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Original Issue

Keep Those Calls Coming One of the coolest things about golf is that the fans are part of the action

Last month at the MCI Classic, Jesper Parnevik was embroiled in
the second most controversial glove incident of the '90s.
Parnevik, you will recall, removed his glove and used it to
brush sand off the line of his putt, oblivious to Rule 16-1A/1,
which forbids such an action. When a spectator reported the
violation, Parnevik was DQ'd, and in a classy move he vented his
frustration by firing his caddie, who had confirmed the rules

Two weeks ago Seve Ballesteros lit up the switchboard at the
Spanish Open when he took a highly questionable drop on a lost
ball. The plaintive wailing of the TV viewers was to no avail,
however, as none of the on-site rules officials had the guts to
disqualify a fading national hero like Ballesteros, whose
company happened to be promoting the event.

Sadly, the behavior of the Good Samaritan fans, not the scofflaw
players, has been on trial in the wake of these incidents.
"We're not excited about people who call in, but if they're
right, we have to act on it," said one myopic PGA Tour official.

I've never understood the rationale for disparaging
whistle-blowing fans as no-life snitches. In the wake of the
famous incident in 1987 when Craig Stadler was disqualified for
kneeling on a towel in San Diego, Frank Hannigan, then the USGA
executive director and, as always, its chief know-it-all,
dismissed the good folks who pointed out the Walrus's violation
as "rules freaks." When the head of the USGA is clowning on fans
for being too knowledgeable, we've entered Bizarro World.

Here's what I think: Fans phoning in rules violations is one of
the coolest things about golf, and the fact that a TV viewer has
the ability to affect the outcome of an event should be
celebrated, not belittled. In what other sport are the
spectators so empowered? What other game is so interactive with
its audience?

In golf, fans are part of the action, not peripheral to it, and
the obsessive-compulsive rules wonks among us ensure that unlike
the other sports, golf will never become a game in which
anything is legal if you can get away with it. Without
besmirching the credibility of pro golfers, is there any doubt
that one thing that keeps them in line is the knowledge that
someone, somewhere, is always watching?

Mike Shea, the PGA Tour's senior rules official, has been an
infractions bloodhound for nearly two decades, and he has
fielded thousands of calls about possible violations. "There are
two basic types of callers," Shea says. "The majority are
sincere fans who have seen a situation and are genuinely curious
as to the proper interpretation. Then there are those people who
think they know more about the rules than anyone else and can't
wait to catch someone. Sometimes you can hear the excitement in
their voices."

God bless 'em all, I say. Keep those calls coming. The tours
should encourage TV viewers and spectators to speak out. Instead
of holding up QUIET, PLEASE signs, marshals should put these
phone numbers on their paddles: USGA (908) 234-2300; PGA Tour
(904) 285-3700; LPGA (904) 274-6200. A fan at home, wedged
between the cushions of his couch with a brewski in one hand and
the Rules of Golf in the other, can also dial information to get
the number of the host course, where personnel are always
instructed to patch such calls through to the respective tour's
mobile offices.

Don't think it's only a lunatic fringe that reports rules
gaffes. After Tiger Woods's boulder-rolling incident during
January's Phoenix Open, the USGA was inundated by queries. "It
was into the thousands," says Marty Parkes, the USGA's director
of communications. E-mail was the most popular medium, but those
messages were channeled through the USGA's Web site because fans
couldn't reach out and touch the right people, like, say, Tom
Meeks, the USGA's director of rules and competition. "Please
don't print Tom's personal E-mail address," Parkes says. "He'll
be swamped. You know how those people are."

No worries, Marty, we wouldn't think of telling anyone that all
USGA E-mail addresses are composed of the first letter of an
employee's first name followed by their full last name

The way I see it, the sacrifice of an electronic mailbox is a
small price to pay in this noble fight.

COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Rock and roll The USGA was swamped after Woods's big break in the Phoenix Open.

In what other sport are the spectators so empowered? What other
game is so interactive with its audience?