The problem can be solved with an automated call system. That is what I say. The poobahs of the PGA Tour can set up an 800 number -- 1-800-CHEATER would work just fine -- and all of the Mr. and Ms. Fussbudgets of the world can dial in their complaints.
"Welcome to the Professional Golfers Association Rule Enforcement Hot Line. Please be advised that all calls will be recorded for quality assurance …"
No other sport takes phone calls from fans, interested observers and heavy breathers that question the legality of movements made within the boundaries of its games. OK, perhaps other sports do take the calls, but no other sport takes them seriously.
A reminder that golf has this interactive, video-game quality, that people at home can spot a transgression on television, call authorities and actually have a penalty imposed, arrived with last month's Masters. When Tiger Woods, who was leading the tournament at the time, second round, took what turned out to be an improper penalty drop after going into the water on the 15th hole, no one at the course noticed. Only a phone call from a former PGA official, David Eger, now a player on the Champions Tour, brought about the required two-stroke penalty.
This changed the dynamic of the tournament. Adam Scott was the happy Australian who eventually was fitted with that green jacket. Woods finished four shots back. Stop the presses. Man At Home Decides Winner At Augusta? Maybe so. It was a story.
"Listen closely for the Tour you wish to complain about. Press One for the PGA Tour. Press Two for the Champions Tour. Press Three for the LPGA Tour. Press Four for the European Tour. Press Five for the Web.com Tour. Press Six for the Asian Tour. Press Seven for the Japan Tour. Press Eight for PGA Tour Canada. Press Nine for PGA Tour Latinoamerica, Press Star for all other tours …"
Apparently some people make calls all the time about things they see or think they see while watching golf on the flat screen. The first remembered big change of results due to a caller came in 1987. Craig Stadler, the legendary Walrus, was in the competitive mix in the third round in the Andy Williams Open at Torrey Pines when he was forced to take a shot from underneath a tree branch. This was a circus shot, which involved getting down on both knees. Stadler took a out a folded towel, placed it under said knees so he wouldn't get his pants dirty. After making the shot with reasonable success, he completed his round, signed his scorecard and was ready for the final day push.
A viewer, alas, had spotted the business with the towel and determined that it constituted "building a stance," which is a two-stroke penalty. Tour officials looked at the footage and agreed. Since Stadler already had signed that scorecard -- that incorrect scorecard -- he was disqualified from the tournament. And the sport had acquired a few million extra officials.
Just like that.
"This is the PGA Tour, the big tour, the one with all the golfers you know so well, Tiger and Phil and Rory and the rest. Listen closely to the options. If this call is in reference to illegal equipment, press One. (Please note that the belly putter still is considered legal.) If this in reference to an illegal extra movement of the golf ball, even the slightest millimeter of a movement, press Two. If this concerns an illegal stance, an illegal swing, an illegal tap dance to make a putt roll an extra quarter inch into the hole, press Three. If this concerns illegal help from a caddy, an advisor, a woman named Bambi, anyone, press Four. To speak to an Operator, press Five or stay on the line …"
The chances that this call-in business can whirr out of control are obvious. Only last week, officials questioned Sergio Garcia at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow about the placement of his coin after he moved it out of the path of someone else's putt. When Garcia returned the coin to its original spot, some viewer in viewerland determined that the placement was wrong. Tapes were viewed. Garcia was grilled. He eventually was found innocent, not assessed a two-stroke penalty.
"It's difficult to put (the coin) in the exact spot every time," he told reporters with great logic. "If they looked at every player, they'd be penalizing everyone in every round."
This is the problem. People can call and accuse players of anything. Controversial stars like Woods, like Garcia can be picked apart under a DVR microscope. The smallest infractions can be found. The rest of the field, the players not on television, can cruise along, play golf the way it was meant to be played, penalties decided by the players and officials on the course. The stars have to play this different game. Pictures can be frozen, rewound, played and played again. Movements can be dissected. Charges can be leveled. Everyone is an official in this sport. Everyone has a voice. Everyone will be heard.
It is ridiculous.
"All of our operators are busy at the moment. Please hold. Your call is important to us …"
The PGA walks a perilous path. Simple logic would say that phone calls about rulings on the course will not be accepted. End of problem. Simple logic does not work here because that would disenfranchise the fans, take away an advantage they already own. The PGA cannot say, "Frankly, we don't care what you see on your television, you busybody. Go back to telling the neighborhood kids to keep quiet and calling the police about neighbors who walk their dogs across your law." Public relations are involved.
"All of our operators are still busy. Please hold. Your call is important to us."
So set up the 800 number. Consolidate. Don't let people call, willy-nilly, the numbers for tournament directors, golf courses, PGA officials, anyone who will listen. That seems to be what is happening now. Set up the 800-number and run it across the bottom the screen, sort of like those warnings that thunderstorms are in the neighborhood. Let the people call. Let them get into the system, replaying to instructions, landing in that great netherworld of calls on hold.
Make them listen to a lot of bad recorded music. Or maybe they should listen to some very technical recorded golf instructions. Make the wait time 20 minutes, 25 minutes, half an hour, even more. At the end, if the callers have waited all this time, finally connect them with the operator at the call center.
Hello? Is a problem you have?
This should take care of everything.