August 22, 2010
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Juli Inkster is a legend on the LPGA Tour, a Hall of Famer and a seven-time major winner. But golf is a game of rules, and even the greatest must bow before them, like it or not.
Inkster was disqualified from the Safeway Classic on Saturday afternoon for a rules violation, but that's not the real story. The more interesting element is how she was caught.
First, the story. Inkster was playing well -- just three strokes behind leader Ai Miyazato -- when she hit a traffic jam on the 10th hole of the Pumpkin Ridge course. With a 30-minute wait stretching out before her, she attached a small "doughnut" weight to her nine-iron and swung to stay loose, much like a batter in the on-deck circle.
However, unlike a batter in the on-deck circle, a golfer can't use a weight like that during competition; it's illegal to use a training aid during play. And so Inkster was disqualified once she finished her round.
[Photos: More of LPGA star Juli Inkster]
But here's the kicker: the LPGA found out thanks to a tip from a keen-eyed television viewer. This oh-so-helpful soul called tournament officials, and after consultation with the United States Golf Association, the LPGA decided that Inkster had to go.
"The rules staff here made the decision on the rule and we took it one step further and called the USGA," LPGA Director of Tournament Competition Sue Witters told the AP. "We would have loved to have some wiggle room on that. But it's pretty cut and dried. Being the professional she is, there wasn't much to say once the decision was read."
Inkster, obviously, was surprised, and issued a short statement. "I had a 30-minute wait and I needed to loosen up," she said. "Ithad no effect on my game whatsoever, but it is what it is. I'm verydisappointed."
It's not the first time television viewers have injected themselves into golf tournaments with dramatic effects. In 1987, Craig Stadler was booted from a tournament after a viewer called to complain that Stadler's use of a towel to protect his knees while kneeling for a particularly awkward shot was an illegal construction of a stance; he'd finished second in the tournament but got nothing. And in 1991 at the Doral Ryder Open, a viewer ratted out Paul Azinger for moving a loose stone as he took a stance to hit a ball out of shallow water; moving loose impediments in a hazard is illegal, and Azinger got yanked from the tournament.
There are a few takeaways from this latest incident. First, obviously someone's watching the LPGA on TV, so that's good news. Second, whether or not you think that Mr. (or Ms.) Narc-on-the-couch was preserving the tradition of honor in golf or meddling where they didn't belong, you've got to hand it to the game for taking fans' complaints seriously. I can think of a few million baseball fans who'd love to have the power to overturn an egregious miscarriage of rules like the one that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game earlier this year.
If Inkster violated the rules, she deserves disqualification. As a Hall of Famer, she'd certainly agree with that. But as to how it came about, well -- you can imagine she's probably not exactly thrilled with a member of her viewing public right about now.
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