This article appeared in the Fall Edition of Momentum Pro.
GolfTEC Vice President of Instruction and Education
I was watching a great football game last weekend when suddenly the referee stopped the game to take a phone call from a fan. The fan was viewing the game in Florida and thought the referee missed a call. The delay only took a couple minutes as the Armchair Umpire explained the rule to the referee via cell phone. Shortly after the conversation ended, the referee turned on his microphone to say, “After further review from Bob in Florida, we are going to overturn the last touchdown.” Certainly this would never happen…or would it?
Events just like this have become too commonplace on the PGA and LPGA TOURs. In 1991 at the Doral Ryder Open, a fan from Colorado called Rules Officials to disqualify Paul Azinger after he shot a 65 in the second round. During the first round when Azinger was playing out of the water, he had apparently pawed the ground with his foot and moved a pebble out of the way. Azinger was only a stroke out of the lead. At the 1998 NEC World Series of Golf, a viewer called the Officials to disqualify Lee Janzen for a violation of Rule 16-2, which is waiting too long for a putt to drop in the hole. The disqualification nearly cost Janzen a spot on the President’s Cup team.
According to the PGA, during the Majors each group will have a Rules Official. However, in normal TOUR events they have seven or eight Rules Officials on course at any given time. Ultimately, PGA/LPGA TOUR Rules Officials are there to make the calls. We don’t need Armchair Umpires jumping in the game. I have two suggestions to help Rules Officials make efficient and correct rules decisions.
I am a huge fan of instant replay! We should utilize technology to make sure that a bad call doesn’t determine the outcome of ANY game. Football has outrun other sports with the use of instant replay but hockey, basketball, rugby, cricket and even rodeo all use instant replay. Golf uses instant replay for some calls but it is implemented more in a “get it right” capacity. “Effectively, we have instant replay,” David Feherty of CBS Golf said. “But if something didn’t make our air, hopefully it’s not relevant to the result of a tournament.” Hopefully?
If the tournament official watching the camera feed isn’t seeing all the players, golf’s use of instant replay is hardly fair. The officials should be watching live video feeds of all players on the course, not just the golfers who are scoring well that day. This could be easily implemented by simply stationing an official with the executive producer, who sees all the camera feeds from around the course at any given time.
An Official for Every Group
Another possible solution to prevent Armchair Umpire is to increase the number of officials on course at every event. If the official watching the video misses an infraction and the official with the group misses it as well, then what’s done is done. Fans shouldn’t be picking up the slack. Juli Inkster might have been the oldest LPGA TOUR winner if the viewer who called in would have left the call to the officials.
The honor and honesty required of golfers who call their own penalties is rare in the modern world of sports. Players are still essentially responsible for upholding and playing by the rules. Countless times over the years players have called penalties on themselves. Golf professionals and professional golfers almost always act with integrity and never intentionally break the rules. Take Jeff Sluman at the 1996 Bay Hill Invitational who returned to the scene of a water hazard where he felt his drop area could have been incorrect from the day before. After deciding it was wrong, he disqualified himself. When was the last time you saw an offensive lineman in the NFL walk up to the referee and tell him that he was holding during the last play?