Viewers, please lose that number

Updated: April 28, 2004, 5:25 PM ET
By Ron Sirak | Golf World

I was watching an NBA playoff game on TV the other night and there it was, as obvious as a sitcom punchline: Paul Pierce grabbed Reggie Miller. I was horrified a foul was not called, an injustice compounded by the fact Pierce chose not to do the honorable thing and call a penalty on himself. So you know what I did? I grabbed the phone and rung up the NBA.

NBA: "Hello, The Association."

Me: "I'm watching the Pacers-Celtics."

NBA: "Thanks for supporting the fastest game on wood."

Me: "I want to report a rules violation."

NBA: "Excuse me?"

Me: "I just saw a foul, and it wasn't called."

NBA: "Exactly how far into your six-pack are you, sir?"

Me: "Don't you care about the integrity of the game?"

NBA: "Will it keep a star who draws big TV ratings in the game?"

Me: "But Reggie Miller was fouled."

NBA: "We do want to protect Reggie Miller."

Me: "By Paul Pierce."

NBA: "Oops, sorry. We also want to protect Pierce. Sounds like a great no-call, if you ask me."

Me: "By the way, do you guys know that everyone travels in your league now?"

NBA: "Have you considered watching golf, sir? They still enforce their rules."

Me: "I'm all over it. Did you see the MCI a couple weeks ago? That waste bunker call on Cink? That was me, bud."

NBA: "Your mother must be very proud."

Me: "Gotta go. Got baseball on the other set, and I just saw a trapped ball ruled a catch."

NBA: "Lose this number."

For all the wonderful ways in which golf distinguishes itself from the other sports, the most annoying might be that TV viewers get to serve as rules officials. Got a set? Got a phone? Got a vague knowledge of the rules of golf? Put on a blue blazer and give the folks at the tournament a call.

Duffy Waldorf and Paul Azinger were nailed by the People's Court last year. Cink skated after a PGA Tour official watched 10 replays of his antics in the bunker at Hilton Head. Doesn't golf have enough pace-of-play issues to add instant replay to the mix? Let's stop this now. If the violation is not seen by someone on site, it is not a violation -- just like in all the other sports.

We love that in golf everyone plays by the same rules. But the TV-viewer-as-rules-official flies in the face of that. There are a half-dozen officials at a PGA Tour event -- except when the event is on TV and the number swells to 5 million. The tour has deputized TV viewers and the players don't seem to mind, even though players on TV are held to a stricter standard than everyone else.

"Our philosophy is that with 200-plus acres and six rules officials, you are going to see the minority of shots," said PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs. "It is also generally agreed upon by the players that the game must be played by a strict set of rules. Given that, we will pursue every means to identify possible infractions. If it comes from TV, we will use it."

The Players Advisory Committee reaffirmed its support for viewer call-ins at a meeting last fall. Such calls, which usually go to PGA Tour headquarters or the tournament site, don't happen most weeks, but they are not infrequent, the tour says. The vast majority also are wrong. The rest are passed to on-site rules officials. But those officials are not there to "catch" people; they are there to arbitrate confusion about the rules.

It seems hypocritical to shout that golf is a game of honor while at the same time whisper that viewers should rat on someone. Seriously, NBA aside, who knowingly would cheat in front of a national television audience? My advice is to keep Big Brother out of this. It's a game of honor, remember?

Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine

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Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.