April 19 — Would Verizon Heritage golf tourney runner-up Brian Davis have called a two-stroke penalty on himself during Sunday’s sudden-death playoff with Jim Furyk if TV cameras weren’t recording his every move?
The playoff round of the PGA Tour’s Verizon Heritage golf tourney was full of drama, as these photos illustrate
With Davis telling PGA Tour tourney director Slugger White (what a great name for a baseball player) he believed he had tickled a loose impediment in the hazard during his backswing (a definite no-no, according to rule 13.4, ball in hazard; prohibited actions), some golf pundits praised the 35-year-old Englishman for his integrity. Others said Davis’ ratting himself out was just what golfers do.
After all, you wouldn’t see Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury fess up if he actually trapped a ball that an ump ruled an out. Randy Moss would never tell a ref he tiptoed out of bounds on his way to hauling in a game-winning touchdown from New England Patriots QB Tom Brady.
Game of integrity. Integrity, thy game is golf, the punditry proclaimed after Davis’ error cost him a chance at the tournament.
“Unfortunately, when I was making the swing, I wasn’t 100 percent sure whether I caught the twig or not,” Davis told reporters later. “I told Slugger, ‘I’m not 100 percent sure, but pretty sure I saw it move out of the corner of my eye, because I didn’t feel it.’”
Pre-shot warning. Coincidentally, White had cautioned Davis before his shot “not to touch anything loose,” the official said to reporters. After Davis’ backswing touched one of the reeds, he sought out the official to report the infraction.
“He immediately came to me — I couldn’t see it,” White said. “The wind was blowing, so I couldn’t see it against the sand. And he assured me that he ticked it when he took the club away. He called it on himself immediately.”
Shouldn’t that be enough? Given the number of times professional golfers come clean about breaching the rules (Michelle Wie’s whining about the golf equivalent of “my dog ate my homework” notwithstanding), it’s reasonable to believe that Davis would have called himself out under any circumstances. Forget about the instant replays that clearly showed Davis nicked the twig on his backswing.
Let’s go to the tape. Here’s Davis again: “[White] said, ‘We’ll go to the TV and check it.’” They checked it and they said, ‘Yes, it did move — barely.’ And then obviously we had to check that it was classified as a loose impediment, so it’s a 2-shot penalty unfortunately.”
The video clearly showed Davis’ club touching a twig on its way up. Which raised a question in at least one golf observer’s mind: Since when does the PGA Tour employ instant replay, other than as a teaching tool?
Apparently, since 1991, according to news reports from back in the day (a PGA Tour official did not return a request for comment). At the time, it was a huge deal when officials used a televised replay to overrule a judgment call by Tom Kite, who was then the tour’s leading money leader.
Ruling from afar. The tour implemented the use of instant replay earlier that year, after a TV viewer phoned in a foul that resulted in officials disqualifying Paul Azinger from a tournament. Can anyone imagine NBA officials determining the outcome of a playoff game based on a phone call from a fan watching at home? Just sayin’.
In Kite’s case, the golfer went ballistic after the ruling, which had to do with where one of his shots crossed a hazard. “TV has no business doing what they are doing, making a ruling from an official watching TV in a trailer,” Kite told the New York Times. “I don’t understand why we are using it.”
It was a good point then and it’s a good point today. For sure, golf didn’t need instant replay when Bobby Jones called a two-shot penalty on himself during the 1925 U.S. Open at Massachusetts’ Worcester Country Club. Jones famously acknowledged that his ball moved before he hit an iron shot, as Jason Sobel recalled in an ESPN.com column.
Cue the legendary quote. As Jones said when people praised him for his honesty after the penalty caused him to lose the major by one stroke, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”
As goody-two-shoes as that purportedly actual quote may be, it serves to point out that golf touts itself as being a game of integrity. If so, let the players police themselves. The resulting scorn that would rain down on the few who cheat and have to watch their wrongdoings endlessly on TV and YouTube should be penalty enough.
By the way, had Davis’ wedge caught a fixed impediment — such as a blade of growing grass or a tree limb — on his backswing, he would have been okay.
Golfers might think twice about cheating, what with TV and YouTube replaying their antics non-stop. Turns out they had better watch what they type as well. Read how the Anti-Defamation League of New England rebuked PGA Tour star Ian Poulter for an anti-Semitic Twitter post.