Is DQ too severe for delayed penalties?

The PGA Tour needs to consider a special rule of competition to cover delayed violations of the rules that are discovered after a player has signed his or her scorecard, allowing the penalty to be applied and added to the score instead of the player being disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

This would cover cases like what happened in the first round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions when a television viewer tweeted about what he had seen happen to Camilo Villegas as he tried to hit a chip up a slope at the Kapalua Plantation Course. The ball didn’t make it to the green. As it started tumbling back toward Villegas, he flicked a piece of turf (a loose impediment) near where he waited to try the shot again.

This was an obvious violation of Rule 23-1: When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed,” Even flat on my back in a hospital after knee replacement surgery, it was obvious to me, but I was also in a lot of pain and just did not have a phone or computer handy.

Sitting with his buddies in Florida, Dave Andrews thought something wasn’t right when he saw what happened many miles away. He tweeted, trying to find out.  Of course, Tour officials didn’t find out about until the first round had been finished. Slugger White showed the video to Villegas the next morning and there was no other course of action by current rules than to DQ him. So instead of continuing play on his birthday, Villegas was sidelined, but accepted the consequences.

Two weeks later in Abu Dhabi, Padraig Harrington ran into the same problem. His ball moved slightly when  he picked up his marker, but he didn’t notice it and didn’t replace it. An armchair rules official did, but again it was too late as the scorecard had been signed. He was disqualified.

Ian Poulter and some of the other players don’t like the fact that an armchair official can make such a call. Andrews was labeled a “snitch” in a tweet credited to Poulter. However, in reality the discovery of such infractions like this, no matter when discovered, helps ensure a level playing field for all concerned. There’s no way for the Tour to always catch such violations. Having an official with each group is out of the question, especially in the early rounds with 50+ groups. However, an official with each group doesn’t always ensure all problems as the PGA discovered in the Dustin Johnson bunker gaffe on the final hole of the PGA Championship. At least, there it was discovered before he signed his scorecard. The best solution is to have a rules official in the production trailer.

From by side as a tournament official, I just feel disqualification just seems to be too severe of a penalty. My friend Gary Beck sees nothing wrong with it, making the point: “The players should know the rules.” He makes a good point, but I still stick with my observation.

The new special rule would also cover situations that occurred in the past when a fellow competitor notified the staff of a rules question during the previous round. Twice this led to disqualifications, but the professional who brought up the matter was told that such questions on rules should be addressed before scorecards are signed.

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