Litke: Golf’s ever-vigilant rules police must butt out

ARDMORE, Pa. — “Hello, Merion Golf Club. May I help you?”

“Can I speak to a rules official from the U.S. Golf Association, please? I saw a twig move.”

“Sir, thousands of twigs get tossed around here every day. It’s a golf course.”

“Yeah, but this one was moved by Tiger Woods’ backswing, in a fairway bunker on No. 16.”

“Excuse me, but how would you know that? There’s no place for fans to see anything on 16.”

“I’m not there. I’m in Phoenix, watching on an 80-inch high-def TV.

“I’m sure it’s very nice, sir. When did this allegedly happen?

“Thursday. And there’s no ‘allegedly’ about it. I just got home from an out-of-town wedding and started watching the DVR. I rewound it eight times, twice in super slo-mo. He broke Rule 13-4c — moving a loose impediment lying in a hazard.”

“But it’s Sunday, sir. And this is the U.S. Open. Mr. Woods is on the verge of winning his first major in five years.”

“I know, but he should have been penalized and he needs to be disqualified. He signed an incorrect scorecard Thursday.”

Someday soon, golf is going to regret letting people watching from home phone in rules violations. Consider what happened at this year’s Masters a dry run.

During the second round there, Woods hit a ball that ricocheted off the flagstick and into the pond at No. 15. Soon after, a viewer — later revealed to be David Eger, a Champions Tour golfer who once ran the USGA’s rules committee — notified tournament officials that Woods had taken an improper drop before hitting his next shot. The next day, Masters officials reviewed the sequence and penalized Woods two strokes but cited another rule to avoid disqualifying him for signing an incorrect scorecard.

At the U.S. Open on Thursday, the claim by at least one viewer that Steve Stricker took an illegal drop at No. 3 found its way to the USGA rules committee. Later, as many as a half-dozen other viewers contended Adam Scott grounded his club in a hazard at No. 5. After reviews, the USGA decided no violation occurred.

So it may take a unique set of circumstances, but if they ever align, all this armchair officiating is going to test the notion that golfers are more honorable than their counterparts in the other pro sports.

Imagine if the caller in the conversation above happened to be a pal of a golfer chasing Woods down the stretch of a tournament on Sunday.

In golf, it doesn’t matter whether a rule was violated intentionally. And a golfer can be penalized up until the final ball of the last golfer in the field finds the bottom of the cup and all the scorecards have been signed. Silly as the conversation above sounds, there’s absolutely nothing that would prevent it from happening.

TV sets are only going to get bigger and better. If golf aims to do the same, there’s no time like the present to fix it.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.