USGA eliminates penalty for accidental ball movement


The USGA has announced a new local rule that addresses when players "accidentally" move their ball on the green, essentially reversing course on a rule that nearly cost Dustin Johnson the U.S. Open title.

Johnson was deemed to have caused his ball to move by grounding his club during a practice stroke in the final round at Oakmont. While he played the final nine holes unsure of his actual score or if he would receive a penalty, Johnson was ultimately docked a stroke to cut his winning margin from four shots to three.

"There was simply too many times on the putting green where we were seeing players penalized, balls moving. We weren't sure the cause," said USGA CEO and executive director Mike Davis. "What's been happening is that you're seeing penalties assessed that the rules never really contemplated."

The new local rule reads in part:

"When a player's ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment. ... If it is determined that a player's ball on the putting green was moved as a result of wind, water or some other natural cause such as the effects of gravity, the ball must be played as it lies from its new location."

The new rule, which "modifies" rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1, will be made available on Jan. 1 and will be adopted by all major tours as well as all championships and qualifiers conducted by both the USGA and the R&A.

"Eliminating the penalty responds to the concerns we have heard from both golfers and committees about the difficulties in applying the current rules when a player accidentally causes a ball to move on the putting green," said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of rules and amateur status.