Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dropping the Ball

I will never claim to be an expert on the rules of golf, and I haven't had time to really take a long look at the Tiger Woods situation on the 15th hole yesterday.  If I'm really being honest, I didn't even see the shot because I took about a 10 minute beer nap when everything went down yesterday.  In part, I blame myself for all of this.  However, I have blogged about this exact topic before and all I can say is that what happened to Tiger Woods this morning at Augusta was an absolute travesty, and a total media blitz.

For those out of the loop (a category which I include myself in partially) Tiger Woods' third shot on the par-five 15th hole yesterday hit the flag stick and rolled back into the water.  Because of this, Tiger essentially had three options: 1) take a drop in the designated drop area with a one stroke penalty, 2) take a drop along the same line that the ball entered the water hazard from behind the hazard itself with a one stroke penalty, 3) take a drop from "as near as possible" the spot that you just hit the ball with a one stroke penalty.  Tiger chose option number three, stuck the shot, and made a bogey.  Nobody said anything about it until after the round and after Tom Rinaldi interviewed Tiger.

During his interview with Rinaldi, Tiger said that he dropped the ball two yards behind where he took the shot, and this is where the media has jumped all over him.  Within hours, PGA Tour rule buffs and narcs alike were insinuating that Tiger did not take the drop "as near as possible" to his original shot because he said he dropped it two yards back.  Thus he should have been assessed a penalty there, and by virtue of signing an incorrectly totaled scorecard should be disqualified from the tournament.  I have so many problems with the firestorm that has arisen since then that I don't even know where to start.  I will try to write down my thoughts as best I can.

1. Since the media frenzy, the Augusta rules officials met and decided to assess Tiger a two-stroke penalty, but not DQ him for an incorrect scorecard stating that he violated a rule but was unaware and no rules officials caught him on it.  If that sentence doesn't make any sense to you at all, please join my club.  The way I see it, it should have been all or nothing for Augusta.  They should have had the balls to DQ Tiger if they felt he broke a rule and signed an incorrect scorecard.  Or they should have decided he had no infraction and let him play on.  This middle ground rule makes the greatest course in the world look bad, and also puts Tiger in an awful spot because it appears they are pandering to his celebrity status, and many (mostly media squids who only exist because of Tiger) are calling for Tiger to disqualify himself.

2. In my opinion, this should have been no infraction at all and brings up a larger question of the rules of golf.  The phrase that is causing all this controversy is "as near as possible."  It was deemed that Tiger didn't take his drop "as near as possible" to his last shot that went in the water.  How can you enforce a rule that doesn't give any definitive guidelines?  What does as near as possible mean?  Is he supposed to drop the ball right in his old divot?  A first down in football is 10 yards, not as near as possible to the marker.  The argument can be made that Tiger should have known the rulebook back to front, and if he had any question should have consulted an official.  However, how can any definitive ruling be made on "as near as possible"?  Either put in an exact measurement, or get rid of the rule altogether.  There are enough rules to remember as it is, it is ridiculous to make the players guess what the rules mean.  Clean it up, USGA.

3. This is the part that pisses me off the most; how can a player be penalized for something he said after a round was finished?  The media is harping on Tiger for saying he deliberately dropped the ball two yards behind his first shot, saying that that admission secures the fact that he broke the rule.  Shame on Augusta if they used Tiger's interview to influence their decision in any way.  That is like when you get into an accident and the police officer asks you "how fast were you going?"  I could tell you how fast I thought I was going, but unless I was staring at the speedometer I would have no idea.  Tiger is an exacting guy, but my guess is he was not exactly two yards away from his original shot and for Augusta to use anything other than the video they have is just wrong.  Also, if I am Tiger I am never talking about my round in an interview again.  So good job, media.  You just fucked yourselves over by starting this witch hunt.

4. I have said it before, but I will say it again.  It is not fair to hold televised players to a different standard than guys who have no chance of making the cut and the cameras ignore.  People want to talk about unfair pandering to Tiger?  The man is under the most scrutiny of any player on tour.  Every shot he takes is televised.  Compare that to Hiroyuki Fujita who shot 79, 85 on his way to an early trip home.  If he had done the same thing as Tiger on 15, are we even talking about it?  No, because we don't even know about it.  Why is the media allowed to run back the footage and decide a tournament when no rules official caught the mistake during the entire round?  This whole thing is a farce.  I posted about this discrepancy over two years ago, and it seems that the tour has done nothing to address it at all over that time (not saying that they are reading TPLIYP, but maybe they should?). 

For those calling for Tiger to disqualify himself, I think you are on shaky ground.  I see your argument as either; A) he should have known the rule and called himself out, or B) that the interview of Tiger combined with the video tape proves that he broke the rule.  For those in column A, I honestly think Tiger did know the rule.  In that fateful interview with Rinaldi, he kind of goes through what his options were after hitting it in the water and essentially breaks down the rule itself.  I think Tiger thought that he was within his rights to drop the ball two yards behind his divot, and that it would suffice to "as near as possible."  If you are in column B, you are creating a very uneven playing field in the game of golf by holding some players more accountable than others based on their popularity.  Either way, I think you are wrong and that you probably like Brandel Chamblee more than you should, which is to say that you like him at all.  Whatever happens now is going to be a fiasco.  If somehow Tiger wins, he cheated and got away with it because he is so popular.  If he loses, its because of an unfair penalty.  Way to go Augusta National.