This doesn’t usually happen.
In the wake of the public furor surrounding Lexi Thompson’s four-stroke penalty during the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A are making a swift amendment to the Rules of Golf…or at least a specific interpretation.
“I can’t speak historically,” USGA Senior Director, Rules of Golf, Thomas Pagel said, “but certainly in my time, it’s the fastest we’ve acted.”
New Decision 34-3/10 seeks to limit the persuasiveness of video evidence, and instead emphasize a player’s “reasonable standard of judgement,” one of the cornerstones of the game.
Players will not be held to the “the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology,” according to the new decision. So, for example, Lexi Thompson, who believed she returned her ball to the appropriate spot, would not be held to a different standard only visible on television. “So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence,” the Decision states.
“We are trying to make sure that players that are on television are not held to a higher standard than others playing the game,” said Pagel. “Television evidence can reveal facts that as a human being you could not reasonably have known in the playing of the game. A player could do everything he or she could to get it right, but video evidence could still show that they got it a little wrong. And the only reason we can know they got it a little wrong is because we’ve been able to slow down, pause, rewind, replay, all the things that the player on the golf course doesn’t have the advantage of doing.”
Additionally, the Decision’s emphasis on what is apparent to the “naked eye” is influenced by Anna Nordqvist’s penalty at the U.S. Women’s Open last year. Slow-motion video revealed she displaced sand in a bunker during her backswing, even though Nordqvist was adamant she had not. Under the new Decision, the infraction “could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye and the player was not otherwise aware of the potential breach, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise.”
Of course, there is no mention in Tuesday’s announcement about the other two hot-button issues of late: viewer call-ins and the two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard when an infraction is determined after the fact.
Reportedly, however, the USGA is looking into it.
“Everything about television call-ins is on the table, including should we take any at all,” Pagel said. “The Rules of Golf, and committees applying the Rules of Golf, currently treat all evidence as evidence, regardless of the source. Should it be broken down so that evidence can only come from someone on the golf course versus someone off the golf course? Should the committee be the only ones who reveal fact through television? These are all questions if we were to react quickly and make a decision here, I’m not sure we would be fully aware of the consequences those outcomes. We might create even greater controversy than we’ve seen today.”
Possibly. But plenty of folks in professional golf’s locker rooms and perched on bar stools expect action rather than concern about “greater controversy.” However, Decision 34-3/10 will surely be one of the best received additions to supplement to the Rules of Golf in recent memory.