Villegas DQ’ed for Rules Violation: Controversy or No?
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Camilo Villegas has been officially disqualified from the Hyundai Tournament of Champions for breaching rule 23-1. Unfortunately, the violation wasn’t caught before he signed his scorecard, which was deemed incorrect because of the two-stroke penalty that should have been assessed.

As reported by ProGolfTalk and Geoff Shackelford last night, it appeared Camilo Villegas broke rule 23-1 on the 15th hole at Kapalua’s Plantation Course during the first round of the Tour season opener. Villegas was chipping up to the hole, and when the ball started rolling back to him, he flicked away a patch of loose grass. Here’s the wording on the rule:

“When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.”

A long-time Twitter follower and reader messaged me letting me know about the violation on Thursday night: “I emailed pga tour and golf channel about it when we saw it live on tv. hoping they would address it before he signed his card.”

When he didn’t hear back, he also tipped other bloggers on the issue. I hadn’t seen the video since I was on the course and still at the media center at the time. But after seeing it, it seemed pretty clear that Villegas was going to be DQ’ed. Had the Twitter follower not said something, someone else would have eventually caught it because SportsCenter was basically playing it on repeat all night.

Here’s what rules official Slugger White said:

“It was pretty obvious what happened,” said Slugger White, the PGA TOUR’s vice president of rules and competition.

“I waited for Camilo to get here this morning. The first thing he said was, ‘Am I gone?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, but I’d like you to look at the tape. He said he’d like to look at the tape. He came over and saw it and knew right away.”

“He was upfront, as big as he could possibly be about it,” White said. “Really wonderful about it. He understood and went about his business.”

Obviously, the situation sucks (especially since it’s his 29th birthday, but I’m sure he’ll find a way to survive — drinks poolside by the Ritz for the rest of the weekend wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world), and brings up the controversy over whether TV viewers should be allowed to call in rules violations. Now I’m not the biggest fan of armchair officials, mostly because I don’t think it’s fair when players that get more airtime than his or her fellow competitor are penalized for making a mistake. But of course, rules are rules. There are good arguments to both sides.

What about the question of intent? That’s nearly impossible to judge, but let’s give Villegas the benefit of the doubt. He probably wasn’t thinking in the moment when he flicked the club or he just wasn’t aware of the rule. He hasn’t been reached for comment, but I hear he’s working out in the gym at the Ritz…

Should the policy for calling in rules infractions be changed? Perhaps a statute of limitations as I’ve seen several suggest in the Twittersphere. You know, like violations can’t be reviewed once everyone has left the course or the following morning. (It was relatively early in the evening local time when the issue was brought to the Tour’s attention.)