LPGA Should Say No to Self-Appointed Rules Geeks
The LPGA will open its 2011 season next week. It’s an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and get a fresh start. It’s also an ideal opportunity for the LPGA Tour to take a stand on a matter that has been plaguing the sport in recent years, the issue of television viewers calling networks or one of the tours directly with reports of rules infractions.
Last year Juli Inkster was disqualified from the Safeway Classic for swinging a club with a weighted doughnut on it during a wait on one tee. Already this season Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington have been DQed from tournaments. In all three instances the disqualifications were handed down based on information called in by members of the television audience. That should not be allowed to happen, on the LPGA Tour or any other.
We’re not offering an opinion on whether the Rules of Golf should be changed, or whether disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard (with a lower total on it) is too severe a penalty. That’s for another column. Our point here is that television viewers have no legitimate role to play in the administration of a golf tournament, including and especially when it comes to rules enforcement.
Golf has always been predicated on the idea of the players policing themselves. There are rules officials on hand if necessary, but historically, contestants have been responsible for calling their own infractions, generally against themselves. The use of video replay is another element in the equation.
Nearly a quarter-century ago Craig Stadler was disqualified from what was then the Andy Williams Open (now the Farmers Insurance Open) for kneeling on a towel to play a shot from a bunker; the verdict was rendered following a phone call from a viewer. In the years since it’s become standard procedure to follow up on calls from viewers reporting rules violations. It’s a practice that needs to be eliminated, for a number of reasons.
One is that armchair rules junkies are not necessarily schooled in the Rules of Golf and the USGA’s Decisions Book. Another is that some players in the field, by virtue of their position on the tee sheet, the leaderboard, or simply their popularity, receive varying amount of television exposure and thus increased scrutiny.
Our biggest issue with all this however, is that those who call in to the LPGA Tour or a TV network may be something other than unbiased observers. Is the person viewer calling in about Ms. Par taking an improper drop from a hazard concerned about justice and fair play? Or are they looking to find an edge for Ms. Birdie whom they played with in a pro-am the previous week. Or perhaps they have a grudge against Ms. Par who turned down their autograph request the year before. Or perhaps they might have a financial stake in a particular player winning, or posting a top-10 finish. Allowing viewers to in effect serve as rules officials makes as much sense as allowing NFL officials who have the week off to phone in penalty calls in the Super Bowl.
We’re not suggesting that the advantages of video technology be discounted. We have no problem with rules officials assigned by the LPGA and who are on site at a tournament reviewing network video feeds to investigate possible rules violations. We’d be fine with having an official watching each telecast so a difficult situation can be sorted out before a player signs her scorecard. But viewers who call in demanding justice (or vengeance) for or against a particular player should hear nothing but the sound of silence at the other end of the line.
The author has more than four decades of experience officiating baseball, softball, basketball, and football.Written by Rick Woelfel
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