Rules violations seen in the eyes of viewers Infractions: As Lee Janzen can attest from last week's World Series of Golf, rules police often protect the sport's integrity from the comfort of their living rooms.

September 03, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

After his lip-hanging putt dropped into the cup on the 17th hole at Firestone Country Club during the opening round of last week's NEC World Series of Golf, Lee Janzen got a pat on the back from playing partner Vijay Singh, a roar from the crowd, a par on his scorecard and a lot of air time on the cable broadcast of the event.

Too much time, as things turned out.

Janzen, who had waited more than 20 seconds for the putt to drop, became the latest professional golfer to be turned in by the sport's rules police, a large and dogged group of weekend hackers who take great pleasure in protecting the laws of the game. Sometimes they see the infraction take place in person, but most are watching from the comforts of home.

And the USGA doesn't seem to mind the help.

"That's the way the game is played -- it is a self-policing sport, and we want the players to know the rules," Jeff Hall, the USGA's assistant director for The Rules Of Golf, said yesterday from the organization's Far Hills, N.J., headquarters. "It's not a case of ignorance being bliss." Many golfers turn themselves in long before some Joe Q. Publinx calls in the infraction. At the 1993 World Series of Golf, John Cook and Peter Senior assessed two-stroke penalties for playing each other's ball on one hole. In 1996, Greg Norman disqualified himself for using an improperly marked ball.

The rule Janzen violated -- 16-2 if you're scoring -- states that a player can wait a reasonable amount of time to hit his next putt -- 10 seconds after the golfer walks to the hole. Janzen should have given himself a par-4 on the 392-yard hole, but by marking down a birdie-3, he ultimately signed an incorrect scorecard.

Janzen was disqualified shortly after finishing a round of 78, second-worst in the 43-man field. When told by tournament officials that he had not penalized himself and thus had to be disqualified for the incorrect scorecard, Janzen said that he not intended to break any rules. He then issued a statement.

"One of the great things about golf is that rules are there to help," said Janzen, who did receive last-place money of $18,475 because of the tournament's invitational format. "Strange things happen on the course, and this was one of them."

Janzen, the reigning U.S. Open champion, became the fourth prominent PGA Tour player in the last 11 years to get disqualified from a tournament after being caught in violation of the rules by a viewer.

In 1987, Craig Stadler lost nearly $40,000 in prize money after he put a towel down to prevent his pants from getting muddy while hitting a shot from his knees during the final round of the San Diego Open. Stadler was guilty of trying to build his stance, which carries a two-shot penalty. Like Janzen, Stadler signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified.

Four years later, Paul Azinger had put a shot into a water hazard on the 18th hole at Doral Country Club during the first round of the Doral Open. He kicked away some pebbles before hitting the shot, a violation of a rule that says you can't move loose impediments in a hazard. Azinger finished the round and was leading the tournament. He too signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified the next day.

At last year's Players Championship, Davis Love inadvertently hit his ball on the 71st hole while practicing a putt. The rule states that you can take a two-stroke penalty if you hit it from where it lands, or a one-stroke penalty if you re-mark your ball and hit it from the original spot. Love simply counted the practice stroke ,, as a stroke and he too was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. He was in the top 10 at the time.

"One of the reasons we are comfortable with this type of situation is that sometimes our best information comes from knowledgeable spectators," said the USGA's Hall. "What's the difference if they watch it on TV or see it happen in person? There are times when these things come up when the player is still on the course and we can save him from being disqualified."

Hall said an example of that came at this year's U.S. Senior Open, when Brian Barnes failed to remark his ball early in the final round. Several spectators who witnessed it told some USGA officials at Riviera. They caught up with Barnes at the 14th hole, and told him that he needed to take a two-shot penalty. Barnes wound up finishing three shots out of a playoff, but was allowed to collect the prize money.

"It kept him from being disqualified," said Hall. "Can you imagine what would have happened if he had made the playoff and it came up then?"

There is a statute of limitations for reporting the infraction. The USGA states that it has to be done before the trophy is awarded to the winning player at the end of the tournament. The PGA Tour states that it must be done by the time the official scores are recorded after the tournament is over, regardless of whether the trophy has been presented or not.

Hall said that the only times these situations are reported is when the players are disqualified, and that players are exonerated more often than not. During the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol -- a tournament won by Janzen -- Tom Watson was seen practicing a putt he had just missed during the competition.

"Several people called in saying, 'Did you see what Watson did?' " recalled Hall. "There is a local rule on the PGA Tour that prohibits players from practicing putts during a round, but it's not against USGA rules during our competitions. It really comes down to the players knowing the rules."

Pub Date: 9/03/98

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