It happens a few times a year. Someone at home is watching a golf tournament, sees something that didn't look right, and phones it in to the tour. It happened to Juli Inkster last year, when a viewer called in because Inkster was using a swing weight during her round, eventually disqualifying her from the Safeway Classic.
It again happened on Thursday, when Camilo Villegas was struggling on the par-5 15th. As his second attempt at chipping up a hill failed, Villegas nonchalantly moved a divot out of his way. While it seemed like nothing at the time, it broke rule 23-1, and since Villegas signed his scorecard without acknowledging the penalty, he was disqualified from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
The viewer that "phoned in" on Villegas (he actually sent a Tweet to the tour and The Golf Channel) commented on a Dogs That Chase Cars article I wrote about the incident, saying that, "I actually never 'phoned in' to the PGA Tour. I sent one Tweet to the tour and one to Golf Channel saying that they might want to take a look at the video. I never heard back from the tour or the Golf Channel, so I can't say if they read my message or not.
"I still find it hard to believe that nobody in a position of authority saw the infraction when it happened or on the replay on TV."
Obviously this can go both ways. Is golf the only sport that this could ever happen in, when a viewer could see something nobody else notices and actually make a difference? Yes, there isn't a sport like it, and it adds a personal touch for the viewer and fan at home. Is it fair that golfers have millions of eyes on their every move, when they themselves might not know when they're doing something that could be deemed illegal? It doesn't seem like it.
The problem is, if Villegas had been called out when it happened, it would have been a two-stroke penalty. A tough but fair cost to Camilo, it would have allowed him to finish the tournament, collect a helpful check and start the season the right way.
While I don't blame the person that sent the Tweet at all (it is his right to do whatever he feels like doing, and he's just trying to be a good ambassador of the game), it does bring up something that should be changed; viewers should be allowed a voice, but it shouldn't be big enough to disqualify someone from a tournament.
Like I said over at Dogs, if a person isn't directly involved in the golf tournament, there should be amendments to the rules for when such a person becomes involved. Say I call in after Villegas finished his round to talk about the ruling, the situation can be reviewed, but a non-direct rules violation (me, not directly being in Hawaii to call him on it when it happens) should result in just the penalty, not being disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. The viewer, and nobody else around there, knew what happened, and if they did, they would have brought it up before that signature went on the card. When someone calls in, it should be a time sensitive deal (say, before the next round begins) and whatever penalty would have been assessed at the time should hold true.
With the improvement of the camera, and the coverage, this isn't going away anytime soon. The Rules of Golf, while ancient and tough to change, are lengthy, adding an addendum to make it easier for viewers to help out without ruining a player's week seems fair and necessary.