This weekend proved once again sport's propensity to self-harm. I am not referring to boxing or its "night of shame", but golf and its "morning of pedantry". The controversy might not have the same ring, but, please believe it, the slap which Peter Whiteford received across his chops in New Delhi yesterday was far more keenly felt than any in Munich.
The 31-year-old from Kirkcaldy, world-ranked 236th, was playing in the final round of the Avantha Masters when he was approached by an official and informed he was disqualified. After he had been one shot off the lead after the third round, Whiteford's challenge for a maiden European Tour title had gone up in a bombshell of the persnickety. And so the recrimination began.
Perhaps Jamie Donaldson summed up the mood on the range most eloquently with his tweet. "Total bollocks," wrote the Welsh professional, who, due to his own long wait for the first win, will have identified with Whiteford's agony. Donaldson wasn't necessarily incensed about the decision – although the hullabaloo owed plenty to that – but rather in the fact Whiteford had been condemned in a trial by video. Yes, the armchair vigilantes had struck again. For "Death Wish" read "DQ Wish".
It must take a curious sort of individual who watches the golf with their finger hovering over the pause button awaiting the slightest misdemeanour. Whiteford's "crime" was that his ball on the 18th fairway shifted a fraction after he grounded his club. He thought he saw something but couldn't be sure as he was busy looking at the pin. So he conferred with his caddie, his playing partner and a nearby cameraman. All assured him it didn't move.
Yet, as Whiteford slept the good sleep, his trial began. It would have been reassuring if it was the work of a lone lunatic, a serial Sky-Plusser perhaps with a lifelong grudge against polo shirts forged by his mother's demise as a T-shirt saleswoman. But no, there wasn't just one sad person prepared not only to take the time to spot this faintest of movements but actually log on to the European Tour website and post a message – there were "several". You'd think they'd have better things to do on a Saturday night. Like arranging their sock drawers.
The point is, or anyway should be, that Whiteford gained no benefit. He didn't cheat and while those eagle-eyed, bird-brained viewers might not have realised that, in his own mind, Whiteford had made consultations to ensure he hadn't transgressed. There had been no intent and no advantage so why point it out? How pompously punctilious do you have to be? Even more pompously punctilious, I'd venture, than those who subscribe to that website inviting them to survey the live CCTV images broadcast from supermarkets and find shoplifters. At least those Big Brother wannabes are paid for their snitching.
What's in it for the plus-foured pedants with a rulebook in one hand and a remote in the other? To be honest, golf had begun to stop wondering about such imponderables after a decision last year which it believed would neutralise the power of the fastidious follower. In the wake of Padraig Harrington being disqualified in Abu Dhabi for an instant moment of unwitting irrelevance, the overlords announced a "new interpretation of the rules". In laymen's terms, they gave leeway to the referees to allow the player to take a retrospective penalty and not be disqualified for signing for a wrong score which, at the time, he didn't know was the wrong score.
So why couldn't Whiteford continue, with his score amended by one shot? Because, as he played his first three holes of his final round, the officials decided that, as he suspected the ball may have moved, he should have checked with the referees afterwards, who could have seen the replays and altered his scorecard accordingly before he signed it.
Fair enough. Yet ultimately the nit-pickers had won again. Consider this: if Whiteford hadn't raised his concerns at the time, if he hadn't asked those around him for their thoughts, he probably wouldn't have been disqualified. When the inbox filled, he could have acted dumb and accepted the rulemakers' new latitude. In this light, Whiteford is basically being punished for being honest and, however much you subscribe to zero tolerance, that doesn't seem correct.
Still, Whiteford took it like a man, like a gentleman even, saying he should have asked for a review. Golf is like that. The professional accepts it on the chin and always but always extols the sanctity of the rules which makes the game great. But, inside, he could have been forgiven for burning with injustice, knowing that, if he was down among the pack, that shot would never have been televised in the first place. That is plainly absurd and plays directly into the trigger-happy hands of those golfing nerds.
- More about: