PGA Tour to Discuss Ban on Player Penalties Called in by Viewers

The days of video-watching golf fans picking up a phone to alert on-site tournament officials of a rules violation may be coming to an end.

Tim Finchem, commissioner of the Tour, said the world’s top professional golf circuit will discuss the increase in cases of outsiders alerting officials about violations when it reviews rules this offseason.

“We’ve been talking about it and looking at it over the years,” Finchem said at a news conference today in Atlanta, site of the season-ending Tour Championship. “We seem to have had three or four of these things this year. So we’ll probably be taking another harder look at it after we get done with the season.”

At last week’s BMW Championship in Lake Forest, Illinois, Tiger Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty when a freelance videographer for PGA Tour Entertainment alerted his supervisor that Woods’s ball moved while he was removing a stick and pine cone from around it.

Woods, after being shown video evidence following his round, denied that his ball moved. He repeatedly defended his position and said his ball oscillated slightly and returned to its original spot, which is not a penalty.

“I didn’t feel like I did anything,” Woods told reporters. “I feel like the ball oscillated and I just left it. They replayed it again and again and again, and I felt the same way.”

Second Case

It was the second such rules case this year for Woods, who finished 11th at the BMW event and enters this week’s tournament atop the Tour’s playoff points competition, which awards a $10 million bonus to the series champion.

After the second round of the Masters Tournament in April, Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty when he said during a news conference that he intentionally dropped a second ball two yards behind its original location after he hit his first ball into water on the 15th hole at Augusta National Golf Club.

The tournament’s rules committee initially cleared Woods of any wrongdoing after Champions Tour player David Eger, who served as the top rules official for the U.S. Golf Association from 1992 to 1995, called a Masters official to point out the infraction.

“The one at Augusta, I did take the wrong drop,” Woods said last week.

While Eger’s call during the Masters prevented Woods from possibly being disqualified from the tournament if he had signed an incorrect scorecard after the round, there are other times when viewers have non rules-related motives.

‘Tiger Haters’

“There are a lot of Tiger haters out there,” Tour player Billy Horschel said today in an interview at East Lake Golf Club. “They don’t like Tiger or some other top player. They see them do something wrong and they call in right away, honestly trying to hurt that player, I believe. It’s unfair. The Tour needs to put a stop to it. Our fans are great, but they just need to keep those phones off and hung up and be fans.”

Any such rule change would require a vote by the Tour’s policy board, which includes players Paul Goydos, Steve Stricker, Harrison Frazar and Jim Furyk, Finchem said.

“We could just write a rule and say we’re not going to accept outside information after X” amount of time, Finchem said. “What’s a reasonable point to accept outside information? Is it better to have some sort of limit on it? If you don’t learn about something before X time. All the other sports close their books a little quicker than we do, so to speak.”

Horschel said fans of other sports can’t affect the outcome when they spot infractions on television, such as a missed hold in football or a blown call at first base in baseball.

No Cheaters

“It’s getting ridiculous,” he said. “We don’t have cheaters out here.”

Not every player agrees with Horschel, a 26-year-old Florida native in his third full season on the U.S. PGA Tour.

“People calling in with rules and infractions, it only keeps us sharp,” said 59-year-old Peter Jacobsen, a seven-time PGA Tour winner who now works as a television golf analyst. “It’s probably no fun for the PGA Tour staff and all the rules officials, but I don’t have a problem with it.”

Such a rules change would also likely involve a discussion with the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, the two groups who make the sport’s rules around the world.

“We’d have a nice conversation with them,” Finchem said. “And then we’d have to decide what we want to do. It’s not an easy argument one way or the other. I think it’s cumbersome and difficult and awkward at times. On the other hand, sometimes it’s interesting to the fans.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Buteau in Atlanta at mbuteau@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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