- Out of Bounds
Golf's uneasy relationship with armchair rules officials
Lee Trevino was working as a TV analyst for US television channel NBC years ago at Torrey Pines when Craig Stadler put a towel beneath his knees and played a shot out from under some trees.
It never occurred to the Merry Mex - a six-time major champion - that Stadler was breaking a rule during the 1987 tournament in Torrey Pines, the one that has to do with building a stance.
After all, Stadler could have put rain pants on to avoid the dirt and wet ground. But putting a towel down was a rules violation.
"It went right by me,'' Trevino said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "Somebody called in the next day, said he had put a towel down on the 14th hole. He was playing the course and he was under par but was told there had been a rules infraction the previous day. A two-shot penalty. But he was being disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard."
Make no mistake, Trevino, 73, has no problem with fans calling in rules violations, as has happened in two high-profile instances recently. He welcomes it. Trevino simply feels it shouldn't lead to a disqualification if the scorecard is already signed.
And that is where all the controversy came last month at the Masters, where Tiger Woods took an illegal drop that was spotted by a television viewer - who happened to be David Eger, a Champions Tour player and former rules official for the PGA Tour and USGA.
Eger alerted Augusta National rules officials, and they determined no breach had occurred - only to change their minds after Woods said in media interviews that he had dropped in a different spot. At this point, Woods had signed his card, meaning a DQ was in order - except the Masters ruled that it was due to their error in not discussing the matter with him. Woods was given a two-shot penalty, but spared disqualification.
At the Wells Fargo Championship on Friday, Sergio Garcia was questioned because a viewer felt he had marked his ball improperly on the 17th green at Quail Hollow. After a long review, Garcia was not assessed a penalty.
All of which leads to talk as to why the PGA Tour - or any golf body - allows these calls in the first place.
"How do you put a limit on it when you've got thousands of spectators, marshals inside the ropes, ShotLink people in towers … there are eyes everywhere?'' said Steve Rintoul, a former PGA Tour player and a longtime rules official who worked at Quail Hollow last week.
"When a player does something, it's public knowledge. It's not a personal matter. It's part of the competition. Whatever information you can get can only help the player.''
The Rules of Golf are very broad when it comes to accepting information regarding rules violations. But there is specific language in one of the Decisions which addresses outsiders offering assistance, under Rule 27 (Decision 12).
"Testimony of those who are not a part of the competition, including spectators, must be accepted and evaluated. It is also appropriate to use television footage and the like to assist in resolving doubt.''
That doesn't mean everyone likes it.
"At some point you have to draw a line and stop it," Brandt Snedeker said. "I don't know where that is.. .. I don't think fans should be able to call in and dictate the outcome of a tournament.''
Woods joked Wednesday that he doesn't call in when basketball star Kobe Bryant travels or when an offensive lineman commits an undetected holding penalty in the NFL.
And yet, he acknowledged this is part of the game he plays.
"It's been happening for years,'' Woods said. "It's nothing new.''
Watson said at the Masters that some players have more television coverage than others, meaning they are scrutinised more.
"The sad thing is the high-profile player gets the camera on him at all times,'' Watson said. "A guy could break a rule and not know he broke the rule …
"I could have broke a rule, not knowing I broke a rule, not trying to break a rule, and then somebody could call in or say this or say that.
"But I can get away with it today, because I don't have a camera on me? So when somebody calls in like that, yeah, it shouldn't be that way, it shouldn't be allowed. Nobody calls in during a basketball game or a football game.''
To which a rules guru has an answer.
"There will always be advantages and disadvantages to playing in front of a lot of spectators and in front of a television audience, and it would be unwise to attempt to write the rules to take this fact into account,'' said John Morrissette, former USGA director for rules. "For example, spectators might shelter a player from wind (which could be good or bad), the spectators will generate more noise and distraction, the spectators could help contain wayward shots.
"And spectators or television viewers might observes rules breaches - and their doing so could prevent or lead to a penalty.''
The PGA Tour, in theory, could simply not allow viewers to call in. But that would be going against the Rules of Golf, something the tour has never done.
Both the USGA and R&A, the game's rules-making bodies, have been studying the rules as they relate to scorecard disqualification, and there are some who believe this could one day be amended. Perhaps penalty strokes could be added despite the scorecard being signed.
"The world has changed,'' said Davis Love III, the 2012 US Ryder Cup captain. "It used to be three holes at the end of a tournament (were televised) and you could barely see the golfers in black and white. Now you see every little thing that happens, and they cover some guys and they don't cover others. It's tough.
"But I think if a rule is broken, no matter how you find out about it, it's good for the game. It's protecting the field.''
And Trevino, who would also love to see the disqualification rule changes, concurs.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I think the fans are part of it,'' he said. "I don't think you can do that in anything but golf. You've got to sign a scorecard.
"In football and basketball, those are reaction sports, and it's hard to add penalties well after the fact. But in golf, I don't think there's anything wrong with it. But I don't like the word "disqualification' if there is a rules infraction.
"The one great thing about golf is there is tremendous amount of responsibility and integrity and integrity. And we police ourselves. If I break a rule and don't know it, I don't care if it's the next day, I should have the ability to correct it. Put the two shots and let's play.''