Friday, May 3, 2013

Bureaucracy, Augusta National, and Tiger Woods

By now, just about everything has been written that can be written about Tiger Wood’s drop at the 2013 Masters Tournament.[1] What has not been examined is how various bureaucratic interests may have led to bizarre actions (i.e., not asking Tiger to review the replay before signing his card) and rulings (i.e., applying a rule that does not appear to be applicable) that marked this event.  Lacking subpoena power or access to enhanced interrogation techniques, golf journalists will probably never find out what drove the decisions on that Friday and Saturday.  Bureaucracies like Augusta National, the USGA, and the media, however, act in predictable ways (see Inside Bureaucracy by Anthony Downs[2]).  They also have specific institutional histories that suggest how they would act in the future based on how the acted in the past.  Combining theory with history and adding a heavy dose of literary license, a possible scenario that explains the events surrounding that fateful drop is outlined below.  As homage to Bob Woodward, hypothetical conversations are employed to advance the narrative.
Here is the cast of characters:
·         Fred Ridley – Chairman of the Competition Committee and former President of the USGA.

·         Jim Reinhart – Member of the Competition Committee and former member of the Executive    Board of the USGA.

·         Mark Russell – Member of the Competition Committee and Vice President of Rules and Competition for the PGA Tour--and ubiquitous presence at televised Tour events.
The Committee convened after a television viewer questioned whether Tiger Woods took a proper drop.[3]  The Committee members reviewed the recording and the following discussion ensued:
Ridley: You have all seen the replay.  Tiger chose to proceed under Rule 26-1a by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which his original ball was played.  As you see in the replay, Tiger did not do that.  But let me put this in context.  We already look like a-holes by letting John Paramor assign a one-stroke penalty for slow play to Guan Tianlang.  As you know, John thinks he is bigger than the game, and has made controversial decisions over the years to put the spotlight on himself.  Now do we parlay John’s screw-up by assessing Tiger a two-stroke penalty for an inconsequential error and greatly reduce his chances of winning a major? 
Reinhart:  It would be tough not to assign a penalty when Decision 20-5/2 penalizes a player who drops a couple of inches from where he should.
Russell:  In Decision 20-5/2, the player gained an advantage by dropping on a part of the course through the green and not in or close to the edge of the bunker.  I think we can agree there was no advantage gained from the improper drop.  Now we also have to stipulate that Tiger was uncertain about where he hit his original shot from.  He did drop it near where his caddie was standing.  It is not unreasonable to assume that Tiger thought this was the proper spot. 
Reinhart:  But what about the divot?  Shouldn’t Tiger have known that was where he hit the original shot?
Russell:  Sure, but an argument could be made that given the circumstances his drop was close enough.
Ridley:  Should we call Tiger in before he signs his card and ask if in his mind he dropped “as near as possible?”
Russell:  Fred, let’s stick with your assumption it would be best for all concerned if Tiger was not penalized.  I see two possible plans, A and B.  Under Plan A we call Tiger in.  That is what I would do if this were the Buick Open.  It covers our ass since it shows due diligence in getting all of the facts before a ruling is made.  But know that if you call him in, Tiger is probably going to walk out of the meeting with a two-stroke penalty.  I suspect Tiger was confused about Rule 26-1a).  It is hardly ever invoked on the Tour since a player does not want to give up distance. He was probably thinking of Rule 26-1b) where a player can go back as far as he wants keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard directly between the hole and where the ball is dropped.  So if Tiger comes in, he is either going to say he was confused and get a penalty or admit he didn’t drop as near as possible and get a penalty.
In Plan B, we don’t call Tiger in and agree the drop was proper.  We contact the viewer(s) who called in and thank them for their interest, but tell them the Committee has decided after review that the drop  was close enough, there was no intention to gain an advantage,  and therefore there was no infraction.
Ridley:  I like that Plan A covers our ass, but it has a bigger downside for the tournament.  I say we go with Plan B.  Based on what we know, Tiger’s drop was proper.  We don’t pursue the issue with Tiger and hope it goes away.
Of course, it does not go away since Tiger tells the press how he dropped two yards back from the spot of the original shot to get a better yardage.  Oops!  Ridley is informed of Tiger’s comments at approximately 10:00 PM Friday.  Ridley states that he, Tournament Director Buzzy Johnson, and incoming Executive Director of Augusta National Will Jones then convened to review the replay again.  It is not clear if Russell and Reinhart are also at this meeting.  For this fictional account, it is assumed they are.  
