Watching golf last weekend, two incidents left a rather unsavoury taste in my mouth. As you may have seen or read, the first taste of bile came courtesy of the disqualification of Scotland’s Peter Whiteford from the Avantha Masters. Just one stroke off the lead, Whiteford had to endure being told on the 4th tee of the final round that he was being disqualified for an incident that happened on the final hole the day before, and in so being, he became the latest victim of TV viewers contacting the Tour to indicate a rules infraction.
Peter Whiteford won’t give a jot whether the phrase is coined as ‘Trial by Television’ or ‘TV Snitching’ but, to my mind, this is a rule that desperately needs changing. He handled himself with great dignity and professionalism in the aftermath, but I’m sure he was inwardly cursing the snitch that denied him a shot of a first European Tour title last weekend.
And this has nothing to do with cheating or ‘getting away with it’. Whiteford was rightly cleared of any deliberate foul play and he immediately went on record as saying that the blame lay with him – if he’d had any doubt he should’ve checked the television replay himself. Well, technically he’s probably right, but one suspects that 99% of the golfing population felt enormous sympathy for him.
For my money, he shouldn’t have been disqualified. I understand that the rules have to be applied with rigour and the European Tour therefore had little choice, and I respect the argument that if he had any doubt at all he should’ve checked the replay before signing his card. But let’s look at what actually happened. Whiteford did ask his caddy and playing partner whether the ball moved, as he wasn’t sure, and they both said that they hadn’t seen it move. Take away the cameras and that would have sufficed. The great irony is that, despite a rule change last year following the disqualification of Padraig Harrington in similar circumstances, if Whiteford hadn’t asked his playing partner and caddy (in so doing, he demonstrated that he himself had some doubt), he wouldn’t have been disqualified.
So, no one in the group saw anything wrong and on he played, finishing and signing for a level par 72. What Whiteford hadn’t accounted for was some busy-body TV viewers contacting the European Tour to tell them Whiteford’s ball had moved, a fact that that was upheld by the rules committee on viewing replays. OK, you could argue that the cameras and the TV viewers were only helping to apply the rules of the game, but to my mind this is patently unfair. The only players being scrutinised are those being filmed at the moment of indiscretion – I thought sport was supposed to be played ‘on a level playing field’? Trial by television in golf simply doesn’t allow that – it’s the equivalent of introducing goal line technology at only one end of a football ground.
Perhaps Whiteford should’ve asked for a television replay himself, appreciating that he did have some doubt, but I think it worth bearing in mind that whilst he’s clearly a good player, he’s not currently a household name commanding attention from the television cameras every time he tees it up. I’d bet that the concept of ‘trial by television’ is even more concerning for the likes of McIlroy and Donald, and therefore you’d imagine they are more practiced at ensuring everything gets reviewed if there is even the slightest question mark. Whiteford did his best to play by the rules and he walked away with his dignity intact, if not as champion.
I’ve since read that the European Tour has said they ‘hope it doesn’t happen again’. Well it will, unless the rule is changed. It happened to Padraig last year (all be it at a slightly earlier stage of the tournament, although that shouldn’t make the blindest bit of difference), and it will happen again. Surely they have to introduce a rule to protect the players from armchair referees.
My big issue, however, is with the ‘jobsworth’ folk who are actually emailing in. Yes, I know that technically, you WERE correct, Whiteford should’ve incurred a penalty and having failed to do so, signing for the wrong score could only mean one thing: disqualification. You must feel very proud of yourselves. But why do you feel it your responsibility to point it out? Can you not let the traditional etiquette and official referees police the game, as they do for all the other players in the event?
I remember reading an article when John Paramor (European Tour Referee) was interviewed regarding how amateurs faired in club competitions. The crux of it was that most amateur golfers break the rules on multiple occasions over the course of the round, without even knowing it. An incorrect drop here, wrongly taken relief there, amateurs think they know the rules better than they really do. Unless you’re John Paramor, it’s practically impossible to maintain an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rules of golf, so you can pretty much guarantee that these same people who call and email in, are guilty of breaking the rules themselves. I don’t suppose they would enjoy their golf very much if they were “DQ’d” every week, and even less so if it came courtesy of an over-zealous dog walker or greenkeeper dashing up to the clubhouse to report an infringement of Rule 18-2(a). Maybe the ‘armchair referees’ should bear this in mind next time they feel impelled to email their observations.
So, all this ruined one man’s chances of winning and the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans. Which brings me to my second bitter aftertaste, and something which would also have spoiled the enjoyment for legions of fans, many of whom did complain (and with some justification). This time, of course, nothing was done about it.
Slow play (also a rules infringement) is painful enough, but accompany it with endless spitting and it becomes unwatchable. Keegan Bradley was the guilty party over in the US, though he isn’t alone amongst the top American golfers, Tiger being one of them. Admittedly, spitting isn’t as reviled in the US as it is here and Bradley, to his credit, has since apologised and made a conscious effort to refrain from doing so. (More than can be said for Tiger). But my point is simply that, when it comes to overwhelming public opinion, justice wasn’t meted out very satisfactorily this weekend.