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Greg Schwem: Keeping golf legal: notes from a recliner referee

Masters TournamentStand-up ComedyBubba WatsonPadraig HarringtonDustin JohnsonJohn Daly

I sat in my recliner watching millionaires swing golf clubs. I swore I could hear my wife rolling her eyes.

"I can't believe you are watching golf," she said, echoing a statement made by millions of wives every weekend.

"This isn't golf, honey. It's the Masters, the granddaddy of golf tournaments," I replied. "And I'm not watching. I'm officiating."

"You look like you're sleeping. What do you mean, you're 'officiating?'"

"I'm looking for rules violations. If one occurs, I will report it."

"Well I'm going shopping. Have fun napping, I mean refereeing, or whatever it is you say you are doing."

Doesn't my better half realize that televised golf has become interactive? That it's up to middle-age husbands like myself to keep the game's integrity intact by exposing possible criminal activity among the links' elite? It's a responsibility we take seriously. If not for us, Irishman Padraig Harrington would not have been disqualified from a 2011 tournament for moving his ball a fraction of an inch when marking it, a clear violation of United States Golf Association Rule 20-3a. Dustin Johnson might own the 2010 PGA Championship were it not for a La-Z-Boy marshal who, in between siestas, saw that DJ had done the UNTHINKABLE by grounding his club in sand (USGA Rule 13-4). In each instance, there was no grand jury, depositions or bench trial. Both players were found guilty in the time in takes to make a phone call and rewind tape. Judge Judy moves slower.

Don't get me wrong, I don't carry a rule book when I play. Quite the opposite. I still adhere to the "if it's less than 2 feet away, it's good" rule. But I also don't play for a million dollars each time I tee it up. I once won $25 - but only because, on the final hole, my eight beat my neighbor's nine.

Now, as I sat in my chair watching Masters third-round coverage, I wondered who I would call if I saw an infraction? I dialed directory assistance.

"Business or residence?"

"Uh, business?"

"Name?"

"Augusta National, 18th hole, TV tower, Jim Nantz, "I said, hoping to speak to CBS' lead golf announcer.

"I only have a listing for Augusta National."

"Fine."

A sweet, very Southern female answered on the second ring.

"If I saw a rules violation, who would I talk to?" I asked.

"I'll transfer you to our communications office," she replied.

A communications representative took it from there. "You'll need to talk to the rules committee," she said. "Please hold."

Less than two minutes on the phone and already I was about to talk to the rules committee? DURING the Masters? This was easier than I thought. As I waited, I assumed a phone menu would kick in. "For putting infractions, press one. For hazard infractions, press two. For anything John Daly related, dial 911."

Instead, I spoke to another communications official who told me, in no uncertain terms, not to use his name in print.

"The chairman is the only person who speaks for the club," he said.

"I just want to know what happens if somebody calls in with a rules violation? How do you separate the serious calls from the crackpots?" I asked.

"When these calls are received, all are taken seriously," he replied.

Suddenly I felt like I was talking to an airport bomb squad member.

"All are forwarded to the tournament office and looked at closely by our tournament committee," he continued. "If necessary, a conversation would take place with the rules committee."

"Has anybody called in yet?" I asked.

"Not that I'm aware of."

Impossible, I thought. With a green jacket and so much prestige on the line, somebody must be cheating a little bit. I moved my chair closer to the television. Wait a minute, did I just see Bubba Watson clean his ball illegally? I often clean bits of sand, tree branches, cart-path gravel and condominium brick off my ball, most likely violating USGA Rule 21 in the process. I reached for my cell.

No, Watson appears legal. Good thing, since he ended up winning the tournament. Now the camera was showing Tiger Woods. He was in the rough. Wait a minute, did he just improve his stance? I reached for the phone again.

Then I put it down. All this officiating was making me tired. I dialed the USGA office in Far Hills, N.J., and left a message.

"Please consider adding the following rule: 'Play is temporarily suspended if rules officials feel the need to nap.'"

(Greg Schwem is a stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad," available at http://amzn.to/schwem.)

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