Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Peter Whiteford Disqualification

On Sunday afternoon, Peter Whiteford stepped towards the 4th tee at the Avantha Masters, in India, and was told he was disqualified. The man must have been shattered. Here he was, within a couple of shots of the lead on the final day of a European Tour event, and he had to endure the indignity of being carted off in a buggy for something that happened the previous day.

I’m not going to go into the whys and hows of what he did: he made a mistake and after querying it with his playing partner, caddie and a cameraman, he erroneously played on. He even had a Get Out of Jail Free card (thanks to the new rule 33-7/4.5) which he no doubt will be kicking himself for not using at the end of his 3rd round. No, what I want to discuss is the role of the small-minded, smug TV armchair vigilantes who are turning tournament golf into a circus.

Rude on the Rules

A while back I made rude comments about the R&A and how slowly they got things done. Changing rules in golf is like asking an oil tanker to do a quick U-turn: it can’t be done quickly. But following a couple of fiascos (Padraig’s was one of the high profile ones) they made changes which allow a committee, in certain circumstances, to modify the disqualification penalty and apply the appropriate penalty stroke(s) if a player could not have reasonably known he had incurred a penalty. Padraig’s ball moved a fraction on the green; Peter Whiteford ball moved a fraction on the fairway. Both were disqualified.

Bravo! A leap forward.

But the problem of the armchair vigilante was not tackled. Following Whiteford’s ‘mistake’ several viewers contacted the European Tour website to report that Peter Whiteford’s ball had in fact moved.

My issues are this:

· If these reports came in overnight, why was Whiteford subjected to the shame of reaching the 4th tee before he was DQ’d? He was in the final groups, so surely something could have been done before he stepped onto the 1st tee, and he could have slipped quietly away. To be told before tee-off that the incident was being ‘reviewed’ is the equivalent of kicking him in the ankle and wishing him good luck.

· If a new rule was introduced to change the severity of a golfer’s punishment, why wasn’t a rule introduced to deal with armchair tittle-tattle? Clearly this is going to be a long term problem as HD TV takes over and TV screens grow to the size of a house. Millions of people watch, and every spit, every curse, every blade of grass, every ball can be seen, reviewed, enlarged and looped in high definition. There is no escape.
Perhaps most worryingly for the professional is that the better he/she is performing in a tournament, the higher the chances that the TVs will be glued to him. If he was down the bottom of the field, he could practically pick up the ball and toss it in the hole without anyone knowing. No, the better you’re doing, the more likely some muppet will decide you’ve committed a cardinal sin and you must be punished.

· Who are these sad individuals who feel it is their right – nay, their duty – to be interfering with a tournament thousands of miles away? I don’t care if you know the rules back to front (I certainly don’t), who the hell are you to affect the outcome of a tournament that has got nothing to do with you?

The options are obvious:

1. The European Tour (and others) need to have a referee glued to a TV for the entire tournament so that they see exactly what the viewer sees. As a referee, he/she then gets to decide if an infraction has been committed.

2. If the armchair bandits wish to prove that they are all-powerful and contact the different tours to inform them of a transgression (I notice no-one has made an official complaint about Poulter’s dress sense), then feel free… but this information must only be taken into account AFTER the tournament (assuming it hasn’t already been noted by the tournament body). I don’t care if Rory is spotted kicking his ball out of the rough; if he’s not called on it at the time or before he signs his card, then it has to be accepted… at least until after the tournament is finished. In the technology age we live in, most popular sports have a review system that allows a player to be banned/fined/cited after the event… why not golf?

Take the Rory example – yes, he picks up a cheque for thousands, but he has to bear the shame of being cited, he could be fined or he could be banned for a tournament. If you doubt me, consider how Vijay Singh still carries the mark of ‘cheat’ from an incident in 1985. In fact, do a google search and you’ll find that it’s one of the top search results for Vijay.

Oh sure, I know there are holes in this argument… what if Whiteford had gone on to win in a play-off that he shouldn’t have even been in, you ask. Well, my answer is simple: I don’t make the rules… but then neither do the people sitting at home watching TV.

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