COMMENTARY | Golf is the only professional sport in the world that affords fans a say in the officiating of a competition. Armchair referees are free to call in and voice their concerns over a ruling - or lack thereof - and actually affect a player's score.
As many of the top players in the game convened in Ponte Vedra Beach at the Players Championship, the flagship event of the PGA Tour, for the first time since the Masters a hot topic of conversation was the ability of everyday golf fans to call in rules violations.
The topic was breached mainly because the game's No. 1-ranked player, Tiger Woods, was the recipient of one such call-in violation during the second round of the Masters.
Woods, who was making a back-nine charge into contention on Friday at Augusta National, caught a bad break when his approach shot from the par-5 15th fairway ricocheted off the flagstick and back into the pond guarding the front of the green.
Employing USGA Rule 26-1a, Woods was to replay his next shot from "as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played."
In real time, the shock of the bad break coupled with questions about how the penalty would affect Woods' chances at dawning his fifth green jacket overshadowed the application of the rule.
It took a fellow professional to notice the infraction Woods had committed and even still, the rules committee at Augusta National did not deem it worthy of a penalty.
Now that we know the outcome - Woods was docked a two-shot penalty for not dropping "as nearly as possible," but not disqualified under Rule 33-7- the debate has turned to suspicion about the legitimacy of an outside agent affecting the outcome of a major tournament.
With three weeks off to let the ruling settle in, Woods, among others, was asked about the legitimacy of fans calling in rules violations that they see from their living rooms.
"I don't ever see myself calling in and saying that Kobe (Bryant) traveled, or things like that, that an offensive lineman held, but it's our sport, and that's what we've done and we've accepted," Woods said. "Certain groups are going to get more heat than others just because they're on TV. It is what it is."
What has been "accepted" is different that what is right, however. Unfortunately, there are different schools of thought on this issue concerning its legality and place in the sport.
The fact of the matter is, as spectators, we have no place in the officiating of the sport. The protection of the field is the duty of each competitor's playing partners and the officials on site.
The glorification of the rules and the integrity of every player being directly associated with his adherence to them is presumptuous. Very few, if any, believed Woods was purposely trying to take advantage of the rules to gain an advantage on the field.
It is true that Woods stated in a post-round interview that he moved back from the original spot his first shot was struck in order to have a better look at the hole, but to admit so publicly ensures that no intent of gaining an advantage was evident.
The precedent has been set, sadly, and the implementation of viewer-spotted penalties will only encourage those who sit with their rule books while watching a tournament to call in any possible infraction.
Undoubtedly, the armchair officials see themselves as protectors of the game and upholders of the rules, but the fact remains that it is not their place to officiate a game in which the officials are supposed the competitors themselves. What makes golf so attractive to so many is the insistence that gentlemen and women play the game to the letter of the law.
If we lose our trust in our players, we lose trust in the game. Up to this point and with very few exceptions, professional golfers have proven to be honorable. It is up to the players, their playing partners and the rules officials on the ground to uphold these rules, not some guy in a La-Z-Boy.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple platforms including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com and The Clermont (OH) Sun. Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods