At least in the world of politics, perception and perception-created problems can be everything.
At the moment, the PGA Tour – and some of its players – are in a rhetorical steel-cage death match against the upstart LIV Golf Invitational Series. The PGA Tour has very publicly tried to punish any Tour member who has defected to LIV.
I believe it is ultimately in the best interests of the PGA Tour – and most especially golf fans the world over – if it called a truce and figured out a way to not only accept LIV Golf, but work with them in a way beneficial to all players involved.
The PGA Tour has chosen to engage in a costly legal battle with LIV as well as engage in a no-holds-barred public relations campaign, which may provide them with nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory.
Which brings us to the latest salvo in this war – the status of Cameron Smith. The Australian golfer, third in the FedEx Cup standings, withdrew from this week's BMW Championship on Monday. His agent cited "on and off hip discomfort for several months and thought it best to rest this week."
Heading into the FedEx Cup playoffs, Smith, who won the British Open in July, had a legitimate chance to become the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world. He also very quickly had positioned himself onto the inside track to win those playoffs and the $18 million grand prize.
And why might this be bad in the eyes of the PGA Tour? Because Smith, currently ranked second in the world, is also reportedly ready to join LIV Golf.
Talk about a double-whammy public relations disaster for the PGA Tour. A guy about to defect to LIV Golf not only becoming the No. 1 golfer in the world, but he walks off with the FedEx Cup as well before he does.
As those two probabilities were becoming more possible for Smith, an interesting ruling took place after the third round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind in Memphis. That interesting ruling – Smith was assessed a two-stroke penalty after the round already had been completed.
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Now, according to the PGA Tour, Smith played his ball from an improper spot on the fourth hole during Saturday's third round. The tour said Smith "was assessed a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 14.7 [playing ball from the wrong spot]."
But he was not assessed that penalty during the round.
By a coincidence, another member of the tour's rules committee raised the alarm about Smith's drop after watching a rebroadcast of the third round. Gary Young, the chief referee for the PGA Tour, then explained later to the media that Smith's ball was close enough to the line "that we decided we should probably talk to the player himself."
Should Cam Smith's penalty have been caught immediately?
Gee, if Smith’s ball was close enough to the penalty line – and we are literally talking maybe 1/8th of an inch or less of an alleged infraction – that they “decided we should probably talk to the player himself” long after the round, couldn’t the rules officials have gone over it with Smith – who they were watching – before he struck the offending shot?
Keep in mind that beginning on January 1, 2018, the United States Golf Association along with the R&A – and happily agreed to by every professional golf tour – forbid the calling in from fans or outside sources of possible rules violations by players. One of the main reasons being not all players are being filmed all the time. Usually, it's just the leaders.
Other tour players who may be inadvertently committing an infraction would not be penalized because the rules officials would not be able to watch them do so on a “rebroadcast.”
There is no doubt the PGA Tour rules officials were rightfully adhering to the “letter of the law” in penalizing Smith, who did not dispute the ruling. Some are wondering if – especially given the fact that at the time Smith could have become the No. 1 player in the world as well as the FedEx Cup champ – it might have been better for all concerned if they worked within the “Spirit of the law” and not penalized Smith, who finished in a 13th-place tie, well after the round was over.
Perception is often everything and professional golf will be much better when they can leave all this nonsense behind and grow a game loved by millions the world over.
Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and author of the book: "The 56 – Liberty Lessons from those who risked all to sign The Declaration of Independence."
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Cam Smith withdraws from BMW Championship. Is LIV Golf his next move?