dropping the ball

tiger-mobile-woods-penalty-drop_640

By Monday afternoon, it was clear the lasting effect of the 77th Masters would not be Adam Scott becoming the first Australian to slip on a green jacket. That was an historic achievement, no doubt. But whatever happened on Sunday was fated to be secondary to what happened on Friday.

This 77th Masters evolved into another chapter in the Tiger Woods saga.

This became clear to me because my dad and I engaged in an animated debate over the subject of Tiger’s non-disqualification. We had just finished playing in a scramble at Sky Creek Ranch Golf Club in Keller. But we weren’t talking about our round of golf or Scott’s Masters-clinching putt on the second playoff hole.

Nope, we weren’t talking about those things because the subject of Tiger not disqualifying himself from The Masters captured the conversation.

The way I saw it: Like most sports fans, I awoke Saturday morning to the news that Tiger was in the middle of big-time drama and went to the web to figure it out.

(In case anyone is reading this column and doesn’t know the golf details, which I find extremely unlikely, I’ll give the quickest version I can. Tiger’s approach shot into the 15th green hit the flag stick and then spun back off the green into the water. He had several options and chose to re-hit from his previous position. But he dropped from two yards behind that position, confusing and accidentally combining two of his possible options, and gave himself a strategic advantage in doing so. He then signed his scorecard without assessing a two-stroke penalty for that mistake. Signing an incorrect scorecard, particularly for a lower score than is correct, has historically been cause for disqualification.)

I read the Associated Press account, which stated that the USGA had instituted a rule in 2011 giving the Rules Committee the ability to waive disqualification. Good enough for me. The fact that the rule had something to do with television just made it a sealed deal in my mind. By the time I was at the gym, wanting to watch the start of the third round while riding the elliptical machine, I was mostly annoyed that I instead was watching Jim Nantz have a conversation with someone in the Butler Cabin for 20 minutes. But I did learn something important: the Rules Committee reviewed Tiger’s drop and decided not to impose a penalty and therefore didn’t discus the situation with Tiger following his round before he signed his scorecard. Only later, when Tiger admitted in an interview that he dropped two yards back to gain a distance advantage, did the Rules Committee realize it had to at least impose a penalty.

I totally bought the logic that the Rules Committee assessed the situation and didn’t call a penalty, then when Tiger stated he moved back a couple of yards, the Rules Committee in essence said “Our bad.” They stroked Tiger by two, but didn’t disqualify him. And they used the 2011 rule change to back up the decision. Made sense to me.

The way my dad saw it: My dad’s immediate and unequivocal reaction was that Tiger should have been disqualified or disqualified himself.

Once upon a club championship, my dad was playing in a Saturday first round when his playing partner requested that the flag be removed. The playing partner then hit an errant shot that began rolling toward the removed flag on the ground. My dad was standing close by and picked up the flag before the ball hit it. The two players finished their rounds, signed the score cards and went into the clubhouse where my dad mentioned the incident in passing to the club pro.

The club pro looked sideways at my dad and basically said “Uh oh. I don’t think you can do that.” Sure enough, they called the USGA and my dad’s action caused him a two-stroke penalty. But because he had signed his card, he was disqualified and didn’t play in the Sunday final round.

My initial reaction to this comparison was to say “Yeah, but you weren’t playing on TV. It’s not like someone called in the infraction, which is why they implemented this new rule in 2011.” But the thing is, Tiger’s situation didn’t have anything to do with TV either. He made a remark to a reporter, my dad made a remark to the club pro. But the end result should have been the same.

As a reporter, I understand that disqualifying Tiger might have caused him to stop speaking to the media in perpetuity. That’s just one of the many good reasons I can see why he wasn’t disqualified.

But you know what? Upon further review, Tiger should have been disqualified or disqualified himself. His admission of gaining a length advantage was the first domino to fall, not the television viewer who called in the infraction.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally had it with the overused sports quote “it is what it is.” I think when sports figures say this, they think they’re sounding wise, but they’re really just using five words to say something that could be better expressed with a shrug of the shoulders. However, when I took to Twitter to voice my complaint about “it is what it is,” one of my friends defended the phrase by saying that it’s another way of acknowledging a situation and the inability to change that situation. In other words “such is life.”

Well, this controversial ruling falls in the “such is life” category. The Masters isn’t inclined to budge for TV ratings or duck controversy. But it still seems like they reached for a way not to disqualify Tiger. I totally understand the reasons for employing Rule 33-7.

In a world where television ratings and advertiser dollars and tied-for-third-place checks all fall in line behind the integrity move, then Tiger disqualifying himself might have happened.

It would have made me feel better about the word we live in, but such is life.

[ This essay also appeared in The Sports Page Weekly in Dallas. ]

Photo via Golf.com.

Follow The Live Ball on Twitter @live_ball.

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One response to “dropping the ball

  1. You article is very well written. It does make an argument for both sides. Personally, I think Tiger should not have been disqualified because the rules committee reversed their decision. If they had not reversed their decision, they Tiger should have been disqualified. It is a unique situation and thank goodness it had no impact on the tournament.

    Cheers
    Jim
    The Grateful Golfer

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