2013 Wells Fargo Championship: Sergio Garcia cleared of wrongdoing after another remote referee blows whistle

Harry How

Sorry, wrong number. The PGA Tour should send rules-related calls from couch-bound TV fans directly to voice mail.

When David Eger outed himself to Sports Illustrated as the guy who dropped the dime on Tiger Woods’ improper ball drop during the second round of last month’s Masters, he was just the latest in an ever-increasing roster of golf fans with television remotes, iPhones and the urge to squeal.

Sergio Garcia, on Friday at the Wells Fargo Championship, almost became the latest victim of a practice unique to professional golf among all the major sports -- the inexplicable ability of TV spectators to call PGA Tour officials and complain about any and all rules infractions they believe they witnessed on their HDTVs. And -- this is the unbelievable part -- actually have the chance to plead their cases to the listeners on the other end.

In the most recent example of why tour administrators must hang up on couch cops faster than they would on obnoxious telemarketers, Garcia reached the 17th green and marked his ball -- but not to the liking of one watcher, who dialed in to charge that the golfer improperly replaced his dimpled orb. See, the get-a-lifer explained to the receptionist, Sergio put his coin down to the side, out of the line of playing partner Bill Haas’ upcoming putt, but replaced his ball in front of the marker.

“There are obviously a lot of times that you try to put it in exactly the same spot but it's difficult to do, not just for me, but for everyone,” Garcia told reporters Friday after officials cleared him of the violation. “I didn't mark it from the side and then put it in front of the coin like maybe someone thought I did.”

Garcia, who said he would rather accept a two-stroke penalty than have anyone perceive him to be a cheater, met with Mark Russell, the tour’s vice president of competition, to discuss the situation, according to ESPN’s Bob Harig. Harig noted that Russell even conferred with the USGA before dismissing the incident.

Russell, coincidentally, was a course custodian involved in the ball-drop snafu at Augusta when Eger, a Champions Tour player and former USGA and PGA Tour rules official (the “television viewer” Masters competition committee chair Fred Ridley referred to in his presser) notified a long-time competition constable he knew was policing Augusta about Woods’ improper drop. Three weeks ago, Eger actually spared Woods from disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard.

As for Garcia, his near-misadventure never escalated into full brouhaha status because the review occurred before he signed his card.

"I thought I put it as close as I could, obviously, with the coin still behind the ball," Garcia said. "It looked like it might have moved a tiny bit, but the rules officials felt that, obviously, I didn't gain anything by it."

He may not have, but each time officials do not hang up on “Joe from the couch," no matter how impressive Joe’s credentials may be, calling in to snitch on the violations they believe they witnessed from Camilo Villegas (Kapalua, January 2011), Padraig Harrington (Abu Dhabi, January 2011), Tiger Woods (see above) or Sergio Garcia (ditto), the suits in Ponte Vedra look foolish.

If golf is all about integrity and players calling infractions on themselves, then let them do just that, even if they end up blowing some calls because of ignorance (how about asking a caddie for a dramatic reading of the rule book?) or worse.

That’s the rub of the green, it’s how the ball bounces and all that.

Whether or not the tour decides to let calls from outsiders go directly to voice mail -- and there is no indication the overseers plan to put armchair snitches on interminable hold -- one thing is almost certain: Eger, a journeyman with a rules portfolio whose phone call has become a cause célèbre, won’t be reaching out and touching someone at PGA HQ regarding breaches of golf edicts any time soon.

"I wouldn't have called if I wasn't 100 percent certain,” Geoff Shackleford said Eger told Golf Channel. "First time I've ever called."

"With the outcome,” Eger averred, “I probably wouldn't call again."

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