Editor’s Note: With help from a private detective, Rick Reilly managed to locate (no, not really) the fan who emailed in the four-stroke rules violation against Lexi Thompson Sunday at the ANA Inspiration, costing her a major and $155,000. The fan agreed to an interview on the condition that we not reveal his identity. Reilly’s report:
SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDWEST — Tucked in a windowless man cave, a forty-ish man who’ll only let us call him Howard, shook my hand and offered me a seat on his Cheetos-dusted couch. He was bathed in a sickly blue light from the four 55-inch Sonys bolted to the wall. He wore a T-shirt that read: “I LIKE BIG PUTTS.”
Q: Four TVs? How high is your cable bill?
A: Zero. I just piggyback the cable from the guy next door. He doesn’t even watch it most of the time. Got his WiFi, too. Thinks he’s funny calling it, “StopStealingMyWiFiHoward.” Didn’t work.
Q: Really? That’s not exactly … ethical, is it?
A: You’re gonna feel sorry for CABLE companies?
Q: I guess. OK, so on which TV did you catch Lexi Thompson replacing her ball a half-inch from her quarter for that foot-and-a-half gimme Saturday?
A: Oh, I didn’t.
Q: You didn’t?
A: No, not on the TVs. I was in the tape room. (He points to a glassed-in control room behind us). At the end of each broadcast I go over the replays. That’s when I saw it. I had to blow it up to 10x to see it, but I nailed her. What a cheater!
Q: Wait, so you watch all the golf every day live and then again on tape?
A: Sure. Sometimes twice.
Q: Are you married?
A: Sure. Why do you think I take Viagra? (Calling) Honey? HONEY!
(There is a 31-second pause before he gives up calling.)
A: Probably out at the tanning booth. We both go. That’s the only way I’m gonna get a tan down here. Looks real, right?
Q: Uh, sure. Have you ever managed to catch a tiny rules violation like this before?
A: Are you crazy? I’m the Henry Hill of golf! I’m the guy who nailed Tiger with a four-stroker at 15 at Augusta in ’13! Remember? Cost him the green jacket? His wedge hit the stick and ricocheted back into the water. And he lost his mind and dropped a full yard BACK from the original spot? What a fraud! Anyway, I didn’t catch that one until dinnertime. Same with that time I nailed Padraig Harrington nicking the water from that riverbank lie that one time. Slowed it down 50x. Nailed him good. What a scammer!
Q: You caught ALL these people? Just you?
A: Sure. And I might catch more. I have tournament tapes going back 30 years.
Q: Wait. Those tournaments are over.
A: Yeah, but so was Lexi’s Saturday round and I got her.
Q: But do you think that’s fair?
A: What’s fair?
Q: Using TV to call rules violations on players?
A: Now you’re feeling sorry for GOLFERS? They have no respect for the rules. Hey, is it OK if I say I bought you dinner last night? I can write it off.
Q: But I wasn’t here last night.
A: Oh, now you’re worried about the GOVERNMENT?
Q: I guess. I’m just saying is it fair to scrutinize players on TV when only about 20% of the players are on TV. The other players aren’t subject to the millions of fans who suddenly become referees from their couches. After all, NFL games have only 7 refs. If there’s a penalty on a Patriots player that the refs missed, 10 million fans don’t get to email it in, right?
A: A cheater is a cheater. Hey, will you check that laptop? I’m downloading Caddyshack from one of those free sites.
Q: Still downloading.
Q: But when a player can be studied through magnified screens and super slo mo, how can he possibly know he’s violated the rule?
A: Not my problem.
Q: And if the round is over, shouldn’t that be the end of it?
A: No way! I can’t find any rule that says I can’t find a guy cheating on tape and take away his win from 1975. In fact, I think Jack Nicklaus might’ve dropped illegally at the PGA that year. I’m pretty sure a meerkat is not a burrowing animal.
Q: Why do you do this? What do you get out of it?
A: I do it because I went to the Quad Cities once and Tiger Woods wouldn’t sign my visor. So screw him. Screw all of them. Besides, it’s thrilling! Can you name another sport where the average fan watching TV can actually change the outcome of the game he’s watching?
Q: Buffalo Wild Wings?
A: Don’t know. I get delivery.
Note: I thanked “Howard” and started to leave, but as I walked out, I noticed a piece of paper taped to the basement door. It read:
“Howard, I’ve left you. I couldn’t get your attention and couldn’t figure out how to get on CBS so I gave up. Do not call me. Oh, and Digger died four years ago. — Denise.”
I brought it to him. He read it soberly.
A: Damn. I thought it was a little quiet up there. I thought she was at book club.
Q: It’s dated April, 2011.
A: Ah, well. I got a mistress anyway.
Q: Right. OK, see you later.
A: Remember, it’s a gentleman’s game!