Johnson:  Well, Fred, your Plan B was supposed to protect the success and integrity of the Masters. It seems it did neither. It looks like you gave a player preferential treatment, missed an easy call on a rules infraction, and sent the tournament’s big draw down the road.  Not exactly the way I wanted my last tournament as director to be remembered.   
Ridley: I am sorry, sir.  My plan had a downside I did not foresee.   It is possible, however, that through a generous interpretation of the rules we could save Tiger.
Johnson:  A judge’s save like on American Idol?
Ridley:  Close, but not exactly.  Let Jim Reinhart go through the options.
Reinhart: It would be nice if Tiger DQ’d himself.
Ridley: If he did, it would only be because we did not call him in and alert him to the problem.  That would make us look like idiots.  We would have to explain why we thought the video evidence did not show an improper drop and why we didn’t call him in to clear up any confusion.  We need a solution that does not reflect poorly on our competence.
Reinhart: Point well taken.  I have been looking at Rule 33-7 that gives the Committee discretion to waive the disqualification penalty in exceptional cases. It is not clear that any of the decisions apply to this case.
33-7/4 – A player submits a wrong scorecard.  Later the player recognizes his error and informs the Committee.  This is not an exceptional case and the disqualification penalty may not be waived.
33-7/4.5 – Competitor is unaware of a penalty and returns a wrong score.  To waive the penalty the Committee must be satisfied that the competitor could not reasonably have known, or discovered the facts resulting in the breach of the rules.  This decision has been altered so video evidence that could not be reasonably detected by the player is not a reason for disqualification.   This is not the case here.  Tiger not only should have been aware of his error and he also admitted his error, and therefore this decision is not applicable.
We might be able to hang our hat on Decision 34-3/1, Correction of Incorrect Ruling in Stroke Play.
34-3/1 - Here a player reports the facts, the Committee tells him he is not penalized and he signs his scorecard.  The Committee discovers its error before the competition is closed.  It adds the penalty stokes, but does not disqualify the competitor under Rule 6-6d, Wrong score for hole.
Ridley: The problem is Tiger never informed the Committee of the facts nor did the Committee tell him his drop was proper. 
Reinhart: We could argue that because we didn’t call him in, Tiger could implicitly assume the Committee ruled his drop was proper.
Russell:  Like the dog that didn’t bark.  If a player is not called in, can he rightfully infer the Committee has found nothing improper about his play? If later the player discovers he signed a wrong scorecard, couldn’t he argue it was the Committee’s error in not informing him and ask the Tiger Ruling be applied to his case?  Or worse, couldn’t a Committee save any player it wanted, by saying it saw the action of the player and ruled it was not an infraction?  Are they then justified in waiving the disqualification penalty when infraction comes to light?
Ridley:  Mark, you raised some important issues, but precedence is really not a concern at the moment.  Here is what I propose we do.  We assign Tiger a two-stroke penalty, but waive disqualification under 33-7.   If asked, the “exceptional circumstance” is the Committee’s decision that there was no infraction at the time Tiger signed his card.
Russell: So this really is American Idol. There is no decision that supports your ruling.  Do you expect any blowback from the USGA or the media?
Ridley:  I can get the USGA and R&A on board.  This will stifle most of the criticism from the press who don’t know the rules that well. If you say something often enough and with authority most of the media will go along. We also have the fear factor going for us.  Be too obnoxious and you’ll be the next Jack Whitaker.[4]
The Competition Committee acted as theory would predict.  Its initial actions were meant to advance the policies and goals of the Masters.  Bureaucracies tend “to exaggerate data that reflect favorably on themselves, and minimize those that reveal their own shortcomings.”[5] That explains why Tiger was not called in and not disqualified.
The Competition Committee was not the only bureaucracy exhibiting such behavior.  The Media and golf’s ruling bodies also did not distinguish themselves:
The Golf Channel – After the ruling was announced, analysts Nick Faldo and Brandel Chamblee strongly criticized the ruling and argued Tiger should withdraw.  Attitudes at the Golf Channel softened considerably during the day.  Rich Lerner interviewed Gary Player, for example, and never mentioned the controversial ruling or asked Player his opinion.
ESPN - Rick Reilly argued that this “new reassessment rule” seemed fair.  To his discredit, he did not realize there was no new rule applicable to this case.  To his credit he called for Tiger to withdraw.  Andy North turned the spotlight from the ruling to whether fans should be able to call in.  Curtis Strange felt compelled to wonder if Nick Faldo, in similar circumstances, would withdraw.
CBS - The strident Nick Faldo of the morning became the mollified Faldo later on the CBS telecast. He said: 
We’re in a new era now under new rules and even if they bring some controversy; Tiger is playing rightly under the new rules.  And myself and some of my old pros, we have to accept that now.

