon the playing group to enforce the regulations of the game.
Wouldn't Finchem be more inclined to defend the institution of Golf as opposed to turning tournament officiating over to the masses?
Which raises the next question, would golf officials call penalties on players that are sighted by the announcers or on-course reporters?
Would Ed Hochuli throw a flag three plays later after John Gruden suggests he might have missed a call?
Would Joe West change a strike to a ball if Tim McCarver finally gets around to the point two days later that the pitch was outside?
Even after extensive questioning from Fehrety and Co. last August, PGA rules officials decided to place a guilt trip on Dustin Johnson after the 18th hole at Whistling Straits that he grounded his club in a bunker; that might has well been used as a pet rest area it was that far away from the course. Now the PGA is going to set a precedent that fans and bloggers alike can buy their own striped shirts and blow whistles on twitter?
While all major and most minor sports (including tennis who utilizes technology to the fullest extent) have embraced video replay; Golf is deciding to be the lone ranger in enabling DVR-armed home viewers their say every time Tiger, Phil and the rest step into a water hazard.
Finchem, who has ignored the majority in the past (see: caddies wearing shorts), is trailing a similar path this time around and now jeopardizes what has made the game a sacred ritual of competition since the days of Old Tom Morris.