Someone dropped a dime on Tiger Woods a week ago Friday, moments after his shot on the 15th hole at Augusta National rolled off the green and into the water, ultimately landing the world’s No. 1 golfer knee-deep in controversy at the Masters.
Yes, Woods, undone by a phone yet again, only this time it wasn’t his own phone or the incriminating text messages and voicemails it held, documenting his peccadilloes and ending his marriage. Instead, someone (presumably someone not named Elin) rang up Augusta when noticing during the CBS broadcast that Woods violated the rules when dropping his ball prior to his next shot.
Talk about reaching out and touching someone. Who knew that’s how big-time golf actually works? Home viewers, with one hand in a bowl of chips and the other rifling through “The Rules of Golf’’ can rocket straight out of their Barcaloungers and call in their “gotchas’’ to the world’s toniest courses, the most prestigious golf tournaments.
If only Peter Sellers were still with us to revive Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau for such links hijinks.
Clouseau: “Allo? Yes, Clouseau here . . . I would like to file a complaint with zee committee.’’
Club official: “Ah, yes, Chief Inspector . . . and what has your sleuthing found this time?”
Clouseau: “I’ve had my highly trained eye on that sneaky Snedeker fellow, and I tell you, some-zing is not right.’’
Club official: “Some-zing, yes, and that some-zing is . . . ?”
Clouseau: “I believe Snedeker’s tees are too long. Zee tees are illegal. The normal inspector would not spot this, of course, but again, I have a finely trained eye for such minute detail. Zees tees, Monsieur, are 5/16 of an inch too long!’’
Club official: “Fine, Chief Inspector. Duly noted, you are not normal. I will forward your finding to the committee for review.’’
Clouseau: “Yes, see that you do. Merci. I will, of course, be in touch.’’
Club official: “Of course you will.”
Now, preposterous as it may seem, that’s precisely how it works in big-time golf. Anyone can call, inform a course official of an alleged violation, and, in very short order, the clerks of the fairway works will run the allegation up one of their 18 flagpoles.
“That’s just the time we live in,’’ explained Fred Ridley, the head of the Masters competition committee and the man left to sort through the whole Woods kerfuffle last week. “We get dozens of calls every Masters. Most don’t amount to anything.’’
Write me down for “stunned’’ on the scorecard. Never mind the alacrity and earnestness of the club officials who take these calls. How about just getting a live person on the phone? At Augusta. In the middle of the Masters.
Whenever I call the doctor or dentist, I’m on the phone for an eternity, a recorded voice leading me through an endless loop of prompts. I enter my patient ID number, punch keys, book an appointment as if it were a tee time. Some of those calls have lasted long enough to play a front nine and order a cheeseburger (ketchup, slice of onion) at the turn. If it’s simply a prescription renewal, I talk to no one. Just hit a number, play through, hang up, dash to the pharmacy before the sunlight fades.
“There are a lot of people out there that know a lot about the rules,’’ Ridley further explained, as quoted in a New York Times story last weekend, “or think they know a lot about the rules. It creates more work for us, but we do look at every one of these.’’
Locally, Eric Baldwin, director of the Deutsche Bank Championship since 2005, confirmed that’s how things work in Norton. Call in a violation you’ve spotted on TV or while watching on the course and you’ll get an ear, not an earful.
“It’s certainly an interesting aspect of our game,’’ said Baldwin. “And one of the most controversial.’’
Baldwin couldn’t estimate how many calls Norton receives each year when the PGA Tour hits town around Labor Day, sounding thankful that all those received “have been found baseless.’’
Last week, Ridley and his pals in charge of enforcing the rules at Augusta, Jim Reinhart and Mark Russell, considered the caller’s charge, reviewed tape, and ruled Woods was not in violation with his drop. But a second call later in the day, after Woods in an ESPN interview incriminated himself, led Ridley, Reinhart, and Russell to reconsider. That second call, based on a number of reports, was made by a CBS employee.
“It was pretty obvious,’’ Woods said later. “I didn’t drop it in the right spot.’’
In the spirit of not spoiling anyone’s second cup this morning, I’ll skip through all the rulebook codes and violations that were in play. In the end, without saying so, Messrs. Ridley, Reinhart, and Russell essentially admitted either missing, or misinterpreting, Woods’s bad drop, which he calculated to be some two yards behind his first shot. Rather than disqualify him, the committee acknowledged its own error, tagged Woods with a two-stroke penalty, and pointed him back to the course for Round 3.
The wind churning the bushes and trees at bucolic Augusta National for the remainder of the weekend had to be from the collective sigh CBS officials exhaled upon learning Woods was not DQ’d. Drive for show. Putt for dough. Keep Woods on the course for TV ratings. That’s golf in 2013.
“Our sport is the only one you’d ever allow viewers to do that,’’ said Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters winner. “They’re definitely not calling about missed balls and strikes during a baseball game or if someone’s getting away with holding during a football game.’’
No, they’re not. Because in all other pro sports, those in charge live by the adage that if you listen to the fans, soon you’ll be sitting with them. The only dimes dropped go directly to their coffers.
But golf, its rulebook thick, its etiquette particular and sometimes peculiar, plays by a different code — an area code.
“I don’t even know how these people get a number to call,’’ mused Watson.
Thank you for dialing. The number for Augusta National Golf Club is 706-667-6000.
And next April, like all the Aprils before it, operators will be standing by.