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Sunday, April 14, 2013

I Feel the Need to Rant

Tiger made a bad ball drop on Friday. Emotion on both sides blew the ruling all out of proportion on Saturday. I had my TV turned to ESPN and my computer streaming GC all Saturday morning, trying to sort the facts from the fumes. It hasn't been easy, but I think I've finally figured out what happened... and what should have happened... and maybe even why it all happened in the first place.

Let me take you through the facts first. To start, the Rules of Golf that are involved are:
  • 26-1, Relief for Ball in Water Hazard (I also heard 20-7 quoted for this rule)
  • 33-7, Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion
  • 6-6, Scoring in Stroke Play
What happened: During the second round on hole 15, Tiger's third shot hit the flagstick and bounced back into the water in front of the green. It didn't come straight back at him but ricocheted at a slight angle. Tiger dropped the ball behind the spot from which he hit his third shot, hit this fifth shot close and sank the putt for a 6.

According to a statement released by the Masters Rules Committee, they received a phone call that questioned Tiger's drop. They reviewed the footage as Tiger played the 18th and decided there was no violation. Tiger signed for his 6 and went to do interviews. During the interviews he said he dropped the ball about two yards behind the original spot (ESPN says it was more like four feet) to get a better distance to the pin. This sent up red flags for the committee.

Saturday they talked to Tiger and decided that he had in fact violated the rule. However, they invoked the new "TV rule" (33-7) and, instead of DQing him (per 6-6), they assessed a 2-stroke penalty (per 26-1).

And then the emotions blew up. Let me take the various questions one at a time.

What did Tiger do? In the heat of the moment, Tiger apparently combined 26-1a (drop ball as near as possible to original stroke) and 26-1b (drop on a line that keeps the spot where the ball entered the water between him and the pin). I can understand how that happened, as I made the same mistake when I watched the video showing the infraction. I couldn't figure out what he did wrong until they showed the text of 26-1 on the screen and I went, "Oh yeah! What was I thinking?"

The fact that he volunteered that he dropped the ball two yards back clearly shows it was an accident. If you did it on purpose, why would you call attention to it? This was an innocent mistake.

Did Tiger get an unfair advantage with his drop? No -- at least, not based on 26-1b, which was one of the two drop methods he confused:
Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped; (emphasis mine)
Let's take a look at the actual scoring, since some have argued that the two-stroke penalty he finally received didn't offset this error. Tiger hit his incorrectly-dropped shot a distance that he expected -- as he had done with most of his shots all day -- and then one-putted for a 6. The penalty made that an 8.

Assuming he had hit from the correct spot, got his shot somewhere close (a reasonable assumption, given his play during the day) and then two-putted, he would have made a 7. The 8 he actually got is worse.

Suppose he had sunk the correctly-dropped shot for a 5. A two-stroke penalty (giving him a 7) would have still been the same as the pitch-and-two-putt I mentioned above. Under no circumstances would the two-stroke penalty have given him a better result than he could have gotten by playing from the correct spot and just aiming a bit to the side to make sure he didn't hit the pin again. He got no advantage at all.

Did he sign an incorrect scorecard? This is where much of the confusion is coming from. NO, he didn't sign for a wrong score. Let me explain.

The statement from the Masters makes it clear that the ruling committee had decided his drop was correct before Tiger signed his scorecard, therefore the 6 he signed for was the correct score. Rule 6-6b says:
After completion of the round, the competitor should check his score for each hole and settle any doubtful points with the Committee. He must ensure that the marker or markers have signed the score card, sign the score card himself and return it to the Committee as soon as possible. (emphasis mine)
Since the committee said there were no problems, he didn't break rule 6-6; and if he didn't break 6-6, he shouldn't be DQed.

Was Tiger given favored treatment? No, he wasn't. I know there's a whole conspiracy thing going on, that Tiger was spared to help TV ratings, but the fact is this: Had the committee told Tiger he had dropped incorrectly before Tiger signed his scorecard and then he signed for a two-stroke penalty at the end of the round, nobody would have blinked twice. As it is, Tiger signed a scorecard that was correct according the Masters Rule Committee, which means he didn't sign an incorrect scorecard and therefore should not have been DQed. Rule 33-7 just gave them the freedom to do the right thing since it all started with a viewer phone call.

What is the real problem? Tiger made have made a bad drop, but it was the Masters Rule Committee that really dropped the ball.

Everybody is going to debate the value of Rule 33-7, but the rule isn't the problem. The problem is that there was no predetermined procedure in place to enforce the rule. Here's the procedure that should have been followed:
  1. The committee receives the viewer phone call questioning the drop.
  2. Tiger is informed immediately that there is a question about the drop and that he needs to talk to them before signing his scorecard.
  3. The committee begins their own review to see if the violation is obvious or not.
  4. After his round, Tiger meets with the officials. If the violation is obvious -- like clearly grounding a club in a bunker or something -- the committee shows it to Tiger and simply says, "This is clear, here's your penalty. If it's not clear -- and in this case it wasn't -- they go through the standard Q&A until they decide what to do.
Sounds remarkably like the standard procedure already in place, doesn't it? That's because it is. And had normal procedures been followed, Tiger would have signed for a two-stroke penalty and this would have never been an issue.

