Mobile Networking and Golf

As I was watching the Masters today, one of the biggest golf tournaments in the world, I was struck by how many players made the same mistake. On the 15th green, a severely sloped and long traverse, just about every player who was putting uphill (and all pros know it’s better to putt uphill than downhill) came up short. I watched in amazement as over a dozen players made the same mistake, reading the green as faster than it actually was.

The object of my surprise is not that these players misjudged the green. Golf is so hard, and courses set up for the pros are downright torturous, that any player from Scottie Scheffler and Rory McElroy on down is likely to misread a green. But I am amused when a commentator says to us, “Every one so far has left this putt short…let’s see if he does any better…nope, he left it short, too.”

How is it possible that a television viewer is better informed than the players? This certainly is not a question of technology. It would be a simple matter for a tour player to have spotters on the greens who could communicate via text message or Twitter. (@Tiger watch out for 15 green. slower than it seems. add 10 feet.)

Technology has far outpaced the sport, as the rules explicitly prevent a player from being better informed. A player and a caddie are not allowed to receive any information from “outside the ropes” — they can only glean what their eyes, their experience, and their instincts tell them.

I am an avid golfer and I’m also a technocrat, so I can’t decide how I feel about this. Would it help the sport for the pros to have access to outside information? They still have to perform, so what’s the big deal? With a sport as steeped in tradition as is golf, this is a rhetorical question–any proposed change to the rules is a big deal!

But it is certainly fun to speculate. What would happen if tour caddies had access to a back channel? How would the sport change, and would those changes be for the better or the worse? Hmm…

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