Updated: January 13, 2011, 11:47 AM ET

Solution for Villegas' DQ shouldn't be this hard

Harig By Bob Harig
ESPN.com
Archive

Golf's sometimes peculiar rules and how they are applied again became the subject of interesting debate in the aftermath of Camilo Villegas' disqualification on Friday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The issue isn't so much the 2-shot penalty that Villegas incurred when moving a divot out of the path of his rolling golf ball -- it seems more than clear that he violated a rule (23-1) -- but the disqualification.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesMike Davis, the USGA senior director of rules and competitions, said protecting the field is of utmost importance when it comes to rulings.

After all, Villegas wasn't disqualified for moving the divot. He was disqualified because he signed a scorecard that did not include the 2-stroke penalty for the offense.

In Villegas' defense, he wasn't aware of the penalty, so how could he know to add it?

And that is why there are again cries to change golf's rules. In this case, simply add the penalty as opposed to disqualification. Seems simple enough, doesn't it?

Couldn't the PGA Tour create a local rule that allows for penalty strokes to be added even if a scorecard has been signed?

"We play under USGA rules, and we would be going against the rules if we did that," said Mark Russell, a longtime rules official on the PGA Tour who will officiate at this week's Sony Open. "I know that it is a very harsh thing, but you have the opportunity to sit down in the scoring area with one of our people, one of our officials, and if you have any questions about the rules, our staff is readily available.

"It sounds absolutely insane to a person out there who is a golf fan. 'They disqualified the guy? Are you kidding me?' But you've got to get your score right. He committed an infraction that was a 2-stroke penalty and didn't add them [to his score]."

The PGA Tour does have local rules that would not be used in a USGA event such as the U.S. Open. For example, if weather conditions warrant, the tour will invoke preferred lies or "lift, clean and place" -- something you'd never see happen at the U.S. Open.

The difference? The rulebook accounts for such an occurrence. Another example is the USGA rule which allows for practice putting after a hole has been played. At PGA Tour events, a local rule is enacted which prohibits such practice to help with pace of play.

But the signing of the scorecard in the rulebook is sacrosanct. Once that occurs, nothing can be done to change the score. There is no such allowance for a local rule, according to Mike Davis, the senior director of rules and competitions for the United States Golf Association.

"We don't want to incentivize not knowing the rules," Davis said. "It is ultimately not fair to the other players for somebody to get an advantage because he doesn't know the rules. As distasteful as it seems to have that violation called in, it's all about protecting the field in stroke play. What about the player who knows that rule and calls the penalty on himself, which happens all the time? He basically would be at a disadvantage because he knew the rule and somebody else didn't. Camilo didn't know the rule but would get an advantage there. It all goes back to being fair to the field."

OK, but what about the violation not being brought to Villegas' attention until well after he signed his card?

Many have wondered why golf's rules seem so inflexible on this. At the time he signed his card, he believed the score he wrote down on the 15th hole at Kapalua was correct. It wasn't until the next day it was discovered he was wrong. Why not just add the 2-stoke penalty -- signed scorecard be damned -- and let him remain in the tournament?

"We have had formal requests to review that," Davis said of both the USGA and the R&A, which governs the game outside of the United States and Mexico. "We've gotten it from the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European Tour … and we have looked at it. One thing that has been proposed is assessing the penalty, and then adding an additional 2-stroke penalty -- so it would be a total of 4 strokes [if the penalty came to light after the card was signed]. At least the player would still be in the field.

"We looked at it long and hard. At the end of the day, it just didn't gain traction. There are just so many ramifications. We don't really like how the golf world is viewing these type of things, but at the end of the day, it is the players' responsibility to know the rules."

There is nothing stopping the PGA Tour from instituting a local rule that is not covered in the USGA rule book.

But good luck with that.

"We could do that, but I don't know if we want to do that," Russell said. "It just doesn't work like that."

The Garrigus fist pump

There is no doubt that Robert Garrigus is emotional. We saw that when he blew the St. Jude Classic last year, redeemed himself with a victory at the season-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic, and again last week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

There was Garrigus fist-pumping on Saturday when rolling in an eagle putt on the 18th hole. And again on Sunday, there he was screaming at his ball to find the green after hitting a second-shot approach to the par-5 finishing hole.

Turns out, however, that Garrigus may have gone a bit too far with his Saturday celebration. He holed a 60-foot eagle putt and understandably was elated, reacting with several fist pumps that apparently led to a sore shoulder.

"I feel embarrassed to admit it, but I hurt it on 18 [Saturday] after I made that putt," Garrigus told reporters after losing to Jonathan Byrd in a playoff. "I hadn't fist-pumped like that in a long time. I overdid it. It just didn't loosen up at all today."

Still, Garrigus performed well enough to get himself into a playoff, which got him a nice start to the year.

And although he missed out on an opportunity to get an invitation to his first Masters by winning (his victory at Disney did not qualify), Garrigus has now moved to 81st in the world, with the top 50 through March getting a spot in the year's first major.

Just wondering ...

... if it is really such a good idea for the LPGA to stage a tournament in which players don't get to keep any of the prize money. It is a heck of a thought, a noble gesture, and it is getting the tour plenty of publicity.

The RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup is a new tournament that will be played in March. The LPGA needs all the new tournaments it can get, but this one comes with a catch: All of the prize money will be donated to charity.

Players will get free hotel accommodations and stipends for their caddies. With a "mock" purse, players will "receive" prize money for their efforts that will be reflected on the money list. But they won't actually get any cash.

While the idea to help charity is appreciated, this doesn't seem like the way -- and certainly not the time -- to do it. Only a handful of players make a really good living on the LPGA Tour. Sure, 70 players topped $100,000 in earnings, but that is before expenses and taxes.

It is tough to feel sorry for professional athletes who make ludicrous amounts of money, but the point here is that very few of these players are raking it in. And among those who are, should they be told that a week pursuing their livelihood should be spent working for free?

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?