Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
A Swede, a Columbian and an Irishman walk into a scoring trailer…
Never mind, you definitely know the punch line and we’ve all heard this one too often.
Peter Hanson was stung by a one-stroke penalty in 2010 at Majorca when a super slow motion camera caught the sole of his wedge double-hit the ball. The evidence was indisputable; only, Hanson didn’t even know it happened as the ball rebounded in the mere fraction of a second off the flange of the wedge. Has this ever happened before? You can by 100% certain it has, only until the advent of such digital technology, none of us knew it was happening, most notably, the players. To Hanson’s credit, after the assessment of the one-stroke penalty under Rule 14-4 (“If a player’s club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, the player must count the stroke and add a penalty stroke, making two strokes in all”) he would go on to birdie the 15th and 17th Holes to put him back at the top of the leaderboard and to eventually go on to win the event in a playoff over Alejandro Canizares.
Hanson was balanced in his response, composure you could imagine him having given that he won the event: “It looks strange, but of course it was a double-hit. Sometimes it’s good to have these fantastic cameras and sometimes it’s bad – but it was fair.”
At the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Camillo Villegas was done in when he violated Rule 23-1 (“…When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed”), when he swatted away a divot that could have impacted the ball’s path while playing a shot to the 15th green. Only a viewer called in this rules infraction after the conclusion of play, so Villegas was DQ’ed the following day for signing an incorrect scorecard (the penalty is two strokes).
At the time, PGA Tour rules officials expressed regret over the course of action they were required to take, “Anytime a call comes in, we’ve always gone on it, I have to react. That’s my job. That’s what the game is all about — if you break a rule, it’s all about the penalty. The sad thing is if the call comes in after the fact. Why didn’t you call in earlier so at least you can save the guy from disqualification?” said Jon Brendle (Source: PGATOUR.com)
In fairness, why wasn’t the infraction caught earlier? If a rule is a rule, isn’t it a better fitting of the crime with the punishment that a player receive a two-stroke penalty than to be disqualified after the conclusion of play?
Pádraig Harrington’s ethics are beyond reproach, as accounted by multiple players over many years, yet the Dubliner had his own share of misfortune at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Championship when he inadvertently moved his ball a dimple or so (violation of Rule 20-3, “…The ball must be placed on the spot from which it was lifted or moved…”). Like Villegas, his fate was not sealed by the incident of the initial penalty, but due to the fact that he did not know the violation had occurred, he finished his round, signed his scorecard, only to find out later that by executing his name, it lead to his execution from the tournament (violation of Rule 6-6d, disqualification for signing for a lower score than what one really shot). A DQ for signing an incorrect scorecard that at the time he thought was correct.
In the case of this bloodletting, golf’s governing bodies announced a “new interpretation” of this rule in April of last year. Now, a player can be assessed with the appropriate penalty, even after he or she has signed their scorecard, if the rule they breached was “…because of facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his score card…”. This revision giving cause for one to believe that reason can be employed when otherwise a gapping inequity is found lurking in golf’s voluminous rulebook. However, the even broader question remains as to how many rules officials players are subject to placate? Harrington’s infraction was brought to light by a viewer who emailed the European Tour (given how many events are shown taped delayed or re-aired later in the day, it would seem that most professional golfers should sleep with one eye opened, you know, just in case).
Just like Hanson and Villegas, Harrington said all the right things in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Harrington was equally as patient when at the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship when after posting a score of 68, tied for 9th on -10, Harrington and playing competitor Phil Mickelson were forced to revisit the 13th tee because a spectator alleged that Harrington had played his tee shot in front of the markers (I was assigned to their group that day, doing our on-course play-by-play and I did not see a violation of any kind).
Phil Mickelson quickly (and rightfully) came to Pádraig’s defense, saying, “it’s things like this that as a player you don’t ever want any calls under question because you value your integrity more than anything. And Pádraig has more integrity than anybody out here. The fact that one person would say something, I don’t ever want that to come into question because he’s constantly checking to make sure he’s playing by all the rules. I remember watching him move the ball back, and he checked it. I’m fine with it . . .it’s not an issue; Pádraig is one of the most honorable guys we have on tour.”
To Pádraig’s credit, this incident may have been one too far, noting, “…it really would be a question of being a martyr if I took a penalty. I’ve done that before but this was just inconclusive . .players know what’s happening out on the golf course, caddies know what’s happening . . in that situation, there was no reason for concern at the time.”
Hmm, there’s a novel idea, players, caddies, competitors and rules officials monitoring and protecting the integrity of the field by watching themselves and each other? How about we give that a try?
Nobody is advocating that the rules of golf should not be enforced. If a violation of the rules takes place, a player should pay the price for either their overt act or ignorance. Viewers, emailers, spectators, bloggers, social media mavens and anyone else are free to enjoy the competition, but if you notice a rules infraction and it is not otherwise called, caught or pointed out by those directly involved, then do the same as you would when decrying the blind officiating while watching your favorite football team. In other words, complain all you want, but unless you are part of the competition, you are not a part of it, period.
As to who is to blame for all of this, there is plenty of that to go around. Can you blame the viewers for using a power they were permitted to have, even encouraged to use, given the examples above (and many, many more, Paul Azinger, Julie Inster and most recently, Peter Whiteford at the Avantha Masters)? What about the rules officials from the various world tours? At the time of Villegas’ disqualification the question was asked why there is not a rules official (or multiple officials) specifically assigned to monitor the television broadcast, meaning that if Fred in Des Moines can flag a violation of the rules, why can’t an expert on site that can take action before a player gets the red card?
“You’re taking a guy off the golf course to watch something for three hours that never happens,” said Slugger White, PGA Tour Vice President of Rules at the time of Villegas’ DQ. “How many times does this happen?”
Maybe once is one time too many.