I am not sure what was in the air in the early part of 2011, but we had a number of contentious rulings in professional golf events starting with the very first one, the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Camilo Villegas moved a loose impediment that could have influenced the movement of his ball while his ball was in motion. Because Camilo did not know he had incurred a penalty, he signed and returned his scorecard without including the two penalty strokes in his score for the hole in question.
Subsequently a TV viewer called in to report the infraction. After reviewing the video and discussing the matter with Mr. Villegas, PGA Tour rules officials disqualified him for returning a score that was lower than the actual score taken for the hole. This caused a tidal wave of comments from all corners of the game.
Now I have never been a fan of allowing so-called armchair rules officials to call in and report breaches of the rules. I do not think it is fair because not all golfers receive the same amount of TV exposure during tournaments. I can assure you that if Dustin Johnson teed off at 7:00 AM in last place on the morning of the final round of a tournament, we would not see a single shot of his on TV. Compare this to the fact that we saw every one of his shots last year in the final round of the PGA Championship when he was in contention to win his first major event.
Despite my not liking this process, I have come to accept it. The game of golf is predicated on the fact that it is an “Honourable Game played by Honourable People.” Over the years of writing this column, I have discussed this issue many times. It is the only sport where players are expected to call penalties on themselves. I completely agree with Paul Azinger who tweeted after this incident that “A TV viewer calling in a DQ stinks for the player, but no player wants to get away with breaking a rule. TV protects the field.” In the end, it is irrelevant how the PGA Tour becomes aware of a breach of the rules.
All rules officials know that they have a duty and obligation to report any breach of the rules. Why then do players get upset when spectators, either on or off the course and who could well be certified rules officials, bring attention to penalties incurred by players. Most of the players I know would not want it any other way and readily accept the penalty rather than getting away with it to the detriment of every other player in the field.
On the other hand, there are players like Ian Poulter who tweeted the following about the Villegas incident;
“An armchair official tweeted in to get Camilo DQ. What is wrong with people? Have they not got nothing better to do. Yes, the rules are the rules. It was a mistake on Camilo’s behalf. He didn’t know he had done wrong. But people calling in. No one likes a snitch.”
I have been a rules official for a match involving Mr. Poulter and it was very clear to me that he did not care about the rules of golf, or upholding the integrity of the game. His only concern was about winning money. I am happy to report that his attitude is a minority one on the PGA Tour and has no place in the game of golf. It is shameful to hear a highly ranked golfer speak like this. I find it very revealing when you consider that Camilo Villegas accepted his disqualification without complaint, yet Mr. Poulter found it necessary to rant on about something that he was not personally involved in.
It never ceases to amaze me that the pros on the PGA Tour have such a poor knowledge of the Rules of Golf. Every week they play for millions of dollars and yet they have a minimal understanding of the rules that they play by and which any small breach could cost them thousands of dollars. If you do not like getting penalty strokes or being disqualified, my advice to the pros would be to READ the rule book which you have carried untouched in your bag for many many years.
I encourage all of you to read the Rules of Golf so that everyone playing this great game will help to uphold the values that are such an integral part of it. We need to stress that honesty and integrity are what make golf special. Without them golf would be just like every other game in town. As the great Bobby Jones stated “There is only one way to play this game and that is by the rules. Anything less is just not acceptable.”
More columns by Layne Magee
Layne Magee is an RCGA and USGA Certified Rules Official who has officiated at countless amateur and professional tournaments in Canada and internationally.