Top golfers blast controversial viewer call-in rule

By Frank Pingue
Bubba Watson of the U.S. putts on the sixth green during Monday practice rounds for the 2017 Masters at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia, U.S., April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Frank Pingue

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Viewers calling in rule violations and affecting the outcome of major tournaments would be a thing of the past if players competing at this week's U.S. Masters had their way.

World number eight Rickie Fowler and reigning PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker are the latest to criticise the controversial rule a day after American Lexi Thompson lost the year's first LPGA major after a surprising penalty.

"There's no other sport where anybody can call in and say 'oh that was a foul.' It just doesn't happen and I don't know why (golf) is the exception," Walker told a news conference on Monday at Augusta National.

"Nobody gets to call ins and outs in tennis. It just doesn't happen and I think we need to change that."

Thompson had six holes to play when her three-shot lead was wiped out by a four-shot penalty for an infringement that was committed the previous day and only brought to officials' attention by an email from a television viewer.

She incurred a two-stroke penalty for playing her ball from the wrong place and an additional two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard and went on to lose in a playoff.

Fowler said he was surprised the rule was not changed long ago and that one would be hard pressed finding any golfer who would say otherwise.

"Once you sign your scorecard, that's kind of it. I feel like, you know, it's somewhat like when you look at if something were to come up Monday after the tournament, the tournament's done," said Fowler. "It just goes back to, there shouldn't be anyone outside of the officials being able to make this call."

The impact of armchair rules officials has come up in the past but never has it had such a dramatic impact on the outcome of a major event.

Spain's Jon Rahm, who is making his Masters debut this week after a stellar start to the season, said some of golf's rules are hard to interpret but if it is the right call then one player is always going to be hurt.

"I feel bad for Lexi, because maybe she would have won the tournament if that hadn't happened," said world number 12 Rahm.

"But a 10-inch putt, I feel like, (she) could have left it alone, she's not going to miss it anyway, whether it's a millimetre right or left."

(Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Ken Ferris)