by Courtney Capps
Technology has intruded too far into high-level, televised golf. It has replaced the practicality and spirit of the rules with minute, super slow-motion high-definition frames of proof.
What happened Sunday in the U.S. Women's Open playoff may have been technically correct. Anna Nordqvist's 5-iron did contact sand in the bunker on the second of three playoff holes, warranting a two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4. But dislodging a few grains of sand did not improve her lie.
If the situation hadn’t called for dramatic, scene-setting video, play would have continued, with everyone involved blissfully unaware of what had actually happened. Simply put, what couldn’t be seen and didn’t affect a shot before 1080p cameras would not and could not be called as a penalty.
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The problem is that technology is being used to the nth degree under the excuse of “upholding the integrity of the game,” and it is used as a gotcha to penalize players by the letter of the law, not the spirit of the rule. That rule was written to keep players from improving their lie in a bunker – something that did not happen in this instance. There was evidence, however, and that’s all that matters to convict under the rule.
This is what I believe. I believe that just about every professional golfers would rather have a leg cut off than intentionally break a rule. I think this is true of most serious golfers playing a serious round of golf, especially high-level amateurs and college golfers. I doubt that if you gave even a pro 100 chances to move three grains of sand like Nordqvist did, and do it on purpose, that pro would be hard pressed to do it just so.
I think the game's ruling bodies should get together and figure out how to address a situation like the one that happened with Nordqvist and be willing to make judgment calls. Be willing to stand up to technology and say that the spirit of the rule was not broken. It shouldn’t take more than a few viewings of a controversial shot to make a decision.
Was her lie improved? No? Play on.
Extend that philosophy back in time to how the USGA should have handled Dustin Johnson's ball moving on the fifth green in the final round of the U.S. Open. The review would have taken 60 seconds.
There is no way we can say for certain if he caused that ball to move or not. The walking official said no penalty…play on.
This view comes from understanding that golf is not a game of perfection. There has to be a recognition that technology cannot supersede common sense in every situation in the game.
Would looking at Dustin Johnson situation's at Oakmont with that recognition have changed his fate? I have no idea. He was tapping his putter on the ground next to the ball. He could have caused the ball to move…or not. That situation called for a ruling made on the fly by the walking official -- and making sure that call stood.
The last few weeks have been embarrassing for the USGA – much of it their own doing by not being prepared to act quickly in certain situations. At worst, technology has made them appear petty, even when they're right, but I believe that with a little bit of thought and effort, they can overcome the downside of technology and put an end to situations like this.
We have all watched major sports and their high-tech review snafus, but we rarely hear backlash like we see in golf because those sports make decisions and move along relatively quickly – right or wrong. Televised golf needs to do the same.
Learn to make decisions that support the spirit of the rules without letting the leviathan of technology run roughshod over the sport…or get used to being embarrassed on worldwide television.
Courtney Capps is the producer for The Golf Show on 680 The Fan in Atlanta, and a half-lifetime golfer.