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BREAKING NEWS: New Protocols Will Eliminate Viewer Call-Ins

Lexi Thompson was one of several players who fell victim to the ability for viewers to report possible violations. Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t call. Don’t text. Don’t e-mail. Just go to the fridge, get another beverage, and be a fan.  

If you’re watching golf on television and see what you think is a bad drop, an improper ball replacement, a grain of sand being dislodged in a bunker or someone inadvertently putting a club on the ground in a hazard, scratch your chin, cock your head and say, “Well, I wonder what they’re going to do about that?” but don’t appoint yourself a replay official.

That has been the opinion of players and a fair number of fans for a long time: Call-ins from fans have no place in golf. They gum up the works and give millions of viewers interactive control over a competition. Televised golf isn’t Dancing with the Stars. Your vote doesn’t count.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, that will no longer be just an opinion: it will be a rule.

Global Golf Post Roundtable

BREAKING: Viewer call-ins at golf tournaments are officially a thing of the past. Our roundtable of Mike Cullity, Ron Green Jr., Steve Eubanks and John Hopkins discusses.

Posted by Global Golf Post on Monday, December 11, 2017

On Monday, the USGA and R&A announced the results of a working group put into place in April to address viewers calling and e-mailing tournament officials. The recommendation that came back was unanimous. So, as of the first of next year, the USGA, R&A, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European Tour, PGA of America and all related tours under their respective umbrellas will adopt protocols that:

  •   Assign one or more officials to monitor the video broadcast of a competition to help identify and resolve rules issues as they arise;
  •   Discontinue any steps to facilitate or consider viewer call-ins as part of the rules decision process.

Also, the ruling bodies approved the adoption of a local rule to eliminate the additional two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard if a player is unaware of the underlying penalty that caused the score to be incorrect. This allows tournament committees to eliminate the scorecard penalty a year early, as it is scheduled to be enshrined in the modernized Rules of Golf in 2019.

“What we’re trying to do is put golf as it’s played on television on the same level, from a scrutiny perspective, as if you and I were playing,” Thomas Pagel, the USGA senior director of the Rules of Golf, told Global Golf Post. “What this is doing is making sure that when it comes to the administration of the rules and administration of the event, those things lie with the players and the committee.”

RELATED STORY: The Most Infamous Viewer Call-Ins

So, video evidence will still be part of the game.  

“One of the questions the working group asked was: should video continue to play a role in the administration of events?” Pagel said. “Everyone on the working group came to the conclusion that the answer was: absolutely. There’s a benefit to it. You can imagine the controversies that would ensue if there was some video evidence available that the committee could not act on. That would be harmful for the game.”

But rather than rely on millions of amateur officials calling in, all the organizing bodies agreed to put officials in production trucks or in front of TVs.

“What (those TV officials) are doing is twofold,” Pagel said. “You’re looking for breaches that players might not have noticed so that you can address those before the player signs a scorecard. But you’re also there to help. If a player is trying to find a ball and they aren’t sure where it went, or they’re trying to identify a ball, the person (monitoring video) can offer real-time assistance to folks on the ground.

“The criticism is that you’re holding the players (who are on television) to a different standard than others in the field (who might not make it on air). But that really works both ways. Video is often used to help players, which we think is a good thing.”   

While there have been plenty of call-ins over the years, Lexi Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in April prompted the creation of this working group. Thompson received two shots for replacing a marked ball in the wrong spot and another two for signing an incorrect scorecard. The infraction occurred on Saturday. A viewer emailed the LPGA on Sunday, which was when the penalties were assessed. Thompson, who was leading the tournament before officials penalized her, eventually lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

Following the incident, the USGA and R&A acted quickly to institute a “reasonable judgment” standard for the replacement of marked balls or taking drops in spots that might be fractionally off. But, at the time, they didn’t address the call-ins. Now, they have.

LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan told The Post, “I’ve been in golf it seems like forever and if you had told me 10 years ago that the ruling bodies would identify and react this quickly to an issue and do so by bringing together the organizations (within the game), getting input and acting on it, I don’t think anybody would have believed that. It’s a great testament to where we are with the leadership in (the USGA and R&A) that we’re seeing, not just this latest protocol but the changes that were made earlier in the year and the overall rules modernization.”

As for this latest protocol Pagel said, “If you’re watching (televised golf) in real time and someone replaces a ball (on the green) and it’s fractionally off, say a quarter of an inch off, the replay official will see that and will alert the rest of the committee. They may determine that reasonable judgment was there. Then a conversation happens in the scoring area where we say to the player: ‘Hey, just to let you know, we saw this, there’s no penalty, but we want you to be aware.’ That’s primarily for PR purposes because if the replay official sees it, other people are going to see it as well. And if the player is asked about it, that player needs to be able to speak to it.

“If the replay official says, ‘You know, I think there’s reasonable judgment here, but I want to talk to the player,’ then that conversation with the player will happen as soon as possible without disrupting play. If a penalty is appropriate it will also be applied as soon as possible.”

In other words, players are still being scrutinized through high-powered lenses. But it’s officials applying the scrutiny, not viewers at home.    

“The message is: We are actively monitoring it,” Pagel said. “If someone at home sees it, we’ve seen it as well. We don’t need that outside assistance from the viewers. We want you to be fans, enjoy watching the competition and have confidence in those who are in charge of the event.”

“These new adaptations, coupled with the changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game,” Whan said. “The LPGA plans to fully adopt the protocols and new local rule as outlined.”


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