January 28, 2011
In the last two weeks, professional golfers experienced at least two chances to second-guess whether wall-to-wall television coverage of their tournaments is such a great idea.
During the Sony Open event in Hawai’i, Camilo Villegas boogered his chip shot up a slope toward a green. As the ball rolled slowly back toward him, Villegas absent-mindedly stroked the turf with his club, in the same area where the ball eventually came to a stop.
A sharp-eyed TV viewer became sufficiently incensed that the folks officiating the tournament came to learn about the obviously inadvertent rules violation. Unfortunately, by the time they did, Villegas had already signed for what became an incorrect scorecard. That disqualified the popular South American touring pro.
Last week, Irish pro Padraig Harrington accidently brushed his golf ball as he retrieved his ball marker on the seventh green of the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi. Harrington felt that the ball hadn’t actually moved forward, however, and so he let it go.
Once again, however, a golf fan watching the tournament on television saw things differently, and called it in.
The fan was right, albeit to the most modest extent possible. As noted by Kevin Garside of the London Telegraph, “[t]he ball rolled about three dimples before falling back a dimple and a half.” In checking after Harrington signed his scorecard, the rules officials stared at the slow-motion replay for a while, before agreeing that Harrington’s original opinion about the ball’s eventual location was simply mistaken.
The three-time major winner was then disqualified.
As one might imagine, this and similar TV-based rules issues are causing a stir on the professional tours. While no one appears to be searching for ways to excuse the kinds of penalty strokes that Villegas and Harrington incurred, something just doesn’t seem right about having couch-bound golf fans calling in with their claims, and having such a huge impact on the competition.
Garside reported that the Royal & Ancient of Scotland folks are considering another way to respect the fact that the rules were violated, while taking into account the inevitable time-lag between detection and enforcement. For example, the penalty strokes could be counted, and the scorecards automatically adjusted, without further penalizing the golfers with disqualification for signing the incorrect scorecard.
That sounds like a rational revision. When the Golf Rules were first adopted, no one ever thought about television, or slow-motion photography, or how millions of eyes could be watching every golfer’s strokes.
That’s because there was no television, there were no cameras, and the onsite fans typically numbered in the hundreds, at most.
I don’t think anyone should seriously consider changes that would significantly affect one of the finer traditions of this game, in which honor and an adherence to the rules is respected.
Nonetheless, there should be a way to deal with good-faith differences of opinion about whether a rule was violated, without the draconian addition of a disqualification coming in the next day, due in part to the miracles of modern communications technology.
So how about if the ball marker doesn’t move the ball, and the ball moves anyway?
Ironically enough, a recent USGA Ruling of the Day addressed a related situation to that which befell Harrington.
A player replaces his golf ball in front of his ball marker on the putting green, without touching the marker. A gust of wind moves the ball closer to the hole, before the marker is removed.
According to the USGA, the golfer should not put his ball back in the still-marked spot. As they put it, “a ball is in play when it is replaced, whether or not the object used to mark its position has been removed.” Therefore, he should play the ball where it now lays—after removing the ball marker, of course.