Made-for-TV moment: Villegas DQ'd
Here's a little homework assignment for you: The next time you see a defensive back draped all over a wide receiver and no flag is thrown, call the NFL offices and voice your concern. When you see an NBA player take an extra step on his way to the hoop without a whistle, alert the authorities. And when an apparent third strike is instead ruled ball four, point out the error to Major League Baseball's officials.
You get my drift. Each of those acts would be an exercise in futility.
And yet, in golf, it's long been an accepted practice. The latest example came during the opening round of this week's Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- or rather, after the opening round.
With his fourth shot on the par-5 15th hole, Camilo Villegas chipped up a steep bank, only to watch the ball almost reach the green and come rolling back toward his feet. Villegas casually flicked away a piece of loose turf with his club, breaking Rule 23-1, which states: "When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed."
Neither Villegas nor his caddie -- let alone his playing partner nor any on-site rules officials -- realized the breach at the time, and no penalty was assessed. After the round, Villegas signed his scorecard for a 1-under-par 72.
Now, I don't know whether rules officials at Kapalua would have reviewed tape of the incident or not, but they were almost certainly persuaded by a social media outburst in which whistle-blowers around the world pointed out the violation via Twitter feeds and Facebook posts.
Call it the power of the public. Villegas learned on Friday that he had been disqualified from the tournament for signing an incorrect scorecard, after failing to assess himself a penalty for the infraction.
This is unfair on a few different levels.
First, it isn't the tattling in this scenario that bothers me so much. (Well, it does bother me, but not to the extent of other disingenuous aspects.) What bothers me most is that there isn't a level playing field. Let's say Golf Channel producers had decided to cut away from Villegas at that point in the telecast and show another player instead. He still would have committed the same violation, but it would have amounted to one of those "if a tree fall in a forest" results.
This is no different than Dustin Johnson's faux pas on the final hole of last year's PGA Championship. If it happened on, say, the sixth hole of the opening round, there's a chance no one would have noticed and there would be no available video replay.
It's not a matter of a player trying to "get away" with something or even committing golf's taboo "C" word -- cheating -- but rather unknowingly violating a rule that wasn't witnessed by any on-site observers.
If rules officials want to go to the videotape after rounds to review potential breaches of the rules, there need to be cameras available on all holes and following all players. It's not fair that those who are either popular enough or playing well enough to warrant TV coverage should be held to a different standard than their fellow competitors. Of course, it could take a full day to review all of the actions from one round and determine if any rules were broken, leading to a never-ending cycle of Big Brother watching for transgressions.
Then, there's that Villegas was DQ'd more than 12 hours after finishing his round. He signed his scorecard, left the course, ate some dinner, went to sleep and woke up without a place in the tournament field.
There needs to be a shorter statute of limitations. I understand the desire to make every decision the correct one, but there has to be a better guideline -- whether that means potential violations can't be reviewed after a player has left the scoring area or the course facilities or after he has gone to bed for the night.
Golf is different than other sports. Competitors play by an honor code and call penalties on themselves. They don't need our help, especially when each player's shots aren't televised, and certainly not a day later, when they can wake up and realize they've been disqualified from a tournament.
Something tells me Villegas agrees with this notion right about now.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
MORE GOLF HEADLINES
- Euro honor caps Stenson's 'dream season'
- Fischer wins, earns full status on Web.com Tour
- Masters adds 14 to field via world rankings
- Agent behind 'Decision' has hand in IMG deal