Rob Bolton

The 19th Hole

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Dropping the Ball?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Rob Bolton, Senior Editor (@RobBoltonGolf)

 

Where are the cameras?

 

Jim Fowler's classic question on the Merv Griffin set in Kramer's apartment on "Seinfield" would have been apropos if posed when the roots of the spirit of the rules of golf began to grow. The game was founded centuries before electricity was discovered, much less slow-motion instant replay, high-definition television and digital video recorders capable of individual manipulation within private dwellings. The cameras are everywhere and golf on television has brainwashed into believing that it deserves to be more than just a conduit.

 

Tiger Woods stood in the crosshairs of controversy no fewer than three times this season. As the world's most recognizable golfer, it's expected that his ball will get the most coverage, but that the cameras played a primary role in the judgments of the tournament officials is disturbing.

 

Pull the plug. Eliminate video evidence.

 

Limitless visual angles and video replay is awesome for the viewer. But when it's used as a tool to aid in decisions that can affect the outcome of tournaments, it creates an imbalance among the field. The only fair solution is to put an equal number of eyes on each ball at all times, and that's not realistic. Consider how many tournaments around the world don't receive the kind of airplay of a PGA TOUR event, but there's no outrage about the absence of proof for the competitors. Call it acceptance given the local limitations; I consider it a goal. It's like comparing how you feel when you travel without your mobile device(s). Most likely feel naked; I feel free. As it was intended to be.

 

PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem is of the stance that outside influence is necessary on some level, but it can be argued that that position goes against the intent of the original rules of golf. Testing for performance-enhancing drugs also contradicts the integrity of the game, but it's such a deep-woven component of the fabric of all sports that it's widely accepted today, founding fathers be damned. That same dynamic has become a virus in golf as it relates to video replay, viewer call-ins and others with specialized access, but it's key to the proponents' argument.

 

Video replay has proven that wrong calls occur often enough to warrant the use of more of it in team sports, but vagaries of those sports prevent its expansion and, therefore, correction in the competition. It's an established practice, yet those fields of play are capable of comprehensive video coverage due to finite boundaries. That screams of an inverse relationship as compared to golf.

 

My solution is to confine all decisions to the golfers in the field, their caddies and paid rules officials on site. Golf needs to gravitate back toward complete self-policing. Supporting video evidence would be akin to discrediting a poll that states that 100 percent of touring professionals don't cheat. Find me voting results that say anything but. And if you do, we have a much bigger problem than what needs to be done with the inequity of video evidence.

 

This narrative will likely advance toward a way out involving time limits on decisions, but even that is destined to stop well short of airtight reception. Who knew what and when (and potentially where) takes us back to the current state of confusion. To get out in front of it, a logical idea would be to broadcast the call-in number at which a team of rules officials are standing by ... to tell you to get a life.

 

 

Ned Brown, Contributor (@Esoxgolf)

 

A work in progress.

 

The issue of video replay on the PGA TOUR has come up at the BMW Championship due to a film crew catching movement of Tiger Woods' ball as he cleared away sticks.

 

It turned out to be the third rule infraction of the year for Woods, but it is worthwhile to look at each infraction.

 

The first infraction was in Adu Dhabi when in the second round Woods embedded a ball into a sandy bank with vines covering the ground. He called his playing partner, Martin Kaymer, to verify the ball was imbedded in sand. Woods took what he felt was a free drop, but spectators went to European Tour officials and questioned the drop. Officials notified Woods at the 11th hole of the problem and then later ruled a two-stroke penalty. Woods missed the cut on the number.

 

The second infraction was at the Masters and the set of circumstances sunk his chances of winning. He was on an incredible run on the back nine of his second round. His approach to the 15th hole was so spot on that he hit the pin at the 15th hole and ricocheted into the water. Woods had his choices of where to drop his ball and he picked from where he had hit his approach. He went a couple of paces back to take his drop and played from there.

 

The Masters Committee knew of the problem with the drop before Woods signed his scorecard, but didn't act until the next morning when it ruled that Woods would be allowed to continue in the tournament, but would be assessed a two-stroke penalty.

 

The third infraction came at the BMW Championship and again in the second round. Woods was moving debris from around his ball and a PGA Tour Entertainment Productions camera picked up a movement of the ball. Woods was shown the footage after his round and was assessed a two-stroke penalty.

 

The firestorm that erupted from the third infraction has questioned Woods' integrity.

 

I think it's important to note that two of the three rules infractions were not called in by viewers and Woods didn't know the local rules in the case of Dhabi. I think the outrage about the penalty that was assessed at the BMW was setup by the penalty at the Masters.

 

On Saturday morning at the Masters, the assessment by the commentators in the booth and at the studio was that Woods should take the penalty and then withdraw from the tournament. I saw their point and I saw Tiger's point. It wasn't his fault that the Masters Committee didn't bring up the issue then revisited it the next day, but the way such a problem would have been resolved in the past would be the disqualification of the player.

 

Tiger was damned if he went on to play at the Masters and that ill will continues.

 

In a recent news conference, Woods brought up the subject of video replays under such circumstances and I thought the comments were a way to deflect part of the heat from the penalty at the BMW because it wasn't a normal TV crew that filmed the infraction.

 

Is it necessary for the TOUR to maintain a policy about TV viewers calling in perceived infractions of the rules? I think the answer is yes, because every major sport, except soccer, uses replay to get calls right and I expect that you will see soccer put goal cameras in.

 

Like it has in other sports, I am sure that whatever policy the TOUR takes will evolve over time to strike some kind of balance.

 


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Rob Bolton is Senior Editor/Writer for Rotoworld’s golf content. He can be reached via email at RotoworldRob@charter.net and on Twitter.
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