Viewers as Rule Hawks are Bad for the Game

Two weekends ago, at the first LPGA major of the year, Lexi Thompson was penalized four strokes on Sunday for what happened on Saturday.  Specifically, she marked her ball on a green, but replaced it in a different spot and played from there.  A television viewer noticed this and emailed the PGA Tour the following day to let them know.  The rules officials reviewed the tape, found that she did place her ball errantly, and knocked her with a 2-stroke penalty.  Then, because all of this happened the day before, her Saturday scorecard that she signed was now incorrect, which was another 2-stroke penalty.  (Note that a few years ago, signing an incorrect scorecard was a disqualification.)

This past weekend, at the Masters, much was made over a claim that Sergio Garcia’s ball moved on the pine straw, a claim which required the official rules people to watch and rewatch a close up of the ball.  Unlike Thompson, the PGA disagreed with the claim and did not penalize Garcia.

Two things are wrong here, and here are solutions:

Do Not Listen to John Q Public

We appreciate that golfers are passionate about rules.  However, are they more passionate than fans of baskeball, baseball, football, hockey, soccer, rugby, or cricket?  Certainly not, and in no other professional sport do we invite a couch surfer to act as referee.  Can you imagine what the response would be if a viewer called the NFL because of a missed pass interference call?  Right.  The NFL would hang up the phone…even if the caller was right.  These sports have referees and rules people at the event.  Likewise, every PGA tournament should have a rules person watching every camera feed, and each group should have at least one rules official with them.  On top of it, each player is to keep an eye not only on their own management of the rules, but also of their opponents’ rules adherence.  But let the rulings be made by professionals in real time.

Make the End of the Round the End of the Round

Back to the Thompson scenario, the infraction on Saturday was realized on Sunday and enforced on Sunday — as if it had been enforced on Saturday (therefore the penalty for signing for the wrong score).   However, if the infraction had occurred on Sunday (assuming it was the last round of the tournament), and it was discovered on Monday, what would have happened?  Absolutely nothing.  Once the tournament is over, the scores are final and no adjustments are made.  If Lexi Thompson had made her error on Sunday, she would have the trophy on her mantle.  A way to approach this is to have each round stand on its own.  Once the round is over and the scorecards are signed and accepted, which would now include a rules official to indicate they are satisfied with the scores, the scores are final and cannot be adjusted.

But the Integrity of the Game is Critical

Yes, we agree.  This does not make the game less honest.  In fact, it places the responsibility for rules and enforcement right where it should be…on the players and on the PGA Tour.

A Note on the New USGA Rules

The USGA recently issued proposed new rules, and unfortunately none of these rules would have addressed these situations.

What Do You Think?

We’d like to hear from you.  Do you think call-ins are good for the game?  Why or why not?  Drop a comment in here, or tweet us at @GolfRulesPro or on Facebook at GolfRulesPro.

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