Gotta love the “apology” tendered on Monday by the U. S. Golf Association: “Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. “ In other words, they are not apologizing for their actions, they are regretting the consequences. They are not sorry for what they did, they are sorry that some are too stupid to grasp the brilliance of it. Sorry you were injured by our running over you with our car.
Imagine a pro football game where one team, trailing by 5 points in the third quarter, completes a long pass for the go-ahead touchdown, but then the referee declares that the catch might not have been a catch, and that he will not make his final decision until he has had a post-game interview with the receiver, in which he will ask the receiver to indicate his opinion on whether he had possession before going out of bounds.
Imagine a baseball game, 5th inning, 2 outs, runners on first and third, the runner on first tries to steal second, the catcher’s throw is late and wide and bounces into the outfield, and the runner scores. But the umpire declares that the batter interfered with the catcher’s attempt to make the throw. Close call, no indication of intentional cheating by the catcher. Result: batter is out, run does not count, inning over. Totally a judgment call. But the batter’s team protests the call, and the umpire says, You know, that one was a pretty-close call, pretty ambiguous, so let’s just go ahead and finish the game and after the game is over I will have a talk with the catcher and then we will make a final decision.
Now imagine the same problem in a golf tournament: half-way through the round, a player consults with an official over whether the player has violated a Rule of Golf and incurred a one-stroke penalty. Well, if you saw Sunday’s US Open telecast, you do not have to imagine it. The official declined to make a ruling on the spot, and we never got to learn the final scores until after everyone had finished playing and the USGA had had a chance to consult with the player. A total fiasco, and the best the USGA can do is to announce that the player actually did violate the rule and to express regret over the consequences of its actions.
What is Golf to do? Simple. Hire enough referees to be able to post at least two on every hole. (The additional cost could probably be covered by about one 30-second GoDaddy commercial.) The referee’s job would be to spot infractions of the Rules of Golf, to answer the players’ questions about the Rules, and to resolve disputes about whether an infraction has occurred. Just like a football referee or a baseball umpire, a golf referee would be the one and only, final authority on infractions. On the spot, live, in real time, using all readily-available evidence, like TV replays and advice from the people running the event. The ref has one minute to make the call. Period. If the ref blows the call, too bad – there would be no more recourse than there is in other sports. The ref’s job is not to be perfect, it is to know the rules, make an honest effort to apply them, and to do it in a timely fashion. Perfection is impossible and is not required. Mistakes occur, people get over it, life goes on. But no one, in any sport, should be called upon to play out a game while not knowing what the score is.