Infraction goes on report

Wie disqualification, brought on by Sports Illustrated writer, puts process up to scrutiny

October 18, 2005|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

Golf stands alone among major sports in allowing players to police themselves. However, the disqualification of teenage sensation Michelle Wie from her first professional tournament Sunday pointed out a further uniqueness of the game - that observers, such as fans and even the media, can also blow the whistle on transgressive players.

Wie, 16, playing in the Samsung World Championship in Palm Desert, Calif., was disqualified after LPGA officials determined she had improperly dropped her ball - closer to the hole than she should have -after an unplayable lie in shrubbery on the seventh hole of the third round on Saturday. The disqualification cost her more than $53,000, the payday for what would have been an 8-under fourth-place finish. Annika Sorenstam won the event with an 18-under 270.

The inquiry on Sunday came after Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger informed officials that he had observed Wie's infraction. Had the improper drop been discovered before Wie signed her scorecard after the third round, there would have been a lesser penalty, two strokes.

"There is a code among golfers, for good or ill, that if you see an infraction of the rules that you are obligated to report it," Bamberger said.

However, Bamberger and his editor at the magazine, Jim Herre, said that their decision on whether and when to report the infraction was based on a simple journalistic principle: having as many facts in hand as possible.

"We could have avoided a lot of angst by going to the rules officials [Saturday]," Herre said. "But first we had to know what we had."

"We weren't certain that there was a violation to report at that time," he added.

After Wie made her lift from the bush and drop on the seventh hole Saturday, Bamberger - saying that visually the drop appeared too close - paced off the distance once the golfers had cleared the green. Herre said the writer soon phoned and that they decided Bamberger should continue reporting the story, which included interviewing Wie following her round.

"I didn't think it was my role to accuse her of anything, so I asked her how she determined where to make her drop," Bamberger said. "I was waiting to hear from her why my method would have been wrong and hers was correct. But there was nothing in her answer that suggested she had been super careful about it."

After more conversation with Herre on Sunday, Bamberger approached LPGA officials. After a review of videotape and a measurement of the drop by rules officials Robert O. Smith and Jim Haley with Wie and her caddie present, it was determined that she had placed the ball at least 12 inches closer than she should have.

Herre concedes that the magazine might face criticism for not moving more quickly to inform officials, preventing the disqualification. But it was essential that Bamberger continue to report the story, he said.

"Without a very strong feeling that an infraction had occurred, it would have been inappropriate to take that action," the editor said.

W. Joseph Campbell, a journalism professor at American University who teaches sports reporting, said that given the ranges of consequences for Wie's infraction - disqualification as opposed to a two-stroke penalty - it would have been preferable for the issue to be explored more quickly.

"I'm not so thrilled with the element of journalists looking for misconduct on the part of athletes," Campbell said.

"But if you believe you have a case, it's important to pursue that case as quickly as possible," he added.

Wie insisted that she was not trying to cheat and called the misplacement a matter of "three inches." But, she said, in the future she will ask for help.

"You know, I learned a great lesson today," Wie said. "You know, from now on I'm going to call a rules official no matter what it is. I'm really sad this happened, but, you know, the rules are the rules."

Bamberger said that his sense of fair play as a golfer and his responsibilities as a journalist "dovetailed" in taking the tack he did.

"It was very troubling and I had to remember what my purpose was in being out there," the reporter said. "It was to write a story about Michelle Wie as a person and a golfer, and certainly part of that is whether she's fastidious about being a golfer, and we know now that, in this case, she was a little too casual."

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.

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