ATLANTA -- Commissioner Tim Finchem said Tuesday that spectators in the gallery or television viewers alerting officials to possible rules issues is "difficult and awkward'' and that the PGA Tour is studying the matter.
Finchem, speaking at East Lake Golf Club, site of the season-ending Tour Championship, said specifically that the tour would look into whether it is fair for a player to be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard when spectator or video information comes to light after the fact.
Presently, if information becomes known prior to the conclusion of a tournament but after a player signed his scorecard -- thereby not adding penalty strokes -- he is disqualified.
The issue is prominent again after the rules issue faced by Tiger Woods on Friday at the BMW Championship, where he was assessed a two-stroke penalty only after enhanced slow-motion video footage showed that his ball moved while he attempted to remove debris.
That calls for a two-stroke penalty if the ball is not replaced, but Woods argued the ball only "oscillated'' which would have meant no penalty. He would have been penalized one stroke had he replaced the ball.
"It feels awkward when it happens,'' said Finchem about the Woods incident, which only came to light because a PGA Tour camera crew was filming the golfer. "On the other hand, I hate to say it's part of the tradition of the game because actually you can't really argue that because it's changed with the degree of television we have. I think we need to do some more thinking about it. I think people in the game need to think about it.''
Woods has been involved in three high-profile rules situations this year, two of which came to light due to video. The one that occurred at the Masters would have seen him disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard had Augusta National's rules committee not intervened; it felt it was in error for not bringing the information about a possible violation to Woods before he signed his card.
The ability of television viewers, spectators or anyone not directly involved in the competition to bring a possible violation to officials has long been controversial. Not every player is on camera, and golf has long prided itself on being a self-policing game, with fellow competitors and caddies doing the duty of protecting the rest of the field.
What makes such disputes dicey for the PGA Tour is that the Rules of Golf allow accepting the information. There is specific language in one of the Decisions under Rule 34 (Decision 3/9) that states: "Testimony of those who are not part of the competition, including spectators, must be accepted and evaluated. It is also appropriate to use television footage and the like to assist in resolving doubt.''
For the PGA Tour to ban such practices would mean going against the Rules of Golf -- which was part of the issue in the anchored putting debate earlier this year.
"At some point you have to draw a line and stop it,'' PGA Tour player Brandt Snedeker said. "I don't know where that is ... I don't think fans should be able to call in and dictate the outcome of a tournament.''
Peter Jacobsen, a longtime tour player and now broadcaster, takes the other view.
"When we have fans calling in after watching it on TV, it strengthens the rules of the game and strengthens how good we have to be," he said. "Specifically with the Tiger situation last week, when you're moving a twig, you're not looking at your ball. So when Tiger says he didn't see the ball move, I get that. He was standing on top of it looking down, probably saw it in his peripheral vision, didn't see it move.
"I don't mind people calling it in. It's unfair for Tiger because Tiger's got a camera on him everywhere he goes. ... But it only keeps us sharp.''
Finchem said the issue is complicated.
"There's sort of three or four different ways to look at it starting with one fundamental: (Is) disqualification reasonable for signing a card wrong when you didn't intentionally do anything?" he said.
"Going from there to what's a reasonable point to accept outside information? Is it better to have some sort of time limit on it? ... There's two sides to the story. It's not an easy argument one way or the other. I think it's cumbersome and difficult and awkward sometimes. On the other hand, sometimes it's pretty interesting to the fans.''