No time wasted by USGA, R&A

Thank goodness, the USGA and the R&A, who are in the process of modernizing the rules of golf, didn’t waste a lot of time to announce a new Decision 34-3/10, effective immediately, that says that a rule committee does not have to penalize a player if the violation could not be seen with the naked eye.In addition, more emphasis will be placed on player integrity in making a reasonable judgement involving questions about the marking of a ball on the green or over the correct place to drop a ball.

Thomas Pagel

Thomas Pagel

“I can’t speak historically,” Thomas Pagel of the USGA said, “but certainly in my time, it’s the fastest we’ve acted.”

The first part of Decision 34-3/10 talking about the “naked eye” was a response to what happened to Anna Nordqvist during a three-hole playoff with Brittany Lang in last year’s U.S. Women’s Open when video evidence showed she had caused some sand to move although she couldn’t see it herself.

If a committee concludes that such an act could not be seen with the naked eye and the player was not otherwise aware of any breach that no penalty would apply even if video evidence shows otherwise.

When determining a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location, it’s sometimes hard to be precise as it might be using video technology. So now a “reasonable judgement” standard can be used. As long as the player does what can be reasonably expected, his judgment can be accepted even if shown wrong by the use of video evidence.

Defining what is reasonable still could leave rules officials with a decision on just what is reasonable in their opinions.

“The player’s explanation of the situation is part of the facts for the committee to consider, but they are not the only facts,” said Pagel. “The committee still has to assess the situation in its entirety. And make the assessment whether what the player did was reasonable. And there’s going to be a line that every committee will draw. Maybe the player got it a little bit wrong. But if it was more than a little bit wrong, then what the player did was not reasonable, and therefore the player still has to be penalized. The committee has to assess how far off the player actually was. Every situation is going to be different.”

The standards in the new decision do not change any of the current requirements regarding player integrity in following the rules and ensuring their observance by fellow players. A player must still act with care, report all known breaches in the rules and try to do what is reasonably expected in making an accurate determination when applying the rules. And a player can still be penalized regardless of his or her explanation.”

Both of the new standards had been discussed as part of the modernization of the rules being considered to take effect Jan. 1, 2019, but the rules makers decided they really needed to be addressed now, not later.

The incentive to act quickly was the result of a general acknowledgement that the use of video evidence was continuing to cause controversial rulings with potentially unjust outcomes that were having a negative impact on the perception and business of the game.

 “This important first step provides officials with tools that can have a direct and positive impact on the game,” said the USGA’s MIke Davis. “We recognize there is more work to be done. Advancements in video technology are enhancing the viewing experience for fans, but can also significantly affect the competition. We need to balance those advances with what is fair for all players when applying the Rules.”

Many still believe the two governing bodies must also move quickly on addressing viewers calling in possible rules violations and the penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard from a previous round when the player wasn’t aware of any penalty as was the case with Lexi Thompson.

“Everything about television call-ins is on the table, including should we take any at all,” Pagel said.

One could make a case that the rules committee might have ruled against Lexi Thompson on how she replaced her ball, but few believe that she should have been penalized for signing for an incorrect score when she or no one else was aware of the other penalty. This needs to change, and quickly


ABOUT: James McAfee

James McAfee is a freelance writer now living in Plano, TX after recently retiring as the editor of the Knox County News-Courier for eight years, He is currently writing for, Divot Magazine in Colorado, Hometown Living as well as this site. He had worked previously for newspapers in Texas and Oklahoma for 30 years as sports writer and sports editor. He was an editor of Golf Shop Operations and Golf Digest in the 1970s. He then served as the executive director of the Northern Texas PGA and the Dallas District Golf Association for 24 years, In addition, he spent three years in Costa Rica as director of golf and marketing at Playa Conchal.

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