Was there an error in judgment in Wie ruling?

Updated: November 2, 2005, 3:52 PM ET
By Eric Adelson | ESPN The Magazine

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- If the pace doesn't fit, must the LPGA acquit?

Just asking as we reach the end of one of the most controversial weeks in LPGA history. On Sunday, Michelle Wie was disqualified for taking an unplayable lie drop closer to the seventh hole in the third round of the Samsung World Championship. But how do we know she actually broke a rule?

Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger, now Javert to Wie's Jean Valjean, said he paced off the distance from the spot of the drop to the hole and back to the unplayable bush. He did this 10 times and found an extra pace on his trip to the bush each time. Fairly damning, right?

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Not really. The Canyons Course at Bighorn got that name for a reason: it's one of the more undulated courses around. The bush in question sits on a steep hill that gets steeper in the two club lengths between the bush and the drop. A deep valley separates the bush from the seventh green. And the green has two tiers. So we're talking about a rolling surface, to say the least. How can anyone know that Bamberger's strides were the same length going to the hole as they were going back? Wouldn't a steeper pitch guarantee a different pace?

Let's not debate Bamberger's motives here. That's been done. And separate the fact that he waited a day. Surely he feels genuine guilt -- warranted or not -- about that decision. Let's focus on something else: the methodology.

Rules official Robert O. Smith looked at the NBC footage and admittedly found it "inconclusive." This is important. In the NFL, that's enough reason to pick up the red flag, charge Bamberger a time out, and play on.

This is not the NFL. So Smith summoned Wie and caddie Greg Johnston to the grassy knoll in question. He asked them where the ball was initially, and where she dropped. Now, how could either of them adequately remember -- within inches -- where the ball was lodged in a bush and where the ball was dropped? Bamberger himself says he was 6 feet away from Wie when she took the drop. How does he know? Could it have been 7 feet? Ten? I stood about 15 feet behind Wie. And yes, the drop looked rushed to me. But I could have been 14 feet behind her, or 10. I remember the entire incident vividly, but could I replace myself within 12-18 inches a day later? I doubt it.

Something else to keep in mind: We're talking about a very dense bush. A spectator had to tell Wie several times where she thought the ball went in. That woman was the only one who saw the ball disappear underneath the foliage. So the ball was difficult enough to place on the day of the incident -- let alone 30 hours later. That's to say nothing of accurately replacing the drop.

So why didn't Wie simply tell Smith she didn't remember? Would anyone? If a police officer comes to your house and asks you where you were on the night of the murder, do you say, "No clue, man." Of course not.

Yes, Wie should have been more careful. She should have been less hurried. Yes, her caddie should have been more circumspect. And yes, there is a strong possibility -- maybe even a probability -- that Wie dropped her ball closer to the hole. But is the combination of pacing up and down a steep swale and a day-old memory enough to disqualify someone from a tournament?

Just asking.

Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at eric.adelson@espn3.com.

Eric Adelson | email

ESPN The Magazine
Eric Adelson was a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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