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Caller ID.
Posted Wednesday, April 21, 2004
by Bill Hogan


It's not every day that a professional golfer gets the opportunity to experience the elation that comes with winning a major golf championship. Just ask Phil Mickelson. Of course, the flip side is that many have suffered the misery of blowing the chance to win a major. Just ask Phil Mickelson.

Miss a short putt on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open. Hook the last drive of the day into a lake at the PGA. Get caught in one of those deep pot bunkers sprinkled around a British Open course. It happens to the best of them. But only once did a golfer lose a major championship because his playing partner couldn't count to three.


At the 1968 Masters, Roberto De Vicenzo and Bob Goalby were neck and neck heading toward the clubhouse on the tournament's final day. De Vicenzo, playing in the group in front of Goalby with Tommy Aaron, finished his round with a birdie three on the 17th hole and a bogey at the 18th.

With a par on the finishing hole, Goalby left the final green with a score of 277, 11 under par. Goalby, and everyone else watching the exciting action, thought he was tied with De Vicenzo and that an 18-hole playoff the following morning would ensue.

There was, however, a slight problem. Tommy Aaron was keeping De Vicenzo's score, as is the protocol at any golf tournament. Aaron recorded a par four for De Vicenzo at the 17th hole, instead of a birdie three, giving Roberto a total score of 278.

Without paying much attention, and in the excitement that comes with being in contention for a coveted green jacket after 72 holes of quality golf, De Vicenzo signed the incorrect scorecard.

According to the rules, the incorrect score would stand. De Vicenzo's score of 278 was official. Good enough for second place. Even though everybody knew De Vicenzo really shot 277. And Goalby, who had no desire to be handed the championship on a technicality, was willing to decide the matter with a playoff.

The rules of golf sometimes are as absurd as they are relevant. There should be enough latitude to allow for common sense to dictate the proper course of action when it is warranted.

I'll bet there was no one – with the possible exception of De Vicenzo – that felt worse than Tommy Aaron about the high stakes mistake. It was Aaron that called his gaffe to the attention of tournament officials. It was Aaron's duty as a professional golfer to make his error known.

That's what professional golfers do. They call penalties on each other. They call penalties on themselves. What they don't need is some guy sitting in his Lay-Z Boy recliner watching the tournament on a big screen plasma television making the call for them.

Stewart Cink won this past week's MCI Heritage golf tournament. But not without controversy. The match went to a sudden-death playoff between Cink and golf journeyman Ted Purdy.

Cink's second shot on the fifth playoff hole was from a waste bunker about 160-yards from the green. He hit a seven iron to within six feet of the pin. The shot won Cink the tournament.

If you haven't already heard it, a home viewer called in and told the broadcasting crew that Cink had broken a rule. He "improved his position" in the waste bunker and should be penalized.

Who was this guy? Or gal? And why does the PGA take these calls seriously? It's not the first time something like this has happened. It happened to Paul Azinger. It happened to Duffy Waldorf. Both players were penalized for infractions called in by the viewing public.

When, in sports, did the viewing public become part of the officiating crew? After reviewing the "incident" for an hour, Cink was declared the winner. Declared? He was the winner. A guy sitting on a couch, clamoring for his wife to get him another beer shouldn't be an integral part of the outcome of a professional golf tournament.

I sit in front of my TV night after night screaming "that was interference," or "there's no way that was a strike!" I'd never dream of trying to contact the referee or umpire and actually plead my case. Why do golf fans have that luxury?

Professional golfers police themselves very well – even when they make a major mistake. There's no need to bring TiVo into it.


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