Officially, one of four rule amendments announced by the USGA on Tuesday is titled Decision 18/4, but let's just call it by what should be its more informal nickname: The Tiger Rule.
It states that “where enhanced technological evidence (e.g. HDTV, digital recording or online visual media, etc.) shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”
Decision 18/4 would have eliminated one of Tiger Woods’ disputable rules infractions this year. During the BMW Championship, his ball moved slightly as he removed some debris from the surrounding area. Woods maintained that he couldn’t see the ball move – and from his vantage point, there’s no reason to believe that he could have – however video evidence later showed that it did, resulting in what was previously a proper two-stroke penalty.
With this so-called Tiger Rule in effect, no penalty would have been assessed.
I can already hear the hoorays and hallelujahs sweeping across the land, from professional golfers potentially affected by the prior rule and fans who don’t believe video replay should affect the final outcome of a golf tournament.
While this is an amendment that should be applauded, it doesn’t eliminate that issue completely.
Viewer call-ins – as well as injunctions from other social media platforms – will still be accepted in certain situations. Take, for instance, one of Woods’ other major rules infractions this year. At the Masters, he was deemed to have taken an improper drop, which was spied by a former rules official who alerted on-site officials. Even with Decision 18/4 in place, this scenario is still entirely plausible.
Nor does it eliminate controversy. Even though Woods would not have been assessed a penalty at the BMW under the current policy, it calls into question a player’s motives. Yes, golf is a game of honor and we’d all like to believe that no competitor would attempt to circumvent the rules. But in the future, if a video replay shows a ball moved and the player maintains that he honestly, sincerely didn’t see it happen, the resulting collateral damage could be worse than impugning a scorecard, ultimately placing his reputation at stake.
Or just consider this scenario: Two players commit the exact same miniscule violation. One player sees it with his naked eye and assesses himself a penalty; the other doesn’t see it and doesn’t assess himself a penalty. Even though video replay shows the violations to be identical in their lack of intent, they’ve been scored correctly because of the language in Decision 18/4.
The Rules of Golf have always been black and white. Even though this one is a step in the right direction toward addressing tournament outcomes being determined by technological advances, there are still more than a few shades of grey involved.