Of course, there are no new rules, but Faldo legitimized Tiger’s playing and the ruling by the Competition Committee by telling the viewing audience there were.
USGA and the R&A – Ridley claimed in his press conference on Saturday that both the USGA and the  R&A agreed with the Committee’s ultimate ruling.  This raises the question of “Who do you call on Friday night or Saturday morning at these organizations to get a ruling?”  Ridley didn’t say and the passive golf press did not ask.  Clearly, the USGA Rules Committee did not sit en banc and affirm the Committee’s actions.  More likely, Ridley found someone from each organization hanging around the Augusta National clubhouse to back the Committee's decision.  But once Ridley had made his statement, both organizations were put in a box.  If, in fact, either organization determined the ruling was incorrect it would have to announce that Ridley had erred in implying imprimatur by the organizations rather than by individuals within the organization. This would make everyone look bad:  Ridley for stretching the truth and the USGA and R&A for not immediately correcting the record.
Both organizations found a more bureaucratic solution in their belated joint statement explain the ruling.[6] Below is a summary of that statement:
1. The Ruling that Woods Dropped in and Played from a Wrong Place -Woods did not drop as near as possible and was “penalized two strokes for dropping in and playing from the wrong place.” Note: There is no penalty for dropping in the wrong place.  There is only a penalty for playing from the wrong place.  The joint statement was not carefully crafted as it also contains “Copyright 2012 (emphasis added) by the United States Golf Association.” 
2. The Decision to Waive the Penalty of Disqualification -  “The Masters Tournament Committee concluded it actions taken prior to Woods’(sic) returning his score card created an exceptional individual case that unfairly led to the potential disqualification.  In hindsight, the Committee determined that its initial ruling was incorrect, as well as that it had erred in resolving the question without first seeking information from Woods and in failing to inform Woods of the Ruling  given the unusual combination of facts…the Committee reasonably exercised its discretion under Rule 33-7 to waive the penalty of disqualification…”
In essence, because of the unusual case of Ridley, Reinhart, and Russell being incompetent, the penalty of disqualification was not invoked.
3. Scope of Committee Discretion to Waive a Penalty of Disqualification for Failure to Return Correct Score – As discussed above, this decision raises the question of precedence. Should the Masters Committee be held responsible for not reminding Roberto di Vencenzo he birdied the 17th hole?   Should Craig Stadler get a pass if the Committee saw him use a towel but wasn’t aware that it was an infraction?
To eliminate the precedent problem, the joint statement reads “although a Committee should do its best to alert competitors to potential Rules issues that may come to its attention, it has no general obligation to do so; and the fact that a Committee may be aware of such a potential issue before the competitor returns his score card should not, in and of itself, be a basis for waiving a penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d.  Only rare sets of facts, akin to the exceptional facts at the 2013 Masters Tournament as summarized in the previous paragraphs, would justify a Committee’s use of its discretion to waive a penalty of disqualification for returning an incorrect score card.”  If one examines the “rare set of facts,” however, there are only two: Tiger Woods and the Masters Tournament.
The joint statement attains it bureaucratic aims.  To maintain good relations between the USGA and the Masters, the Committee is absolved for making a wrong ruling, and only given a slap on the wrist for the errors it committed.   The USGA and R&A dispatched the problem of precedence by saying there is none (i.e., this is one-time only lifeline tossed to Mr. Ridley in appreciation of his years of service to the USGA).
The joint statement does say the “USGA and R&A will review the exceptional situation at the 2013 Masters Tournament, assess potential implications for other types of situation, and determine whether an adjustment in the Rules and/or Decisions is appropriate.”  It would be helpful if the governing bodies listed the “rare circumstances” in a Decision. To do so, however, would expose the weakness in the argument for waiving disqualification in this case. It is likely the 2014-2015 Decisions on the Rules of Golf will not contain any reference to the Masters ruling.  This would be in accordance with another axiom that guides bureaucratic behavior:  When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.









[1] Barry Rhodes, rules expert, gave a concise critique of the ruling.  See www.Barry
[2] Downs, Anthony, Inside Bureaucracy, Little, Brown, and Co., Boston MA, 1967.
[3] The caller was not someone calling from his parent’s basement as Ridley and most of the media implied.  It was, in fact, David Eger who at one time was the Vice President of Competition for the PGA Tour, a position now held by Mark Russell of the Masters Competition Committee.
[4] Jack Whitaker was allegedly banned from the CBS broadcast team for referring to the patrons as “a mob.”
[5]Downs, op. cit., p. 77.
[6] USGA, The R&A Issue Statement Addressing Tiger Woods Ruling at the 2013 Masters Tournament, www.usga,org, May 1, 2013

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