Rule change could spare some from disqualification


AUGUSTA, Ga. – If a television viewer calls in a rules violation after a player has already signed his scorecard during this week’s Masters, Augusta National Golf Club’s rules committee now has the power to waive disqualification.

Given the new interpretation to the Rules of Golf announced Thursday, tournament committees around the world will have the ability to add the proper penalty to a player’s score after the card is signed.

U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis and Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said their governing bodies, which oversee the Rules of Golf, have been working three months to change the interpretation. He said it is coincidence that the announcement came before the start of the Masters.

“It became more urgent for us the more and more disqualification penalties we were seeing, that were fact-based, and that the player simply couldn't have known,” Davis said. “That's what the urgency was.”

Davis said the Masters provided the USGA and R&A the chance to meet and finalize the rule change.

“After we had spent countless hours over the last few months working through these things, we finally came to resolution,” Davis said. “We felt that once we did that, whether it was this week or another week, it needed to happen immediately. Because this was really a problem that we didn't want to wait until the next rules cycle to change.”

Davis said advances in video technology led to reconsideration of the rules. He said high definition TV, super slow motion and extreme close-ups are capturing violations that were previously unnoticed. He said the growing disqualifications caused concern with more viewers reporting violations after scorecards have been signed.

“The Rules of Golf never contemplated what is happening,” Davis said.

While Davis said there’s no movement to disallow TV viewers from reporting violations, the new rule better addresses the phenomenon. Davis said there's limited circumstances where disqualification can be waived.

“There had to be facts arise after the scorecard had been returned, that the player either couldn't possibly have known about, or, in the committee's judgment, couldn't have reasonably known before he returned the scorecard,” Davis said. “That's the key here. We are dealing with fact-based issues. It's not issues dealing with not knowing the rules.”

Dawson likes the change.

“It's our duty as governing bodies to ensure that the rules remain fair and relevant, and that we are responsive to changing circumstances,” Dawson said.

Most recently, Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the Abu Dhabi Championship after he brushed and barely moved his golf ball as he was removing his ballmark on the seventh green in the second round. Because Harrington didn’t replace the ball, he should have been penalized two shots. He was DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Camilo Villegas was disqualified from the Tournament of Champions when he swept away a divot as his ball was rolling back toward his feet following a chip shot at the 15th green in the second round. He should have added a two-shot penalty to his score. He also was DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Both violations were called in by television viewers.

Davis used the Harrington and Villegas violations to explain the distinction between “facts a player could not have known” and ignorance of the rules.

Davis said Harrington’s disqualification could have been waived and a two-stroke penalty added to his scorecard. Harrington was unaware he moved his ball (the ball moved about two dimples). However, he said Villegas’ disqualification would have stood. Villegas did not know the rule he violated.

“Ignorance of the rules will not in this particular case get a player off disqualification, if he breaches a rule, doesn't include the penalty, and then returns a scorecard,” Davis said.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell