It was February 1987. Craig Stadler was playing the 14th hole at Torrey Pines in the third round of the Andy Williams Open (If you’re under the age of 50, ask your parents who Andy Williams is and why he was famous enough to have a golf tournament named for him. But I digress…). Stadler had to get on his knees to hit a shot from under a tree, so he put a towel down first so as not to get his pants wet or dirty. That action violated the “building a stance” rule and he was disqualified after finishing his final round the next day. What makes this rule violation particularly memorable is that it wasn’t a rules official on site that saw the infraction. Nor was it another player. This transgression was observed by someone watching television, who then called the course and ratted out Stadler. To be fair, several people called in. But all it took was one and the damage was done. And thus began the proud tradition of viewers pointing out rules violations they see while watching a golf tournament on television.
Fast-forward to 2010. The latest victim of the couch potato rules police is Camilo Villegas. You can read about the specifics of that violation here. The point of this column is about the phenomenon of television viewers as rules officials. Unlike most other sports, the beauty (and integrity) of golf is that the player calls his own fouls. However, that assumes the player knows all the rules. In the case of Stadler, it never occurred to him that he was “building a stance” in the sense that he was improving or stabilizing his stance. He just didn’t want to get his pants dirty. But rules are rules. And if one is broken, it shouldn’t make any difference if it’s spotted by an official, another player, someone watching t.v. or the guy selling the cardboard box periscope.
GolfWorld’s Tim Rosaforte has an interesting interview with the three men who called in the Villegas infraction. You can read it here.