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Golf replays get bad reviews

The words are scorned by football fans, but at least in a moment or two they can look forward to continued action. Golf fans are not so lucky. To say their sport is slow is being nice. To add more delays is excruciating. Upon further review . . .

It is happening now on the PGA Tour. Hit a questionable shot, and wait for an official in the TV truck to make a ruling.

The shot must be replayed . . .

Players say it is a slap at their integrity. Rules officials say they are just using all the information available to them. Perhaps we'll soon see golfers jawing with and kicking sand on PGA Tour rules referees.

You have to go back to March at the Doral Open in Miami to see where it all began. The PGA Tour started putting a rules official in the television booth during telecasts after Bradenton's Paul Azinger was disqualified for a rules violation called in by a Colorado club professional.

Yes, in golf, a fan sitting at home who spots an infraction can call the PGA Tour. If officials agree, the player is penalized. In Azinger's case, the viewer spotted Azinger inadvertently moving loose impediments in a water hazard on a USA Network replay. Azinger was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

"I didn't think the penalty suited the crime," said Azinger, who was a shot out of the lead when bounced from the tournament.

After putting a rules official in the TV truck, an incident occurred involving Tom Kite, who has won the United States Golf Association's Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship and is about as likely to knowingly break the rules of golf as he is able to see without his glasses.

After hitting his tee shot in the water on the par-4 11th hole during the final round of the Byron Nelson Classic on May 5, Kite and playing partner Phil Blackmar claimed the ball crossed land, allowing him to take a drop that would have left him an iron shot to the green. But George Boutell, the rules official in the TV truck, felt differently. After conferring with PGA rules official Mike Shea, he instructed Kite to return to the tee.

Kite was outraged at the decision, as were several other players who are calling for the "man in the booth" to be abolished. The subject is expected to be discussed at the PGA Tour Policy Board meeting today.

"I think it's absurd, ridiculous," Jack Nicklaus said. "To turn around and let a television camera judge a man's integrity in a game which has been above reproach for so many years is silly."

"Golf was doing just fine the way it was," Curtis Strange said. "The integrity of the game and the integrity of the players were enough for me."

Even Azinger, who felt a rules official in the booth was the answer, has changed his mind.

"I think we have to be careful of letting a guy in a booth determine where a ball crossed a hazard," Azinger said. "It's like the centerfield camera in baseball. What looks like a strike to us isn't always a strike.

"It's a difficult thing. The whole idea was to prevent a guy from making a mistake, from signing his card incorrectly after he committed an infraction.

"I feel like I'm the center of the whole controversy since Doral. I've kind of come full circle. It was my thought that if somebody was in the trailer, they could prevent that. I felt that the penalty (disqualification) didn't suit the crime. But in all honesty, I don't feel that way anymore.

"If somebody does what I did, the penalty may not suit the crime, but it should stay."

But should instant replay?

"I think they ought to blow it up," Lanny Wadkins said.

Yet rules officials are necessary. Too many players don't know the rule book. And since golfers are expected to police themselves, they feel they should be allowed to do so. They also feel that monitoring television is unfair since a majority of the field is not on the tube.

"In golf, you are trying to gather information from all sources," said Mark Kizziar, former president of the PGA of America and a leading rules official at various tournaments. "We're using all the information available to us to get the facts. An official's job is to use all the information, whether it comes from spectators or other players or television.

"A rules official is not a referee. He's not there to look for penalties. He's there to assist. He's there to help. The players are expected to police themselves. In other sports, you have people who gain an advantage by infringing on the rules. Golfers don't do that."

Kizziar, who has served as a rules official at the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship and is the vice president of Western Golf Properties, which runs the Bayou Club in Largo, was at the PGA Championship one year when Greg Norman hit a shot into the woods and kept hitting the tree branches behind him when taking practice swings.

That's not a penalty unless he breaks the branches, but dozens of fans thought so and called the tournament office. It happens a lot. Players don't mind that as much as the idea of a replay official making judgment calls as the action occurs.

"It doesn't work in any other sport," Wadkins said. "Why should it work in golf?"