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Should TV Viewers Be Allowed to Call In Rules Violations?

A PGA of America rules official chats with Dustin Johnson (R) during the final round of the 92nd PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, on August 15, 2010.

The response to the the recent rules infractions involving Dustin Johnson and Julie Inkster has ranged from gratitude to outrage. Many golf think that viewers at home should not be able to call rules violations on players they see on television. I say, if a rule is broken, why should it matter who reports it? Rules are made to protect the players and the integrity of the game, and they should be enforced in any way possible. “No other sport allows fans to call in violations on competitors!” I’ve heard that cry a lot lately. Golf is unique, and the comparison to other sports falls flat here. As Jim Achenbach said in his recent Golfweek Magazine column, “Golf, out of necessity, needs a far-reaching set of rules. The game has no standard field, court or arena. It is played in the midst of nature and all of its unpredictable elements.” Other sports have several referees, policing every play in a limited space where all activity is easily seen. In professional golf, one of very few officials has to be summoned by a player to make a visit to the scene of a particular shot, in order to give a ruling. Therefore, golfers are expected to play honorably within the rules of the game and to call penalties on themselves when they break a rule. If a golfer neglects to penalize himself out of ignorance or for any reason, it is anyone’s obligation to report the infraction. The existence of potential whistle-blowers on the couch at home is further incentive for players to uphold the rules. After all, who wants the embarrassment of getting nailed by a fan?

Ignorance of the Rules Doesn’t Exempt You

Should the PGA have let Dustin Johnson’s club-grounding-in-bunker mistake slide, because it was so innocent? What about Craig Stadler, who suffered disqualification in the famous incident where a viewer reported him to be illegally kneeling on a towel to hit a shot? Here’s a look at other infamous rule breakers. Ignorance of the rules doesn’t exempt anyone. It’s the responsibility of the players to know the Rules of Golf, and to read all notices of local rules that are provided before competition begins. In Jule Inkster’s case, where she took practice swings during a delay with a weighted device on her club, I have two opinions: I’m surprised that a veteran of her standing and longevity made that error. However, I also think that disqualification is too severe a penalty in this case. A one or two shot penalty seems more appropriate to the infraction. Has a fan’s call ever helped a player? A PGA Tour player once hit his ball across a lake and it disappeared into tall grass. Officials searched unsuccessfully for the ball, and the player prepared to take a drop from the hazard and suffer a penalty. But a fan who was at the opposite side of the lake when the shot was hit, saw where the ball had landed and called the Tournament office. The Tournament office patched the fan through to the official, the fan’s directions helped them locate the ball and the player was able to play the shot out safely. What a great result from an attentive viewer! Lastly, the fan who calls in a rules violation is helping to avoid a potentially disastrous situation when the tournament ends. How would Johnson or Inkster feel if they won, but the infraction was discovered in subsequent reviews of play, forcing them to return their trophy? Better to suffer a penalty while still playing than to have the trophy snatched away, I think. Either way, know the Rules of Golf! You never know who’s watching for an infraction.

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