Honor and Electronic Umpires

Frank, please accept my appreciation for the work you have done and are doing for golf.

On the back cover of your book From Sticks & Stones you quote Bobby Jones in 1925 and I repeat it, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank. There is only one way to play the game.”

In light of this please give me your comment about the penalty given to Carl Pettersson for touching a leaf on his backswing in a hazard. My concern is not the penalty but the fact that an official called it.


Thanks for your kind comments. I hope that we will continue to provide good information and — now with the new website — a forum for our viewers to express their opinions about various issues we address.

Yes, Bobby Jones made this statement after the praise he received from the press about calling himself on a rules infraction, seen by himself alone.

Regarding the Pettersson penalty; If Carl had realized what had occurred, I am sure he would have called the infraction on himself – as hundreds of golfers in major events have before him.

When we understand that golf is a self-evaluation process we recognize the obligation we have to call rules infractions on ourselves. It is this that differentiates golf from any other sport we play, where in every case we shift this personal responsibility on to a referee or umpire. If this ever happens to golf, we will have fractured the very essence of the game and the foundation on which it is built.

The fact that we have the capability to recapture, electronically, every move a golfer makes in HD and replay it in slow-motion enabling us to see things otherwise imperceptible to the human eye – does not mean that we have to use it to officiate a game which relies on honor and self policing for its very existence.

Please do not let an invasion of such technology overseeing our actions become part of golf, as it will fracture the very essence of the game. In this particular instance it is the referee’s obligation if he observes an infraction or it is reported to him, to act accordingly and apply the Rules.

We need to do our best to educate golfers about the rules and then back off and let them take care of enforcement themselves, as has been the case for about five hundred years.

In spite of our impression about some of the rules — as Carl stated “It’s just one of those things. We have a lot of stupid rules in golf” – our incentive should be to change them in an orderly manner.

Thank you for your question and we invite our readers to share their thoughts on the role of technology in monitoring players and enforcing the  Rules by leaving a reply below.


18 thoughts on “Honor and Electronic Umpires

  1. I’m also concerned about the Rory McIlroy ball in tree episode. One can argue that because of his position on the scoreboard, he was being followed by the blimp camera. The camera crew with him, was able to relay the information to him. I remember a similar incident years ago with Phil Mickelson.

    Do you think the PGA Tour needs to implement a rule that does not allow assistance from the TV folks in locating a golf ball.

    If you are one of the big guys on tour, you have a blimp camera following your every shot.

    If you are not a big guy, you are left on your own.

    Kind of like the guy with a huge gallery can get the crowd to move a huge loose impediment. Whereas the guy with 5 people in his gallery isn’t afforded the same luxury.

    • Bill Your comments are noteworthy but I believe the problem will always exist and that is: How do you continue to call this Auld Game honorable when an infraction is observed and not allowed to be reported, regardless of who notices it. In these instances the camera, TV or Blimp is a referee who is there protecting the “field” and ensuring that the game is played by The Rules. It is no different than me observing an infraction at hole #5 because I am there and not at the other 17 holes.

  2. It must be that the early Scots didn’t have to worry too much about leaves falling into their bunkers, or other hazards, because there just aren’t too many trees on links golf courses, or has no one else noticed this? The older I get, the more inane the “rules” of golf seem to be to me. I also have reached a point where I don’t think the governing bodies of this great game have our best interests at heart. I furthermore think that the broadcasting companies need to tell anyone who calls in an infraction to kindly put their complaint where the sun doesn’t shine, or start calling in to the NFL on Sunday afternoons and see how far that gets them. By the way, in the fall and winter in Georgia, there are so many leaves in some bunkers, that they have to be moved just to find one’s ball. Guess what? I’m going to look for my ball, and my buddies are going to help me, just as I’m going to help them. USGA be damned.

