The USGA and the R&A released revisions to the Decisions on the Rules of Golf this week, which go into effect on January 1. The most significant new decision (18/4) provides that, where the movement of a ball is detectible only by the use of enhanced video technology such as HDTV or digital recordings, and is not reasonably discernible to the naked eye, the player will not be penalized.
While new decision 18/4 will have the effect of curtailing penalties attributable to reports of infractions submitted by television viewers, the USGA and the R&A stopped short of placing restrictions on the use of information received from viewers. Recently, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem expressed concern about the impact of television viewer input on competition and suggested that the Tour might consider placing restrictions on the use of such information.
In a joint statement accompanying the revised decisions, the USGA and R&A reaffirmed their longstanding position that all evidence, including information from spectators and television viewers, should be considered in determining whether a rules infraction has occurred, and that the Tournament Committee may impose penalties at any time before the competition has closed. Given that players often are not supervised by officials and are responsible for the correctness of their scores, disregarding relevant evidence “could lead to uncertainty and to unhealthy debate and disagreement about the fairness of a result.” The USGA and R&A explained that “regardless of the timing or type of evidence used, the integrity of the game is best served by getting the ruling right.”
Had new Decision 18/4 been in effect at the BMW Championship in September, it is possible that Tiger Woods would not have been penalized when he moved some loose impediments surrounding his ball. Woods thought his ball merely oscillated, but a review of video taken by a camera crew following Woods revealed that the ball moved slightly downwards, and he was penalized two strokes. In an interview with Golf Digest, USGA executive director Mike Davis explained that the decision was not prompted by Woods’ experience at the BMW Championship, but in fact had already been written and approved prior to that.
Davis noted that new decision 18/4 restores the intent of Rule 18-2. “We were seeing players penalized in situations where the player was saying, ‘I didn’t even know the ball moved.’ The rules never contemplated that. Before you had high definition, you never got the close ups on television where you could see the ball moving on camera. It really was the naked eye that determined whether the ball moved or not.”
Davis drew a distinction between limiting the impact of technologies such as HDTV and restricting reports from television viewers. “We still firmly believe that you need to use all the information possible to make rulings in stroke play,” he said. “If a player doesn’t know the rule and no one sees him breach a rule, by not allowing call-ins it’s almost like we are incentivizing players not to know the rules. And it’s not fair to the player who knows the rules and calls a breach on himself.”
There are several other notable new or revised rules decisions:
Decision 14-3/18 confirms that players may access weather reports on smartphones during a round.
- Revised Decision 25-2/0.5 clarifies when a golf ball is embedded in the ground through the use of illustrations.
- Revised Decision 27-2a/1.5 allows a player to go forward up to approximately 50 yards in searching for his original ball without forfeiting the right to go back and play a provisional ball.
The next changes to the Rules of Golf will go into effect in January 2016. The USGA and R&A indicated that they are studying other issues concerning the effect of video technology, such as the necessary degree of precision in marking, lifting and replacing a ball, the estimation of a reference point for taking relief, and the appropriate penalty for returning an incorrect score card where the player was unaware that penalty had been incurred. On the latter point, much sentiment has been expressed by players that the disqualification penalty is too severe if Tournament Committees will continue to take into account reports from television viewers after a player has completed his round.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules inquires may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.