Golf lets fans make the call

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

While some sports are debating the use of instant replay and how it would affect the integrity of the game, just imagine the controversy that would arise if they were forced to adopt golf's system.

All of the major sports have officials on the playing surface, following the play as it happens. Golf, however, has 156 people playing in separate places at separate times and, for the most part, officiating themselves.

But when rules officials are used, it's often for strange and/or controversial judgement calls.

Take three bizarre incidents in the past two weeks.

First, Dustin Johnson, leading coming into the 18th hole of the PGA Championship, was charged a two-stroke penalty and missed a playoff after grounding his club in what he -- and most of the viewing public -- thought was just a bad patch of grass, not a bunker.

Then, on Saturday, Julie Inkster met a similar fate, disqualified from the LPGA Safeway Classic for taking warmup swings with a training weight, or doughnut, still attached to her club.

The kicker, in Inkster's case, was that the whistleblower was someone watching the event on television who called in to alert officials to the doughnut.

D'oh!

And it's not unprecidented. Michelle Wie was disqualified from the 2005 Samsung World Championship when a Sports Illustrated reporter noticed her ball came to rest closer to the hole after a drop. The reporter said nothing at the time, slept on it, reviewed the tape the next morning, and then alerted officials.

The third example is the opposite, of a player using the rules to their advantage.

On Sunday, needing par on 18 to win the Wyndham Championship, Arjun Atwal purposely hit the grandstand because he knew it would result in a favourable drop, which it did.

To the casual spectator, golf's rules, especially the recently applied penalties and disqualifications, seem punitive and mean-spirited. But not so, says Brent McLaughlin, the Royal Canadian Golf Association director of rules, competitions and amateur status.

"You hate to disqualify a player at any time, but with both (Johnson and Inkster) in contention, it compounds the issue," McLaughlin said this week from Winnipeg, where he was officiating at the Canadian Women's Open.

"The average golf fan is probably sitting there saying, 'This is crazy,' but it's pretty much cut and dried.

"The right calls were made."

McLaughlin said the players in those cases, and most others, weren't trying to cheat or do anything malicious, but they should know the rules. The rules, he said, are there to maintain the integrity of the game, even if they sometimes seem petty.

The one change -- a word feared about as much when it comes to golf rules as it is when baseball rules are talked about -- McLaughlin said is being bandied about is the participation of the public in officiating.

The language of the rules, McLaughlin said, now stipulates that a rules official must "act upon a breach, both witnessed or reported to him."

And the wide spectrum of the term "reported to him" is what gives Joe Public the opportunity to intervene, something completely exclusive to golf.

"It's so unique to have fans being able to interact (with officiating)," he said. "There is a debate about it ... is it right?"

As a sports fan himself, McLaughlin sums up his feelings this way:

"I would have called quite a few penalties in this year's Stanley Cup final," he said. "Could you imagine a fan calling in to report seeing a penalty behind the play?"

McLaughlin says an official's job is, to steal a hockey phrase, let 'em play.

"Our mandate is to try to say out of view," he said. "The best day is when we're not seen at all."

Monty's conundrum

Think Corey Pavin has a tough job as captain of the American Ryder Cup squad? Wouldn't want to be in Colin Montgomerie's shoes either.

Monty's European squad is looking to wrest the Cup back from the Americans on home soil in Wales Oct. 1-3, but outside of the guaranteed spots, there is stiff competition for captain's picks.

Players such as Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Justin Rose are on the bubble (all are in the top 22 in the official world golf ranking). There will be some tough choices.


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