Score a victory for common sense.
It was announced Monday that beginning in 2018, golf’s major professional tours will no longer allow viewer call-ins to dictate potential rules violations captured on television broadcasts.
This is a triumph for the purists, for fans of the game who never believed the intricacies of the rule book should be enforced and litigated in the aftermath of such activity — and certainly not from a couch potato with a remote control in one hand and a phone dialing some clandestine number in the other.
This is a win for those who witnessed Tiger Woods’ post-round “witch hunt” at the 2013 Masters or Lexi Thompson’s called-in penalty at this year’s ANA Inspiration and felt queasy about the eventual result. After all, try calling in an NFL pass interference penalty or an NBA traveling violation from the comforts of home. Your opinion will be treated to nothing more than a lusty dial tone.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) December 11, 2017
Ostensibly, golf will now feature a similar lack of democracy, with on-site video officials charged with serving as the last line of defense in protecting the rules.
The worst part of the previous system wasn’t even the fact that random fans could adversely impact the very proceedings taking place inside a box mounted to their living room walls. It was that this was never a level playing field. Until the time when every golfer’s entire round was beamed live to spectators around the globe, this was always going to affect those being shown on camera more than their less visible counterparts.
Or perhaps more importantly: It was always going to impact a Sunday afternoon contender more than a Thursday morning competitor.
Just eight months ago, Thompson was nabbed by the gotcha-police when she was found to have improperly marked her ball on the green. She lost two strokes due to the violation, another two for signing an incorrect scorecard and wound up losing that major championship.
On Monday, she took to Twitter to address the revised rule: “I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf. In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”
It’s safe to say that Thompson’s result wasn’t the sole rationale for this decision, but golf’s powers-that-be should be commended for realizing that it was a perilous final straw.
“All involved with administering the game are concerned with the impact that these types of rulings were continuing to have,” explained Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director for rules of golf and amateur status. “[The] new set of video-review protocols are not a direct result of the Lexi Thompson ruling, but it is safe to say that it was the last of several similar rulings that highlighted the need to act quickly on the matter.”
The genesis of viewer call-ins dates to the 1987 Andy Williams Open, in the landmark case of Craig Stadler vs. Building A Stance. In contention during the third round at Torrey Pines, the man known as the Walrus was forced to play a shot on his knees from under a tree. He placed a towel on the ground, later explaining, “I didn’t want to finish the round looking like a gardener.” One day later, a viewer called in from Iowa to point out the transgression. Since he’d already signed the card, a share of second place was deemed a disqualification.
Since then, golf’s caretakers have endured three decades of allowing unaffected observers to affect potential outcomes. All of which is why Monday’s announcement is being hailed as a celebration of the game’s long-awaited realization that self-enforcement beats citizen arrests.
Of course, like any unanimous call to action, the notable pros instantly outweigh the inscrutable cons. They do exist, though. Just wait until the first time a professional golfer unknowingly commits a violation that isn’t captured by the on-site video official, either. It won’t take long before the social-media masses raise their figurative pitchforks, wondering why their voices can no longer be heard.
That day might come, but for now, the celebration continues.
Too often, golf tournaments have been decided on something less than rational thinking. Common sense has prevailed in this match, even if it was long overdue.