Here’s a scenario for you. Imagine two NFL teams—let’s say the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots—in the final minute of a crucial, brutal game. Pittsburgh is up by a field goal, and is in victory formation, ready to kneel down and end the game. But an official steps into the camera’s view, opens his mic and speaks:
“Upon further review prompted by viewer comment, the Steelers committed a holding penalty on their third-quarter touchdown. That score is therefore nullified. Please reset the game score to Patriots 21, Steelers 17.”
Can you even imagine? Fans altering the flow of the game by calling in rules violations? The roof would tear off the stadium. Fans would seethe. Sports media hot-takers would have an entire buffet of injustices to dine out on for a month. And nobody, nobody would think it was fair.
And yet, that absurdity has been on the books, a legitimate option, in golf for years. Now, at long last, in the year 2017, golf’s governing bodies have finally seen the light: as of Jan. 1, viewers won’t be allowed to call in rules violations. A rules official will be on site to watch video broadcasts of the tournament, but the calls from whining, interfering viewers will go unanswered.
Not only that, players won’t get tagged with a two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard even if they didn’t know it was incorrect when they signed it. Sing hallelujah! Raise a toast to sheer freaking common sense!
Players have lost tournaments and paychecks from the interference, but golf always sidestepped the controversy by citing “tradition” and “rules,” the go-to excuses for avoiding meaningful change in the game. But the tipping point for this change came this past April, when LPGA player Lexi Thompson mismarked her ball in the third round of the ANA Inspiration. A viewer emailed the LPGA, and the next day, Thompson got hit with a four-stroke penalty, two for mismarking and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard. Oh, and she was told of her penalty between the 12th and 13th holes of the final round. Good luck on the back nine, Lexi!
Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes. Let's go @Lexi, win this thing anyway.
Thomspon lost to So Yeon Ryu in a playoff, and golf found itself on the receiving end of a deserved hailstorm of criticism. But somehow, someone finally figured out that nitpickery and punishments far out of scale to the original violation were not exactly the best ways to Grow The Game. At long last, sanity prevailed.
If you aren’t familiar with the arcane world of golf, the very idea of viewers altering tournaments from their couch seems like some kind of absurd joke. Wait, some dude can see something on his television, call the course, and get the player penalized? Yep. Exactly. Absurd, isn’t it?
How did we even get to this point? How could any rational mind even comprehend the idea that a viewer could be allowed to alter the outcome of an event thousands of miles away? Viewers with a burning need to Enforce The Rules exploited the flaws in golf’s longstanding codes of conduct, effectively turning the system against itself.
Golf traditionalists love the game, yes, but they prize three facets of that game even above talent: tradition, decorum and obedience to authority. Tradition is the leash that never lets golf stray too far from its origins, shackled to Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan even as the world moves a century past them. Decorum is the belief that golf is somehow a purer sport than all the rest, that a fist-pump or an actual expression of joy is unbecoming of this hallowed sporting event. And unquestioning obedience to authority is what governs all of golf; it’s why an 18-hole round can come apart just by signing an incorrect scorecard, why a gust of wind that rotates a ball a half-inch can cost a player a stroke, and why golf — until now — trusted the input of meddling viewers over and above the integrity its own players.
Technology helped fuel the rise of the Nanny Viewer; once you could see the dimples of a ball in HD, you could see if they twitched a millimeter when a player stepped on pine straw 20 feet away. Plus, television coverage is by nature unequal; you’ll see almost every one of Jordan Spieth’s shots, but Anonymous Tour Pro, in theory, could kick his ball into the cup and viewers would never know.
Anyway, we’re through once and for all with these whiny tattletales. With all due respect to the fine viewers of golf who have too much time on their hands and too much of a need to jam themselves into the narrative, there’s no more need for you busybodies. Take your griping to your homeowners’ associations, fellas. Leave the game to people who actually enjoy it.
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