Phone In Rulings
By Snyper on 2/22/11
Matt is an opinionated* golf enthusiast from Pennsylvania. He coaches at the high school level, molding the minds and swings of our next generation. His column will appear each Monday on ClubSG. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions of Matt in the comments. Don't hold back- because Matt won't.

One of the topics that comes up several times every season on the PGA Tour is players being penalized only after a fan calls in a violation that they witnessed on television. It is certainly a situation that is unique to the sport of golf. The question is, should it be? Well, in my opinion, the answer is yes and no.

I have absolutely no problem with spectators, whether they are watching at home or at the course, drawing attention to possible rules violations. I see no problem with questionable situations being pointed out by someone other than a fellow player or rules official. A violation is a violation. Why does it have to be spotted by someone involved in the tournament for it to be properly assessed? The PGA Tour does not have rules officials on the course for the purpose of following players to watch and see if they commit a crime against the rules of the game. They are on the course in case a player needs to consult them as to a ruling that they may be unfamiliar with or to confirm opportunities for free relief. They may also be called upon to verify any local rules that are in effect from week to week. But, unlike most other sports, the job of the officials of golf is not to look for, identify, or call out penalties. They don’t wear stripes and carry whistles. So, if a spectator sees a situation that may warrant further consideration, I am fine with the PGA Tour allowing them to get the attention of the officials concerning a given incident.
Those of us with a true love of the game cherish the things about golf that set it apart from other sports.

However, it is at this point where I believe the system breaks down. As I previously stated, the sport of golf is not like other sports in terms of how penalties are identified or how they are enforced. Those of us with a true love of the game cherish the things about golf that set it apart from other sports. One of those things is the integrity of calling your own penalties. It is a phenomenon truly unique to golfers and pretty much unimaginable in any other sport. Our game is not about tricking, lying, or concealing the penalties that are justly due. But, instead, golf is about pointing them out and calling them on ourselves. For this reason, I do not believe that officials from the Tour should be allowed to enforce a penalty on a player because of a circumstance pointed out by a fan. Instead, the officials that are notified of the situation should discuss the instance with the player. After the round is over and before the player signs his card, the official should notify the player of the proper ruling and leave it up to the player to determine if he violated the ruling and deserves a penalty. In fact, I’m even fine with the PGA rolling back footage of the situation for the player in case he wants to review it. Then, if he says that he did nothing wrong, no penalty should be given. If it is a simple case of him not knowing the rules and after it is explained to him, he agrees that he committed a violation, then he should penalize himself. That is how the game was intended to be played and how the rules were intended to be enforced.
When amateurs step out onto the links, they have to make the choice of whether to call themselves for a penalties or not, the pros should have to do the same thing.

Dustin Johnson’s famous “bunker” penalty from last season was a perfect example of how this was improperly handled. After watching the video a thousand times, I could not say for 100% certain that he grounded his club. Only he knows for sure if he did or if he didn’t. So, the official who was notified of the situation should have explained to Dustin that he was in a bunker and left it up to him as to whether he needed to penalize himself or not. Nobody should have told him that they reviewed the tapes and he is going to be penalized for violating a rule that he may not have believed he violated. In fact, in my opinion, the officials should have never even looked at the video. They should have just talked to him and informed him that it was a bunker. If Johnson felt the need to look at the video because he was unsure of whether he grounded his club or not, him looking at the video would be perfectly acceptable. But a simple, “Mr. Johnson, before you sign your card, were you aware that you were in a bunker on number 18 and that a player is not allowed to ground their club in a bunker,” would have taken care of the whole situation. He should not have been approached and informed that he was going to be penalized. The official might as well have had on a stripped shirt and blown his whistle all the way up the fairway. That’s not golf and the PGA Tour should leave the whistle blowing to the players the way the game was intended.

In all reality, in most of the situations, players will not have much choice but to call the penalty on themselves after reviewing the incident. Choosing not to would leave them looking like a cheat to everyone with a television. That is not to mention all the respect that they would lose amongst their peers. However, allowing the player to make the call on himself, as obvious as it may be, still sends the message that he is choosing to do the right thing. When amateurs step out onto the links, they have to make the choice of whether to call themselves for a penalties or not, the pros should have to do the same thing. For the sake of the other competitors, I have no problem with spectators being able to assist in pointing out a possible infraction for the sake of further review by the player, but not for the sake of an official enforcing a penalty.

* Matt's views and opinions are his own do not necessarily reflect those of SkyGolf.

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