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November 19, 2013

USGA: No penalty if player doesn't see ball move

Posted at 8:33 AM by Josh Sens | Categories: Rules of Golf, USGA

Rules_300A golfer who unwittingly moves his ball during competition may not be penalized if that movement could not reasonably have been detected without the use of “enhanced technology.”

That’s the word Tuesday morning from the USGA and the R&A, which have been busy grappling with the growing impact of video evidence in the reporting of potential rules violations.

In a joint statement, released as part of their biennial review of the Decisions on the Rules of Golf, the governing bodies declared that a “ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”

Seen no evil? Then you've done no evil, either.

The announcement comes in the wake of season marked by several headline-making incidents in which rules infractions came to light by way of video evidence.

Of those incidents, none was more closely scrutinized than one involving Tiger Woods at the BMW Championship in September, where the world’s top-ranked player was slapped with a two-shot penalty after cameras showed that his ball had moved as he prepared to play his third shot on the first hole of his second round. Woods insisted that his ball had merely oscillated.

But if oscillate-gate is what many fans will think of when they read Tuesday's joint statement, it’s far from the only incident that golf’s ruling bodies had in mind.

After all, questions about the influence of video evidence on the game have been simmering for some time.

In April 2011, the USGA and the R&A adopted decision 33-7/5.4, which waived disqualification for a player who signed an incorrect scorecard following a round in which that player committed a rules infraction that was later identified through video evidence.

(As golf wonks may recall, it was the invocation of that rule which spared Woods from disqualification at the 2013 Masters.)

According to Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of the Rules of Golf, this latest rules revision, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, was “not a reaction to any one single incident.” Rather, he said, it was part of an ongoing effort by golf’s ruling bodies to respond appropriately to developments in the game.

Pagel said it was impossible to know whether the revised rule on golf-ball movement, had it been in place at this year’s BMW, would have changed the outcome of the Tiger Woods ruling.

“It’s very difficult to go back in time and speculate,” Pagel said. “The committee at the time was faced with one question -- did the ball move? -- and the evidence showed that it did. Moving forward, a number of other factors will have to be taken into consideration, including what the player could reasonably have been expected to see.”

In the joint statement, the governing bodies announced other rules revisions, including one that allows players to access weather reports on their smart phones during their round without incurring a pentalty.

In the meantime, the statement also said, the USGA and R&A will continue to discuss issues surrounding the impact of video technology on the application of rules, including  the “necessary degree of precision required when marking, lifting and replacing a ball, the estimation of a reference point for taking relief, and the overall question of the appropriate penalty for returning an incorrect scorecard where the player was unaware that a penalty had been incurred.”

To read the joint statement, as well as the full text of the revisions to “Decisions on the Rules of Golf,” visit usga.org or randa.org

Photo: The 1951 edition of "The Rules of Golf"

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