SAN DIEGO – Blame it on HDTV, or particular viewers with too much free time. Castigate Camilo Villegas and Padraig Harrington for a lack of situational awareness. Even condemn the convoluted Rules of Golf.
Whatever gets you through the cold winter nights. But know this about Rule 6-6.d, golf’s powers that be have dissected this particular item ad nauseam and come to a simple yet unmistakable conclusion – it may be broke, but it’s unfixable.
“I bet it goes back 100 years,” sighed Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association’s senior director of rules and competitions.
A few years back Davis and the USGA, which governs the game in the United States and Mexico, was asked by the PGA Tour to review the rule that cost Villegas an “official” paycheck at the season opener in Hawaii and Harrington a shot at victory at last week’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on the European Tour.
Both players had signed their scorecards only to find out much later that a viewer had called in, or texted or tweeted, a violation. For signing an incorrect card both players were disqualified and common sense was given a standing “10 count.”
Davis’ answer to the Tour was the same then that it is now – you can’t get there from here. At least not without opening a Pandora’s Box of unforeseen, and seen, problems.
“The whole reason the (Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which governs the game everywhere else in the world) and USGA have rejected it is there are too many ramifications if you do that,” Davis said.
“If you gave Camilo a four-stroke penalty (instead of an early exit) the problem with that is you may all of a sudden mess up a cut. It could be the U.S. Amateur and you just played 36 holes of stroke play and your entire bracket (for match play) could get messed up. It would be illogical to make a change.”
That answer, however, is no longer good enough for the PGA Tour. On Tuesday at Torrey Pines commissioner Tim Finchem said he planned to meet with the USGA’s executive committee late next week to “rearticulate our concerns,” which is Tour-speak for “pretty please.”
“We felt that perhaps the penalty was out of sync with the infraction,” Finchem said. “There needs to be some common sense here.”
On this the commish has popular opinion and the vast majority of his players on his side. If the Villegas DQ drew discontent from the golf world the Harrington ruling last week prompted nothing short of indignation from golf-dom.
When asked if, at the least, there should be a statute of limitations on late-to-the-dance infractions, either called in from middle America or via a fellow competitor, that would cost a guilty player an additional two strokes or so but allow them to continue playing, Rocco Mediate jumped, “Oh yeah, there’s got to be something.”
But Finchem can “rearticulate” until East Lake thaws out, Davis – as thoughtful and fair-minded as they come – was rather clear on this.
“If you ask people who really know the rules and understand the ramifications they understand why the R&A and USGA don’t want to change it,” Davis said.
Rough translation: if the Tour is so intent on change then they should have at it. They’ve done it before, in fact. The grooves in the irons the play-for-pay set will use at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open are different than what will be used in next week’s men’s club shotgun at Torrey Pines.
But a wholesale bifurcation of the rules is viewed in Tour circles as a last resort, an Armageddon option that carries its own set of unforeseen problems. More so than any other sport golf clings to the notion that the game you see played on Tour Sundays is the same that will be played at Everytown, USA, Municipal on Monday.
“We have that option,” Finchem said when asked about the possibility of a local rule that would save future Villegases and Harringtons from a rule book death sentence. “However, we think it’s important to the sport to maintain a consistent set of rules throughout. Right now we are not even thinking about that.”
All of which means that Finchem is at an impasse, and as politically savvy as the former Washington, D.C., lobbyist may be the USGA and R&A have some 100 years of “rearticulating” that proves you can’t get there from here.
Late-to-the-dance call-ins and unfortunate disqualifications have been a part of the game since golf went to the little screen, and HD clarity only promises to embolden armchair rules officials in the future. But if Finchem & Co. want change they may have to go it alone.