  3. Not much else to say, in my opinion, everyone commenting previous to me said things very well. Blimpcam is great, but had it been that nobody saw or heard Rory’s ball impact and fail to emerge from the tree limb at any of the public courses I play, that ball would be there till the tree was cut down for somebody’s campfire. Yes indeed, marquee groups get unfair added scrutiny, and in this case, unfair help, from the media coverage. What about the guys who made the cut on the number, then shoot bigger numbers on the weekend? Who is helping THEM find balls in wierd places? Or the guys who missed the cut by only 1 stroke, which would have been saved by a blimpcam finding their “lost” ball?

  4. I must agree with the opinion that tv/armchair umpires should be muzzled until every stroke of every player is televised. I disagree with the penalty levied on Petterson: if he could have felt the leaf, he would have called it. Since no intent existed and no advantage resulted, the incidental contact falls more in a ‘rub of the green’ category.

    • “(I)f he could have felt the leaf, he would have called it. Since no intent existed and no advantage resulted, the incidental contact falls more in a ‘rub of the green’ category”. No truer words have been spoken on this topic.

  5. Frank:
    As always, your perspective is one of common sense, good manners and respect for this grand old game. I support your position 100%, but fear the mores of the younger generation are a’changin’ and not for the better, from this old man’s view,

  6. While this may not be relative to the Petterson case, I believe observations made and reported by TV listeners shoul be ignored. The only fair but unlikely alternative is to have every shot by every player monitored by an official.

  7. Speaking of electronic referees, should the blimp be used to locate Rory’s ball up in a tree. Not every golfer has the advantage of having the blimp look for his ball

    • Blimp’s should be out. Rory would have had a lost ball and the penalty is one stroke plus distance. Fortunately this did not cause a swing in the tournament. It had the potential for a major problem. This needs to be changed

  8. Frank, I agree with your reply and have found from personal experience that golfers in general and pga tour players in particular should have a better understanding of The Rules. It is my suggestion that pga players should be required to be certified under the PGA/USGA Rules of Golf and then and only then can we expect them to be able to recognize when they might inadvertently break a rule. It would also be a big help if announcers had the same requirement. I know pga members are required to attend Rules sessions but they are not required to complete the exam.
    Let’s change that……… soon!!
    Keep up your good efforts to protect our grand old game.

    • That may very well be exactly what happened to Pettersen here. The video is not conclusive no matter what the tournament officials may say. They had to look at it a hundred times (their words) before they could decide. How conclusive is that? I have seen the video and in my opinion it is just as likely on a seaside course with windy conditions that the leaf was blown by a gust just as Pettersen was swinging. I observed the video multiple times and did not see where the leaf actually was touched by the club. In any event it is just another stupid ruling following another stupid Rule espoused by the USGA (and its British clone) an organization increasingly becoming viewed by the public as a stupid organization. Nobody plays by the Rules of Golf in real life because the public views them as stupid.and unfair. If I called something like this on friends during a round they wouldn’t play with me any more and I soon wouldn’t have any friends.

  9. Golf is the only sport I know of that allows TV viewers to point out rules infractions. I do not thtink this practice should be allowed unless every golfer has every shot televised. Otherwise it provides unfair scrutiny.

    • Frank, for 20+ years I was a high school and small college sports official, and I personally find the electronic media as big a problem as a missed call by the official. The fact is I don’t care what sport it is, there is no way to have enough cameras to see eveything that happens. Therefore, if you can’t oversee every possible rule infraction with cameras, then you shouldn’t use them for any infraction. In golf the premier groups are the ones most closely watched by the cameras and therefore are the ones most likely to be seen doing something wrong that they don’t even know they are doing. And this same infraction might have occured other times during the tournament but buy golfers that are not being followed by the cameras. Is it fair that one group be held to a closer scrutiny than another, I don’t think so. My opinion is the instant replay will eventually ruin sports as we know them. MJ Martin

    • You are 100% correct, Keith. Could you imagine the flood of calls and possible stoppages of play if everyone and their brother called in a possible holding or illegal hands to the face penalty during an NFL game? It’s sheer stupidity.

Leave a Reply to Justin Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.