< Dropping the Ball


Friday, October 21, 2005

BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Last weekend, in her first tournament as a golf professional, 16 year old sensation Michelle Wie finished fourth in the Samsung World Championship, that is, until someone notified a tournament official that in Saturday's third day of competition, Wie may have broken a rule of golf. The official determined that in dropping a ball to replace one in an unplayable lie, Wie did indeed let it fall closer to the green than the unplayable shot. For that infraction, she should have given herself a two stroke penalty. But because she signed her scorecard without assessing that penalty, she was disqualified. Such episodes happen from time to time in professional golf. The twist here is that the person who notified tournament officials about the infraction was a reporter covering the tournament, Sports Illustrated's Michael Bamberger. His editor, Jim Herre, says the situation arose out of golf's unique approach to enforcing its rules.

JIM HERRE: In the rules of golf, everyone is an official. It's up to the players themselves and everyone who's watching the competition to referee it. The rules officials are reactive. They're there to advise, not to watch the players.

BOB GARFIELD: As far as you know, is this the first time that a journalist has been a [LAUGHS] excuse the expression snitch?

JIM HERRE: Yes, I believe it is.

BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Now, in golf everybody is the referee. But as a matter of just sort of journalistic principles, except in life or death situations, the reporter allows the rest of the people to be the referees and tries to stay above the fray. Is golf reporting such a different beast that the ordinary journalistic principle doesn't apply?

JIM HERRE: Golf is such a different game that the rules that are applied to other sports do not apply to golf. I think that's the great debate about this, whether a journalist can act like a spectator could act or like a television viewer could act. And I would argue under the spirit of the rules, yes. And we're very comfortable with the decision that we made. We felt it was the only thing we could do.

BOB GARFIELD: You're comfortable with your decision and yet if you could, you know, turn back time, how would this have all played out?

JIM HERRE: Wouldn't that be lovely? [LAUGHS] In hindsight, what we could have done on Saturday is alert a rules official, while Michelle was still on the course, and then what they would have done is review the incident on the seventh hole before she signed her scorecard. Now, if we had done that, if we would have alerted the officials immediately, she would have been given a two stroke penalty and not be disqualified. However, our dilemma at the time was, is that we weren't sure. We hadn't looked at any tapes. We hadn't scientifically measured the drop. We hadn't asked Michelle Wie about the drop, or anyone. And we felt at that time it was inappropriate to act like police. We weren't there to police the event. We thought we saw something but we weren't certain. It was only the next day, after doing due diligence, that we became -


JIM HERRE: Because we

BOB GARFIELD: Blew the whistle.

JIM HERRE: We blew the whistle. That's right.

BOB GARFIELD: You have taken a whole mess of grief from your journalistic colleagues. Is it that your colleagues don't sufficiently understand the rules and the spirit of the game of golf? Or is that you guys don't sufficiently understand the rules and spirit of journalism?

JIM HERRE: Journalists should not be part of the story. That's the, the mantra is it not? We know that. I've been in this business for 31 years. Frankly, I find your question insulting.

BOB GARFIELD: No insult intended. I've got to tell you, the reason we're doing this is not because we sat there in our meeting on Monday and said, man, this guy crossed the line, he's totally wrong, it's obvious; the reporter never intrudes on the story. Because of the rules of golf, what I liked about the story and the reason I was pushing for it was because it was sort of an irresistible force against an immovable object. From a certain perspective, he did exactly the right thing, and from a certain perspective he did exactly the wrong thing. And I'm trying to decide, you know, where the ultimate truth lies.

JIM HERRE: Well, I think you have a good handle on it. It is a dilemma. Now, what if we would have written, without going to tour officials, here's what we saw, we saw Michelle Wie take an improper drop on Saturday? Say it came to light on Tuesday or Wednesday when our magazine is published, how would you feel about us after reading that story? And wouldn't you ask well, why didn't you say something about the time? That's what everyone in golf would have said.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, Jim. Thank you for talking to us.

JIM HERRE: Okay, Bob.

BOB GARFIELD: Jim Herre is assistant managing editor for Golf Plus at Sports Illustrated. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

copyright 2005 WNYC Radio