x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

On rules in the PGA, the eyes have it

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem says golf isn’t blowing it with regard to allowing fan and viewer input into rules situations, writes Steve Elling.

Tiger Woods of the United States works with a rules official after a drop during the final round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield in Gullane, Scotland. More and more golf fans are calling tournaments when they notice a rules infraction. Stuart Franklin / Getty Images
Tiger Woods of the United States works with a rules official after a drop during the final round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield in Gullane, Scotland. More and more golf fans are calling tournaments when they notice a rules infraction. Stuart Franklin / Getty Images

Like the sound of whistles? Look good in a striped shirt?

Then the 2013 PGA Tour season was probably a major slice of heaven. Never have armchair officials played a larger role in the game’s landscape.

With more high-definition television broadcasts, increasingly effective slow-motion cameras and the sport’s major tours showing no inclination to eliminate fan involvement in policing the rules, the telephones should continue to ring louder than ever.

When the US season ended, on Sunday, conversation centred on whether Tiger Woods deserved to be voted Player of the Year.

He was indisputably the game’s biggest lightning rod.

The world No 1 did not win a grand slam event but did complete an uncomfortable triple crown: he was thrice called on to the carpet for grilling or to watch television replays, alongside rules officials from the European Tour, Augusta National and PGA Tour.

In each instance, Woods was found to have unwittingly violated a different rule and was zapped with a two-stroke penalty.

In the aftermath, some players have called for the tour to ignore all input from fans or third parties.

Because it was Woods who was placed under citizen’s arrest the details of the rulings generated even more outcry.

“In our sport, you’re supposed to know the rules and call rulings on yourself,” the PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem told the Golf Channel on Tuesday. “I don’t know that it’s a bad thing to have a focus on the rules.”

It is not bad to have extra eyeballs, either. Football, cricket, rugby, basketball and baseball all have one ball to monitor.

Golf often has 70-plus players on the course at a given moment.

Checks and balances ensure that violations are enforced, and if top players get more scrutiny, good – it protects the integrity of the entire enterprise. Careers are on the line yet some fans know the rules better than players.

Rule makers have already made one concession to the television era.

In 2011, golf enacted the so-called Padraig Harrington rule, wherein a player whose ball moves slightly without his knowledge, a violation spotted only because of TV, no longer will be disqualified for signing an incorrect card.

Other TV-related tweaks have been suggested. Tours can rewrite and modify rules as they see fit, like other sports leagues, but Finchem wants to remain in step with the global game.

“At this point, I don’t see that as a necessity,” he said.

Thus, whistle-blowers will continue to play a role in the policing process – if not a larger one.

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