Technology, technology, techonology.
For all the great things it has given us – lightning fast communication, safer mass transportation, life-saving medical devices, not to mention all the fun we have stealing a few minutes away from loved ones to look at our phones – it can be a real pain in the butt, especially when it comes to golf.
I am speaking about the new 18/4 rule enacted by the USGA and R&A to protect players from rule infractions visible only to HD cameras. Specifically it states: “where enhanced technological evidence shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.” This has in part been implemented to address the myriad of rule violations called in by home viewers.
Tiger Woods was affected by the “problem” of home viewers calling in rules violations multiple times during the 2013 season. During the Masters’ Tournament Tiger hit a perfect knock-down short iron into the green on Hole 15. In all its perfection his shot caused the golf ball to hit the flag stick and then bounce backwards and roll off the green and into the water. He dropped another ball and hit an identical shot, after obvious chagrin, this one landing safely on the green a few feet from the hole. However, a former Champion’s Tour player noted that Tiger did not drop his second ball in exactly the same spot that the first one had been struck from, in accordance with the hazard that his first ball landed in, and called rules officials to notify them. Woods was ultimately assessed a two-stroke penalty but others argued that he should have been disqualified altogether for signing what arguably became an incorrect scorecard. During this year’s BMW championship Woods’s ball found its way into some debris in the woods. A camera zoomed in closely shows Tiger bending over to remove the debris and stopping instantly when one of his motions appears to dislodge the ball. Tiger says the ball merely oscillated (which it probably did from his perspective) but the close-up HD camera reveals that the ball came to rest in a slightly lower position. Had this new rule been enacted at the time Tiger would have been spared from this second controversy which led to recent squabbling between Woods’s agent Mark Steinerg and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee that was carried out almost entirely in social media and online. Since Tiger ultimately lost this year’s Master’s by just 4 strokes, 2 of which can be chalked up to sheer bad luck, I firmly believe he could have gone into Sunday in contention, and being hungry, gone on to win his 15th major and end the 5 year drought. However, he was embroiled in this controversy with calls by both players and analysts for him to “do the right thing” and disqualify himself and was probably too angry, bitter, or distracted to perform at his absolute best. As it is, his distracted best netted him 4th place.
The role of technology continues to be one of questionable benefit to the world of golf. Positives for the game of golf include digitized leaderboards and a myriad of GPS devices and applications that help the casual golfer play better. In keeping with the 21st century, the USGA allows players to apply to for tournaments online and is a social media juggernaut. The USGA even offers a mobile application for their Official Rule Book. Negatives include camera phones that distract players during their swing, and, well, home viewers who wish to keep the sport as honest as possible.
Technology and Golf have a beleaguered relationship. There may never be a time when Augusta National uses a digitized leaderboard. However, progress waits for nothing, not even Golf, and has forced the sport’s governing bodies to step up to protect its players from the millions of armchair rules officials who, thanks to HDTV, have a better view of what goes on in the matches than the players themselves.♣
Photo: courtesy of atlanticblackstar.net