Golf’s governing bodies have significantly reduced the power of armchair rules officials, announcing Tuesday that players will no longer be penalized in circumstances when a ball’s movement could be detected only through the use of enhanced technology.
The new stipulation, called Decision 18/4, will take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
This was a clear response by the USGA and R&A to the increasing number of television-viewer call-ins regarding potential rules infractions.
One of the most high-profile incidents of the year occurred at the BMW Championship, and it involved the world’s No. 1-ranked player. Tiger Woods was assessed a two-shot penalty when his ball was deemed to have moved as he attempted to clear loose impediments. A videographer spotted the potential infraction when reviewing footage from the round and promptly alerted the PGA Tour. Rules officials then met with Woods to discuss the incident, after which he was penalized two shots.
The new Decision, however, states that “where enhanced technological evidence 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.” The player, then, would not receive a penalty under Rule 18-2.
This appears to be an extension of Decision 33-7/4.5 from 2011, which authorized a committee to waive the disqualification penalty if a player was unaware of a rules breach that was identified only after consulting HD video.
Though this specific decision focuses on the ball’s movement, the USGA and R&A said that, as part of their biennial 2016 review, they will continue to explore video’s impact in situations such as the marking, lifting and replacing of a ball, points of relief, and the appropriate penalty for inadvertently signing an incorrect scorecard.
In the statement, the governing bodies also cautioned that the committee has the power to revise or make a ruling if further information becomes available.
“Disregarding evidence of a breach to the Rules, obtained before the competition has ended, could lead to uncertainty and to unhealthy debate and disagreement about the fairness of a result that was influenced by an incorrect set of facts and failure to apply the Rules properly,” the USGA and R&A said in a release.
“If a player has breached a Rule, but this is not discovered until a later time, whether through video evidence or otherwise, such evidence must be considered so that the correct ruling can be applied and the player’s score can be recorded accurately.”
The governing bodies also announced three other notable changes to the Decisions on the Rules of Golf:
• New Decision 14-3/18: Beginning Jan. 1, players will be allowed to access weather reports on their cellphones during a round. The USGA and R&A cited a need for players to protect their own safety.
• Revised Decision 27-2a/1.5: Players will be allowed to walk forward approximately 50 yards to determine the ball's location without forfeiting their right to play a provisional.
• Revised Decision 25-2/0.5: Illustrations were added to help clarify the circumstances in which the ball is (and is not) considered to be embedded in the ground.
In all, the USGA and R&A said that 87 changes have been made to the 2012-13 Decisions book: three new Decisions, 59 revised Decisions, one re-numbered Decision and 24 Decisions withdrawn.