As crazy as it sounds, calling in violations is a part of golf


Like a lot of other sports, golf has had issues marrying its traditions with the ways and mores of modern society.

Part of that rich tradition is reporting your own scores and rules violations and accepting that others can do the same even if you were unaware, say, that your ball was out of place by a fraction of an inch as you were about to make a short brush-in putt.

In 16th century Scotland, up until the advent of real-time communication and high-definition cameras, the scrutiny was done by your playing partners or galleries following the play. But as the incident with Lexi Thompson on Sunday showed, anyone can call in a rule violation who has the means to do so.

Literally anyone.

Thompson ended up incurring a four-shot penalty when someone emailed the LPGA during the ANA Inspiration on Sunday. High-definition cameras showed that Thompson replaced her ball a fraction of an inch away from the actual spot where it came to rest on the 17th green on Saturday.

Whomever that person was — as of late Monday they were still unknown — no one doubts that they would make a good private investigator. Or perhaps a divorce attorney (as long as you're not opposing them).

But a freelance golf referee?

As crazy as it sounds, it's perfectly accepted in golf.

Thompson, a 22-year-old American was in firm control when she found out well in to the back nine on Sunday that she would be assessed a two-shot penalty and another two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard. Thompson still managed to earn a spot in a playoff that she eventually lost to So Yeon Ryu.

The latest incident on golf's major tours shows that there are literally millions of referees when it comes to televised golf. If you have the know how to contact the right person, organization or body, and the inclination to do so, you can do it too.

There is no snitch line with a switchboard to patch you through to the right person, nor do any of the organizations actively solicit people to voice their concerns, but if you call, email or verbal query finds to the right ear, it will be considered accordingly.

Why? Especially when stacked up against the public relations hit the sport takes and tumult in causes, to say nothing about the fact that no other sport allows remote control referees.

It goes back to golf's traditions. One LPGA official said on Sunday that they couldn't in good conscious ignore a potential violation because it would cut to the heart of the game's fundamental competitive process.

That's where modern technology comes in. Replays with high-definition cameras are the chief mechanism now that allows for previously undetected rules violations to come to light.

Rules violation on Tiger Woods

Three years ago, Champions Tour player David Eger called in a rules violation on Tiger Woods during the second round of the 2014 Masters. The Woods/Eger situation is interesting, not just because of who it involved, but how it unfolded. Eger was at home in Florida and didn't even see Woods' ball bounce off a flagstick and roll back in to the water. Trying to determine how Woods fell down the leaderboard, he used his PVR and saw that Woods took an improper drop when he was about to put his ball back into play. A professional golfer who also has an extensive background as a rules official, Eger immediately called another official who was working the tournament but who was also a friend.

According to a report by Sports Illustrated's Michael Bamberger at the time, the phone call reached the rules officials as he was driving away from Augusta National. He immediately alerted tournament officials.

Eger said it was an act of benevolence – he didn't want Woods to sign an incorrect scorecard and make the penalty worse (disqualification at the time).

Beyond that, Eger knew who to call. The overwhelming majority of those who try and call in rules violations likely find deaf ears but firm numbers are hard to pin down.

The person who emailed about Thompson is considered the very rare exception, which makes you wonder if they too, like Eger, had a tangible connection to ruling bodies, or perhaps the LPGA.

No one – Thompson, other LPGA players, media – doubts a rules violation was committed. There is almost equal consensus that the calling in of it was at very least unfortunate, and more likely downright wrong.

It's interesting that the recent announcement of coming rules changes and modifications did not address the calling-in issue. There is now a monitoring period where people are encouraged to voice their opinion to the Royal & Ancient and United States Golf Association about the 30 recommended changes before they are implemented in 2019.

It would be the ultimate irony if a deluge of calls, emails and letter writing ends the practise that cost Thompson her second major championship.

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