The committee's mistake had nothing to do with 33-7. Rule 33-7 was created to prevent players from getting DQed when the committee didn't find out about a violation until after the scorecard was signed, which meant they didn't have a chance to confront the player and give them a chance to make sure their scorecard was correct.

In this case, the committee made a unilateral decision without ever consulting Tiger. They made a decision based on incomplete knowledge of the situation and were forced to backpedal when that knowledge came out in the after-round interviews. As a result, they didn't confront Tiger and give him a chance to make sure his scorecard was correct. Rule 33-7 simply gave them the means to correct their error rather than summarily DQ him because of their own mistakes.

I understand that not all phone calls result in penalties. In fact, most of them are just wrong. But this situation wasn't cut and dried after viewing the video. For those of you who haven't used cameras much, I say this because lenses that are adjusted to show a lot of things clearly -- like both the player and the green, nearly 100 yards apart -- those lenses compress the scene so things seem closer than they really are. (Just like a rear view mirror.) You couldn't adequately determine the distance between the ball position of Tiger's third and fifth shots just by looking at the video. But since the committee decided everything was ok based on the video, they never even asked Tiger about it.

Unfortunately, the committee's decision left Tiger holding the bag. No one is going to place the blame on the Masters Rules Committee where it belongs.

It's no surprise that Faldo at GC and Azinger at ESPN initially disagreed with each other about this, is it? Faldo said Tiger should withdraw to protect the integrity of the game, but softened his stance as more info came out. And while Azinger worries that 33-7 could at some point be used to keep a popular player in an event merely for ratings purposes, he believes that this is a test case for 33-7 and that, since Tiger didn't make the error, if he withdraws he will effectively gut this rule of any importance. Frank Nobilo made the same point: If Tiger says the rules don't matter and withdraws on his own, why have rules in the first place?

And that brings me to the point of this post. Do you mind if I rant? (It doesn't really matter, you know... I'm going to rant anyway. I just wanted to be polite.)

Boys and girls, there's a difference between
and the golfing world seems to be losing track of it. In our sport we like to point out how much character our players have, as opposed to those other "lesser" sports. (Stick your nose in the air noticeably as you say that.) But we better make sure we know exactly what "character" is.

Character is when you break a rule and nobody else sees it but you call it on yourself... regardless of whether you do it during a round and take a penalty or you do it after the round and get DQed.

Character does NOT mean that you deliberately give up a chance to win when the officials screw things up for you! If they do, and then try to correct the problem and you decide that's not good enough for YOU (stick that nose in the air again), then YOU are officially STUPID.

All the arguments about whether Tiger should have been DQed or not calmly ignored that this rules breach was entirely unlike any of the previous rule breaches that it was compared against. In those previous breaches -- like Stadler's towel -- the officials themselves never signed off on it and said that, as best as they could tell, the player had done nothing wrong. If the officials say there is no rules infraction, then the player has committed NO rules breach! And if there is no rules breach, there are no grounds for DQing the player!

In no other sport do officials change the results of a sport after the round is over because they made a mistake. We saw a huge uproar over replacement officials in the NFL last season. The substitutes weren't prepared for the speed of the game and made bad calls, some of which changed the outcome of games. Even though the NFL would later admit to these mistakes, the results stood.

In this case, the officials screwed up. They knew there could be a problem with Tiger's score and didn't even even tell him about it. They admitted that it was a conscious decision, and it deprived Tiger of the chance to avoid all this trouble. Come on -- do any of you really think Tiger would have looked at the video, reread the rule, and then said, "I refuse the penalty?" Of course not! But he wasn't even given the chance.

Personally, Tiger has taken this better than I would have. In other sports results aren't changed once the play is finished. In golf players aren't allowed to change their scores after the scorecard has been signed. So why should the officials be allowed to change Tiger's score after the fact once they had ruled that he was not in violation of a rule? I think his -3 score should have stood and he be allowed to play as is on Saturday, because he had done everything he was required to do.

Instead, he rather gracefully accepted the penalty in what I consider a character move, apparently deciding that he would have accepted the two shots on Friday... had they bothered to tell him about them, that is.

And that's something all of those people complaining that Tiger should have withdrawn on his own should think about. This was an unusual ruling but, given the ridiculous complexity of our sport, it was a fair one. If gracefully accepting the rulings passed down by the committee isn't good enough for the complainers, then what is "the integrity of the game" anyway?

We keep saying we have this great game and everyone should play. We say that we need to simplify rules and make equipment and rounds cheaper if we want to attract more people. But this incident has highlighted a far more dangerous attitude that we need to deal with...

If we've reached the point where a player has to throw away chances to win in order to be respected, we aren't golfers anymore. We're in danger of becoming just another batch of masochists and sadists -- people who enjoy suffering and watching others suffer -- and only a fool would want to play a game that values such stupidity. We need to stop that RIGHT NOW and regain some perspective!

End of rant. Go enjoy the last round of the Masters.

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