KAPALUA, Hawaii – Dave Andrews says he is not a snitch.
He’s not an expert on the rules of golf, either.
Andrews is a self-described golf nut who plays about 150 rounds a year. He happened to be watching the opening round of the Tournament of Champions with a couple of friends in Daytona Beach, Fla., when they saw Camilo Villegas flick away some loose pieces of grass as his ball was rolling down a slope back toward his divot on the 15th hole at Kapalua.
Something didn’t look right, and so began an inquiry that made its way across the Pacific.
“I guess it was me who caused all this uproar,” Andrews said by phone Saturday.
Andrews knows enough of the rules from the golf he plays, including club competitions in New Hampshire. But he doesn’t keep a copy of the rules book with him, so when one of his friends thought Villegas had done something wrong, they went to the USGA’s website and found Rule 23-1: “When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.”
“By then, he probably had a half-hour left to play before he signs his card,” Andrews said.
A television viewer calling in an apparent rules violation is nothing new, and neither is the outrage that follows over a fan being allowed to report a violation. What was unique about this case was instead of a phone call, the inquiry was through Twitter.
The PGA Tour doesn’t mind fans contacting them, although rules official Jon Brendle said 80 percent of the “tons of calls we get” turn out to be nothing. Even so, the tour’s job is to protect the field, and if there’s a violation pointed out by anyone – another player, spectator or someone in front of the TV – the officials check it out.
Comparisons with the NBA or NFL are pointless because in golf, the player is responsible for his or her own penalties.
“Anytime a call comes in, we’ve always gone on it,” Brendle said. “I have to react. That’s my job. That’s what the game is all about – if you break a rule, it’s all about the penalty. The sad thing is if the call comes in after the fact. Why didn’t you call in earlier so at least you can save the guy from disqualification?”
In most cases – Villegas was no different – the violation is learned after players sign their card and they are disqualified for signing for an incorrect score.
Andrews gave it his best shot.
He didn’t know who to call, and he’s not alone in that. Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter were among players who said they wouldn’t know who to call if they saw an infraction. Andrews went to Twitter, sending tweets about what he saw to the PGA Tour (including its website producer) and Golf Channel. He also found a comment page on the tour’s website.
Andrews, who spent 30 years as a television reporter, has written a golf novel and does some freelance writing for a blog. He contacted another blogger, Ryan Ballengee, who had not seen the incident. Ballengee went to his DVR, agreed with Andrews on the violation, and sent an e-mail to John Bush, the PGA Tour media official at Kapalua.
By this time, the round was over and Villegas had long signed his card.
“When I wrote in, it was with the best of intentions,” Andrews said. “I’m no stickler on the rules. I was stunned that nobody had seen it before and decided to write in a tweet. I though the Golf Channel would have seen it, because they showed a replay. I guess I can understand how it does slip someone’s attention.”
Villegas handled the disqualification with grace, just as Andrews handled the comments that followed. He saw plenty of activity on Twitter calling him a snitch.
Poulter tweeted: “An armchair official tweeted in to get Camilo DQ, what is wrong with people have they got nothing better to do.” He followed that with: “Yes, the rules r the rules it was a mistake on Camilo’s behalf, he didn’t know he had done wrong, but people calling in, no 1 likes a snitch.”
The broader issue is how well players know their own rules.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, probably a 5,” Rocco Mediate said. “And that’s being nice.”
Poulter is emotional when it comes to the rules because he was penalized in Hong Kong last year in a playoff when the ball slipped from his hand and nudged his ball marker.
“It’s harsh,” he said. “It’s another one of those rules that has come again which someone had to phone in – a tweet that came in, however it works. Whether a phone in or a tweet, it’s people sitting at home with a rules book out who have nothing better to do.”
Still, Poulter acknowledged that Villegas “infringed on the rules, so he’s been penalized.”
The incident has renewed talk of eliminating the scorecard rule, and simply assessing the two-stroke penalty before the close of competition. That would require a change by the governing bodies.
Brendle remembers the first time he handled a TV viewer reporting an infraction, in 1991 at Doral. Paul Azinger shot a 65 in the second round, one off the lead, when he was disqualified because of a shot he played in the opening round. Standing inside a hazard, he pawed with his left foot to get a solid stance and play his approach into the 18th.
A club pro in Colorado had been working that day, taped the coverage and was watching the next morning when he saw the violation of Rule 13-4 (moving a loose impediment in a hazard—rocks had shifted).
“It was not a bad decision, it was the correct decision,” Azinger said that day. “It’s just hard to swallow.”
Whether it’s a phone call or Twitter, that much hasn’t changed.