Yoo Sun-Young was making a charge at Ai Miyazato's 36-hole lead during Friday's second round of the LPGA's Titleholder event when she found trouble off the fairway on the par-5 14th. After failing to knock her second shot out of the palm fronds, she declared she was taking an unplayable lie and the penalty shot that went with it, dropped her ball outside the tall stuff, and recorded a double bogey.
Or so the 25-year-old South Korean believed.
With the LPGA boosting its social media presence via a Twitter campaign that encouraged fans to blast questions into Golf Channel, several viewers alerted rules officials to a rules breach by Yoo. Replays clearly showed that the golfer's right arm dipped below shoulder height when she dropped her ball outside the gnarly stuff.
Unaware that the regulators had assessed her a one-stroke penalty for violating Rule 20-2 "Dropping And Re-Dropping," Yoo completed her up-and-down round with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 and a bogey on 18. Officials then informed her that, instead of heading into the weekend two shots behind Miyazato, who sizzled her way to a second-round score of 8-under 64 and a 10-under total, Yoo was, in fact, three strokes out.
At the scorer's table, as Yoo's caddy tried to argue that his player's shoulder was in line with the slope of the ground, officials stood their ground.
"When we were called to take a look...at the video, yes I don't think there was any question...it was an improper drop," LPGA official Janet Lindsay told Golf Channel after Yoo signed her scorecard for a 71, which included a triple bogey on 14. "But this is one of those rulings you don't like to apply a penalty to. You don't see a player gaining an advantage or whatever but...it definitely was a breach of the rule and that's a one-stroke penalty."
Lindsay explained that she had called the senior director of rules at the USGA to confirm the ruling.
"We wanted to give the player the benefit of the doubt and...asked [the USGA] for some kind of an explanation of that wiggle room," Lindsay said, noting that a player could hold her arm "a little bit higher than shoulder height or a little bit lower and be within the rules, but this was a noticeable breach; the arm was held noticeably lower than shoulder height and so we felt as if the one-stroke penalty would apply."
This was hardly the first time that arm-chair referees have had an impact on a player's round. A TV viewer Ian Poulter called a "snitch" famously ratted Camilo Villegas out to the PGA Tour when the golfer moved some turf as his ball rolled down the bank toward him in the opening round of the 2011 Tournament of Champions.
"We were stunned that when they showed the replay, no one picked up on it on TV or in an official capacity," golf writer Dave Andrews told us at the time. "I sent out two tweets [to the Golf Channel and the PGA Tour]. I never did call anybody, I never made a phone call to Golf Channel or the tour. All I did was send out two tweets and one e-mail."
Since rules officials did not pick up on the breach until after Villegas had signed his scorecard, they disqualified him for signing an incorrect ledger.
Padraig Harrington fell victim to the same type of peculiarity unique to golf tournaments when another television watcher alerted European Tour officials that the Irish golfer had moved his ball illegally on a green during the first round of the 2011 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
Another dime dropped, another DQ. We could go on but you get the high-def picture. Golf Channel's Judy Rankin, for one, was fed up with the practice of allowing fans to dictate rules for golfers far, far away.
"Players are exhausted by the -- how shall I say this -- all the people who are not in attendance who play a part in the game," Rankin said as LPGA officials conferred with Yoo on Friday.
Broadcast partner Rich Lerner agreed.
"They do not call it in baseball or in football," said Lerner, who was not excusing golfers from the rules. "Others would argue, ‘wrong is wrong.'"
For sure, with the all-pervasive nature of social media -- and the LPGA urging fans to tweet their brains out -- Yoo's situation will likely not be the last. At least, as Lerner noted, she learned her fate on a Friday and not after a final round on Sunday.