The nonsense with delayed action on alleged violations of the Rules of Golf, the Lexi Thompson/Dustin Johnson/Tiger Woods syndrome, must stop.
The problem: people are looking at the wrong problem. Everyone complains about the rules, but the real problem lies with the enforcement of the rules. Example, drawn from watching the live telecast of the women’s tournament last week: the first time I saw a replay of Ms. Thompson’s re-placement of her ball on the green, I thought, that is a clear violation, she could have been changing the placement in order to avoid having to putt from – or over – a defect in the putting surface, a bump or spike-mark or something. In other words, she deserved to be penalized. The rule is a good one, as it is designed to prevent people from giving themselves a more-favorable lie.
So why did she do it? After watching the replay several more times, I realized that Ms. Thompson’s mistake could have been based on geometry and viewing-angle, not on trying to game the system. By placing her marker and then lifting and re-placing the ball from aside the marker rather than from behind, she had made it much harder to identify a spot in front of her marker, because from the sideways perspective, you are not placing the ball on a line with anything. Also, the putt was less than a foot and there were no visible imperfections in the turf. Probably the violation was innocent, probably she was not even aware she did it. But all of that is beside the point. Intention is irrelevant; motive is not a part of the rule, nor should it be. Tournaments do not leave time for lawyers to cross-examine players.
The problem is not with the Rules of Golf, it is with the enforcement of them. You can’t wait until the round is over (the Woods situation) or until the back nine of the next round (the Thompson debacle) before making a ruling. In cases where a player seeks a ruling before hitting a shot, the ruling by the attending rules official should be final, not subject to further review or appeal. In cases where a fellow competitor, a rules official, a TV viewer, or anyone else claims that there has been a violation regarding a shot already taken, pro golf needs a time-limit and an NFL-style instant replay and booth review . If no one makes such a claim within, say, 5 minutes after the alleged violation occurred, case closed, it is too late for anyone to present a claim. If someone does present such a claim within the 5 minute period, play halts for the player and the others in his or her group. The booth review people have, say, another 2 minutes to make a ruling, and unless they rule “guilty” within that time, the case is closed, the player is permanently exonerated.
Why so fast? Because justice delayed is justice denied. You cannot require the player, indeed the entire field, to continue play without knowing where everyone stands. Mistakes will occasionally be made, but it is more important, more fair, to maintain pace of play and keep everyone fully informed than it is to spend a lot of time in pursuit of perfect rulings. Just like football and other sports. You cannot get to the end of a game and say, wait, we blew the call, we must either replay the entire 4th quarter or declare that the losing team has become the winning team.
Why the USGA cannot figure this out, is a mystery. Are they trying to avoid the expense of employing more officials and more technology? Given the egg on their faces after all of these fiascos, is it good business to continue to dodge the problem? And by the way, golf should be encouraging TV viewers to present claims, not alienating viewers by being hostile to their actions.