It all started a quarter of a century ago when Craig Stadler got down on his knees to propose hitting his golf ball from under a tree at the San Diego Open. There was one problem. Fashion plate that the Walrus was, and is, he did not want his pants to get dirty. So he spread a towel on the ground.
And the phone rang. Stadler had technically “built a stance.” And phones haven’t stopped ringing since as golf rules “officials” have moved off the course and into the family room.
Rarely, if ever, has it been bigger news than almost a month ago at the Masters when Tiger Woods was assessed a two-shot penalty, but not disqualified, for executing an improper drop.
Up until the point Adam Scott holed a dramatic putt at the 72nd hole and Angel Cabrera followed with his dead-solid-perfect approach shot to set up a playoff, won by Scott, Woods’ penalty was the story of the tournament at Augusta National.
Two days ago, the phone rang on Sergio Garcia at the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina. A viewer thought he had improperly marked his ball on a green. PGA Tour rules officials on site at Quail Hollow cleared him of an infraction but got an insightful response from Garcia, who had not yet signed his scorecard.
“If this is going to make anybody think I’m a cheater, I’d rather get a two-stroke penalty and move on,” Garcia said.
That likely was Garcia at his best, or perhaps he was taking a veiled shot at nemesis Woods, who ignored calls to withdraw at Augusta. It’s hard to know with Sergio.
In mid-March during an LPGA tournament in Arizona, Stacy Lewis was about to sign her scorecard for a 66 when she was told a viewer had called in to say her caddie had “tested the surface” of a bunker with his shoe before she had entered it to hit a shot.
Lewis and rules officials watched a replay, she agreed there had been an infraction, added a two-shot penalty, and signed for a 68. The Toledo native nonetheless went on to win the Founders Cup.
Only in golf can and does this happen. After the Woods incident, a reader e-mailed me and asked, tongue-in-cheek, whether there was someone he could call to get the decision reversed that cost former Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game in June, 2010.
No, it doesn’t work that way. If you think the Bears’ defensive end was offside on a key sack against the Lions last season, you can’t phone a friend and get a five-yard penalty assessed the next day. You think LeBron pushed off before burying that game-winning shot? Tough. Don’t reach for the phone. Nobody cares.
In golf they do care. In fact, the game almost welcomes the viewer oversight, although there is no remedy to the imbalance of some players, like Woods, having every act and shot scrutinized. Duffy Waldorf? Not so much.
“I don’t even know how these people get a number to call,” the 2012 Masters champion, Bubba Watson, said of viewers/callers after the Woods flap at Augusta. “They must have more time on their hands than I do, because I don’t know the number, and I’m playing in the golf tournament.”
It turns out two calls led to the Woods review. The first was a text message to an on-site rules official from David Eger, a former USGA and PGA Tour rules official, who was watching from his Florida home and felt Tiger had dropped improperly after his approach shot at No. 15 hit the flagstick and ricocheted across the green into a water hazard during the second round.
Masters officials reviewed the tape of Woods returning to the area of his original shot, thought the claim was nebulous, and decided to act no further, not even discussing the situation with Woods before he signed his card.
Later, a CBS-TV employee was reviewing tapes of postround interviews, heard Woods admit to doing exactly what Eger claimed, produced video footage to support it, and another call was made to tourney officials.
Woods was penalized two shots the next morning, but was spared disqualification by a fairly new rule that deals in part with video-related issues.
The fact Woods was so candid about what he did surely indicated he didn’t realize he was misinterpreting or misapplying a rule. The fact that some thought Tiger should nonetheless DQ himself indicated how seriously golf — as Garcia’s comment indicates — takes its position as a sport made up of honorable competitors who self-police and penalize themselves when rules are violated.
If they don’t do it adequately, then anyone who has a copy of the rule book and a telephone at hand can do it for them.
Only in golf.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.