Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Armchair Officials in Golf

One of the most controversial subjects relating to the Rules of Golf is how some penalties are imposed retrospectively on tournament professional golfers, following a communication from someone who has spotted a breach of a Rule while watching television. I have expressed my opinions on this subject in previous blogs and in responding to the related comments underneath them, but I am now pleased to reproduce here, with kind permission from the subscriber, a considered opinion, which makes a lot of sense to me.

The Case for Armchair Officials in Golf
Monopoly is different than chess. They have different rules. No one complains. Golf is different than other sports. It calls for different rules. People complain. Let’s start with a principle on which all sportsmen can agree. Referees are charged with GETTING IT RIGHT. We will accept a close call that goes against our guy, but rail over a bad call every time. “Come on Ref, get it right.” Early on golf’s Rules makers realized our sport was significantly different than all the rest. First, all those other sports have the same field. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, bowling, soccer, volley ball – all of their fields are the same and are right there in plain view for everyone to see. Also, they all have one ball. Our fields are all different and we have 150 balls flying around over 170 acres of topography which include hills, valleys, trees, ponds, all sorts of crooks and crannies. How is it possible for referees to “get it right?”

To assist them the Rules makers early on came up with the concept of “ALL AVAILABLE DATA.” Before adjudicating an issue officials are instructed to talk to anyone that can add creditable data, other players, caddies, spectators, anyone, and anything to get it right. They often use TV footage when it’s available. “Hey Johnny, can you see from the video where that ball crossed the hazard line? Yes Rodger, looks like it crossed near that little tree about 200 yards from the tee.” No one complains. I ask, “What’s the difference between the monitor in the 18th tower and the monitor in Cleveland?” Of course logic dictates the answer – there is no difference.

A cousin to the ALL AVAILABLE DATA principle is the theory of lines. When it’s too difficult to make distinctions, too difficult to draw lines, the Rules makers don’t even try. Take the case of Brian Davis tied after regulation with Jim Furyk at the 2010 Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head. During play of the first playoff hole Brian’s club during his backswing from a green side hazard hit a reed (a loose impediment) and he incurred a penalty resulting in his losing the tournament. The grill room crowd went wild. “That’s a dumb Rule. It was only a small reed.” I asked what if instead of a reed there was a log 6 inches in diameter right behind his ball and Brian could fit his wedge in there and on his back swing push that log out of the way clearing the area for a clean chip onto the green? The grill crowd responded with “that would be a penalty.” Logical folks now see the issue. Where is the cut off between a reed and a log? Clearly there isn’t one. Or, if there is, it’s not obvious to the majority of golfers. So, we have the theory of lines. When it’s impossible or impractical to draw lines, Rules makers don’t even try. Don’t hit a loose impediment in a hazard – period! If you cause your ball to move through the green, you incur a penalty. Move is move. One inch, one foot or one yard. You can’t play from a wrong place, no lines. One yard, one foot, one inch. When Officials are directed to obtain ALL AVAILABLE DATA, all means all. No commas, no dashes, no semi-colons. If the arm chair guy in Cleveland has data that can help GET IT RIGHT – then bring it on. Remember, he is not making any ruling, he is just providing data. It’s reported that while the arm chair call-ins are reviewed, most are discarded. Also, over the years call-ins have helped players as well as hurt them. Our game is better served by the ALL AVAILABLE DATA principle.

Jerry Duffy, Maryland, USA

In my opinion, viewers who think that they may have seen a breach of a Rule on a televised broadcast should restrain themselves from getting involved, leaving it to the Rules officials charged with the responsibility. However, once any breach of Rule has come to the attention of those officials in charge, notwithstanding its source, they do then have a duty to impose the appropriate penalty prescribed by the Rules of Golf. Officials have a responsibility to protect the rights of every other player in the competition and on a wider scale to the integrity of the game; they do not have the right to chooses whether to impose a penalty, or not, for a known breach.

Good golfing,


The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.


Kevin, Melbourne said...

Jerry Duffy's comments are fair enough. But while I appreciate that the rules were correctly applied in cases such as Lexi Thompson's, to add a further penalty for submitting an incorrect scorecard for a breach she didn't know about until the following day is just plain silly. By all means penalise an infraction but, in my opinion, the additional penalty defies common sense.

Unknown said...

Tough one. So if a breach comes to light 6 months, 2 years, 10 years later its still a breach? Major then awarded to someone else?

Barry Rhodes said...


No! Part of Rule 34-1b states;

In stroke play, a penalty must not be rescinded, modified or imposed after the competition has closed.

There are four exceptions, but these are unlikely to affect tournament play.


just saying said...

