The governing bodies that oversee golf’s rule book relied on a dose of common sense today by swiftly and decisively mitigating how much video evidence can influence rules decisions at televised events. The new procedure, which is not a new rule but a new decision (labeled 34-3/10) to the Rules of Golf, in effect limits the use of advanced video technology — like high-definition or super-slow-motion cameras — in making rulings.
The decision, which is effective immediately, is an extraordinarily speedy reaction to the furor that ensued after Lexi Thompson was penalized 4 strokes on April 2 while leading in the final round of the ANA Inspiration, an LPGA major. Someone watching the broadcast of the event sent tournament officials an email claiming Thompson had misplaced her ball on the green while playing the previous day. It was the third rules mistake involving video review at a major golf championship in less than a year.
Today’s decision is a reaction to the controversy and bad publicity generated by what seemed like selective penalties. But at its core, it is recognition that top golfers playing on television and subject to exhaustive video review were being held to a higher standard than every other golfer.
The U.S. Golf Association and Britain’s R&A, the organizations in charge of golf’s rules, said in a statement that the new decision would limit the use of video when it revealed evidence that could not reasonably be seen with the “naked eye,” or when players used their “reasonable judgment” to determine a specific location when performing certain tasks like replacing a marked ball on a green.
One example of the “naked eye” standard cited in the statement referred to a player who unknowingly touched a few grains of sand while taking a backswing with a club in a bunker.
Another example mentioned under the “reasonable judgment” standard related to when a player was putting a ball back in play and, for example, determining the nearest point of relief.
“So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination,” the statement said, “the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence.”
The player should not, however, be held to “the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology.”
The decision, while part of a rules modernization initiative, does not change any of the current rules requirements. Players must continue to report all known rules breaches that they or their fellow golfers commit, and to do what is reasonably expected in making an accurate determination within the rules. A tournament rules committee can still impose other penalties on competitors.
The USGA and the R&A have also established a working group from the various professional tours and the PGA of America to begin a comprehensive review of broader video issues, including television viewers who call in to report rules violations in competitions.
“Advancements in video technology are enhancing the viewing experience for fans, but can also significantly affect the competition,” Mike Davis, the USGA executive director and chief executive, said. “We need to balance those advances with what is fair for all players when applying the rules.”
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, added: “Golf has always been a game of integrity, and we want to ensure that the emphasis remains as much as possible on the reasonable judgment of the player rather than on what video technology can show.”