x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Golf viewers extending TV remote to change results

The armchair fan of golf has seemingly acquired the ability to decide the outcome of matches. Neil Cameron is worried about the power of television.

Graeme McDowell has now suffered twice this year alone because of an alert TV audience.
Graeme McDowell has now suffered twice this year alone because of an alert TV audience.

Football is in dire need of television evidence to be introduced, or so we are constantly told.

It works in rugby and you could not really imagine cricket now without the referral system. The same goes for tennis.

And now we seem to have it, unofficially at any rate, in golf.

At the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor last week, Graeme McDowell was pulled up for a suggested rule violation, not by a referee or official, but an armchair viewer who felt the Northern Irishman had attempted to improve his lie by tapping down a divot.

McDowell must think television is against him because back in January, at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, he endured this trial by television when a viewer called the station to suggest the player had moved his ball before playing a shot. He had not.

It was even worse for three-time major winner Padraig Harrington in the UAE capital as he was actually disqualified because of an eagle-eyed television viewer.

The Irishman ended the first round a shot off the lead after an apparent 65, which should have been a 67 to include a two-stroke penalty because Harrington had inadvertently moved his ball as he replaced a marker.

The officials only found out about this when a viewer called in because he had seen the ball move those crucial few millimetres. The result was Harrington, one of golf's most honest of men, was disqualified for signing a lower score than he should have done.

Harrington acknowledged that he knew he had touched the ball at the time, but understandably thought it had merely oscillated rather than moved position.

Peter Dawson, the secretary of the R&A, admitted this is a thorny issue when pressed about it recently. He said: "It's a subject that I'm sure is going to be debated in the months and years ahead. My own opinion is that if the information is out there, it's going to be very hard to ignore it. But let's leave that for future committees to discuss."

But this is an issue that has to be sorted out now.

Speaking of last week's incident, McDowell said: "I was sure I hadn't done anything that would have broken any rules, but when you are told someone has spotted something on television, you can't help wonder if, just maybe, I was wrong."

It is a sad day when respected major winners are being made to feel guilty because someone thinks they may have spotted an infringement on television.