The Tiger Rules!
After four infractions in 2013, it's time for the tours to monitor television broadcasts and step in before rulings erupt into major controversies
I thought the fascination with Tiger Woods' 2013 rules incidents would have died down by now. But Rules of Golf educators should be happy. More golfers understand the following: (1) The Local Rule for an embedded ball doesn't apply for a ball embedded in sand off the fairway (Abu Dhabi HSBC). (2) "As nearly as possible" is a procedure measured in inches, not yards (the Masters). (3) Determining where a ball crosses a hazard margin can make a huge difference (the Players Championship). (4) Isaac Newton's Laws of Motion are usually accepted when a ball so much as twitches after a nearby loose impediment is touched or moved (BMW Championship).
Most perplexing was Tiger's failure—in all four tournaments—to seek a rules official in a timely manner. Apparently he was confident he knew how to proceed correctly. Woods' golf game has always been marked by his attention to detail. He understood that officials are present to assist the players in sorting through the rules—a code consisting of about 40,000 words, coupled with a 600-page question-and-answer interpretative manual. Tiger knew that an official, when called in to determine the proper spot on which to drop a ball, effectively takes ownership of the process, and that the player is off the hook for any errors.
What would have happened had Tiger called in an official at Abu Dhabi? The official would have looked at the depression and told Tiger, "It's sand." Tiger would have attempted to gouge out his embedded ball or declared it unplayable. No two-shot penalty.
Woods knows a rules official can save strokes, too. After all, in the final round of the 1999 Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, Tiger was the guy who had the presence of mind to confirm, from an official, that a boulder weighing almost a ton was a loose impediment, and that it would be OK to enlist members of the gallery to move it out of the way.
Now try to fathom how Tiger could have watched the replay of his ball at the BMW without acknowledging that it had moved. Turns out, maybe he didn't watch the replay at all. "According to someone who was in the scoring trailer," Fox Sports' Robert Lusetich reported, "Woods unleashed a verbal volley of foul language at rules official Slugger White when informed he'd been assessed a two-shot penalty. White tried to show Woods a video of the incident, but he wasn't in the mood to watch anything. If he had paid attention, he'd have seen White was right. But Woods refuses to be wrong sometimes, so he stormed off." I think it's also possible that Tiger's anger affected his ability to clearly focus on the video. Blind rage? I've had it. The only other thing I can think of is that Tiger needs a tweak to his LASIK surgery, which might explain some of his putting woes.
Throughout the year, Tiger got sloppy with a part of the game that demands precision. It wasn't a case of trying to get away with something. With the presence of large galleries and ever-present state-of-the-art television cameras, Tiger knows his every move on the golf course is examined, sometimes obsessively. Nope, his error is that he forgot that incomplete/incorrect knowledge of the rules has serious consequences.
Don't look for Tiger to repeat those mistakes, going forward, and look for just about every tour player to play it safe and call for an official when faced with a rules issue—even the seemingly straightforward ones (like Tiger's). The stakes are too high to risk going it alone anymore. Professional golf is big business, and preventable rules miscues can cost plenty in prize money, lost opportunities for titles, and damaged reputations.
Tiger's situation escalated after Brandel Chamblee wrote that Woods had been "a little cavalier with the rules" and compared Tiger's actions to Chamblee cheating on a fourth-grade test. The back-and-forth continues as I write this. An aside: On the first hole of the 1965 PGA Championship, Arnold Palmer's second shot came to rest near a temporary bridge, which had wood railings that restricted his swing. He was entitled to a free drop, but instead of waiting to get an official ruling, Arnold stood close by as two marshals tore down the wood supports. Arnold smiled and played his next shot and made par, only to have Jack Tuthill later slap him with a two-stroke penalty. Why? Arnold had allowed the marshals to tear down the temporary obstruction. After theround, Arnold told Sports Illustrated, "It was all my fault. I knew the rule, but I didn't apply it." If Tiger had taken ownership of his miscues in Arnold's straightforward way, the public reaction would have been far different.
There's also an ongoing debate about the appropriate use of television to identify rules violations. The opinions are diverse. The present position of professional tours and the two rules-making bodies (USGA and R&A) is that evidence of any possible rules infraction should be considered and—if accurate—acted upon, regardless of the source. There's talk that the PGA Tour will be discussing this subject further with the USGA and R&A, perhaps focusing on a limited statute of limitations on TV call-ins.
Count me among the many who favors the status quo. The best way to protect the rights of a player on hole 6 from a possible rules violation by a player a mile away on hole 17 is to accept all evidence, whether it comes from another player, a person in the gallery or a guy watching on TV, live or on tape.
Having expert eyes watching the broadcast in real time could be beneficial to the players. Working with field colleagues, the TV official can occasionally stop rules violations before they occur. And if experts witness an infraction, they can alert the officials to inform the player before the scorecard is signed, reducing the number of DQ penalties.
For years the USGA, beginning with Frank Hannigan in the 1980s, has followed the practice of monitoring television broadcasts, and it continues to do so today. It's effective.
During the first round of the 1992 U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont, Donna Andrews' ball was against the first cut of fringe as she stood over a putt on the 16th hole. Glancing toward the hole, Andrews inadvertently nudged the ball. She knew that was a one-stroke penalty, but she didn't realize that she needed to return the ball to its original position. After completing her round with what she thought was a 68, she was met in the scorer's tent by the USGA's David Eger, who had been alerted by Hannigan to intervene before Andrews signed her scorecard. Eger told Andrews that in addition to the one-stroke penalty for moving the ball while she was at address, she was subject to an additional stroke penalty for failing to replace the ball in its original position. The penalty dropped her into a tie for the lead at 69. "I didn't understand the rule," she said at the time, "but now I do."