Re Lexi Thompson....underlying assumption is you have cheated which means you knew you were cheating and knew the penalty and then signed a scorecard without the penalty. Wrong scorecard. Did you expect Thompson to admit she cheated....I have never heard a professional athlete admit they have cheated and the examples would fill a book of athletes cheating in every sport. Funny how the praises of professional golfers for their incredible meticulousness, organization , attention to detail, etc etc suddenly disappears when they are in the position to win a tournament. Also note that she had the presence of mind to rotate her ball to get her aim line straight but forgot the most fundamental and important rule on greens which is to mark your ball correctly and replace it correctly (something she has done in some form thousands of times). She got caught and she won't be the last. Unfortunately it looks like this kind of rule stretching a little too common on the pro tours as per Phil Mickelson's comments. Difficult for the players to police this because next week you could have this person as your Ryder Cup partner. So I say call it in if you see it and maybe and maybe the hyperbole about how much these players respect the game etc etc etc will mean something.

Desmond Goh said...

I fully agree with you.

James said...

Barry, I have adequately expressed my feelings on this subject on another blog post. But, let me point out the glaring and obvious problem with this argument. When a tournament is televised you and I both know that what is broadcast is not "all available data"--it isn't even remotely close. In fact, most of the hours and hours of raw footage that is shot during a tournament never hits the tv screen for a whole variety of reasons. (When is the last time you watched the second shot of some player who was in 24th place on the last day of the tournament?) So, please, let's not pretend that call-in viewers are reporting on anything other than the very selective, and very limited, footage that actually airs during a tournament-usually of the tournament leaders and crowd favorites.

Barry Rhodes said...


It seems that we will have to agree to disagree on this issue. The Rules of Golf apply to every golf competition, played at all levels, across the world, not just to televised tournaments. Obviously, many strokes are played that are not witnessed by anyone, even a fellow competitor. However, when a breach of Rule is observed by a third party, which is not immediately acknowledged by the player, it is right that it should be brought to the attention of the player and/or the Committee, to protect the rights of every other competitor in that competition.

Also, it is my contention that most Pro golfers would prefer to be be penalised for a televised breach of Rule that they probably did not know they had committed, rather than being the subject of accusations impuning their integrity going viral on social media.


CJC Projects said...

OK Barry, here we go again. I am sure you will blog separately on the Jon Rahm Irish Open incident, but let me add my comment here, as that decision was obviously made by a blind man.
The rules official has made a mistake in not penalising Jon Rahm at the Irish Open. This will have an ongoing consequences for every club golfer around the world. Rahm placed the ball incorrectly and approximately 20mm (dependent upon the marker diameter) closer to the hole. Inadvertently or not, it was incorrectly placed. Club golfers who want to game the system will now do this. If the competing pros don't or won't call out mistakes (genuine or not), it is difficult for the club golfers to do so. It is just part of the slippery slope. If rules officials get it wrong using 'all available data', the integrity of the game is in trouble. Yes, I am very disappointed in the that rules official.

Barry Rhodes said...

CJC Projects,

I do not agree with most of what you have said above. In my experience the number of club golfers who want to "game the system" by taking a minimal advantage of placing their ball millimetres nearer the hole to make their putt easier is infintesimal. It does not make any sense for players to risk their integrity in this way. Golfers that do witness someone wrongly replacing their ball should ask them to replace it more accurately and if they felt that it was being done purposely, they should bring it to the attention of the competition Committee for them to make the appropriate sanction.


Unknown said...

Hi Barry.

In a recent (friendly) trip to Portugal we came across an Out of Bounds query.

At the 200 yard par 3 15th Hole in Vale de Lobo North, a players ball came to rest outside a rope which had the warning something like 'Danger, Cliff Edge, do not proceed beyond this rope'. The player could see that he could safely play the ball, and as there were no out of bounds white posts, he checked the course card to discover that there was no specific reference to the ropes or out of bounds on the 15th. The closest reference on the card was a general out of bounds reference beyond 'a perimeter fence'. Having consulted with his playing partners, he decided to play the ball as it lay and holed out in 4 strokes total for 2 Stableford points.

On returning to the clubhouse his partners decided to check with the club and they were informed that the rope did indeed define the out of bounds on that hole. The player challenged that this rule was not posted on the noticeboard or on the card, and therefore at the time of play he was unable to determine that the ball was out of bounds. He took notice of the safety warning and took due care.

As I mentioned at the outset, it was a friendly outing and the incident was the source of great debate, only one thing, was he right?



Barry Rhodes said...


I know this Vale Do Lobo hole very well. In my opinion, the player was definitely wrong to ignore the sign when his ball was obviously in an area that was intended to be out of bounds, as later confirmed by those in the Pro Shop..