USGA, R&A implement rule change to limit use of video review

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USGA, R&A implement rule change to limit use of video review

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USGA, R&A implement rule change to limit use of video review

The USGA and R&A have issued a new Decision on the Rules of Golf to limit the use of video evidence. The new Decision 34-3/10, effective immediately, puts in place two standards for the rules committees to limit the use of video. The first standard limits evidence that cannot be reasonably seen by the naked eye. The second relies on reasonable judgement to determine a specific location when applying the rules.

“This important first step provides officials with tools that can have a direct and positive impact on the game,” USGA executive director/CEO Mike Davis said in a statement. “We recognize there is more work to be done. Advancements in video technology are enhancing the viewing experience for fans but can also significantly affect the competition. We need to balance those advances with what is fair for all players when applying the rules.”

Two topics the USGA and R&A did not address: whether to allow television viewers to call in possible infractions, and whether to penalize a player for signing a scorecard that later is deemed incorrect because of a rules violation the player was not aware of. Those two specific topics created much of the recent uproar when Lexi Thompson was penalized four shots while leading the ANA Inspiration after she misplaced her ball on the 17th green the previous day.

The two governing bodies did establish a working group of LPGA, PGA Tour, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America representatives to create a “comprehensive review of broader video issues that arise in televised competitions, including viewer call-ins.”

Examples of the “naked eye” standard include when a player unknowingly brushes several grains of sand while taking a backswing in a bunker. That happened to Anna Nordqvist last summer at the U.S. Women’s Open during a playoff against Brittany Lang, and Nordqvist was penalized before she ultimately lost the championships. It was clear only on zoomed-in video replay that Nordqvist touched the sand in violation of the rules.

Another example might be if a player struck the ball more than once in the course of a single stroke.

“In applying this ‘naked eye’ standard, the issue is whether the facts could have been seen by the player or someone else close by who was looking at the situation, not whether the player or anyone else actually saw it happen,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules.

Reasonable judgement is required when players determine a spot, position, line area, distance or other location. This includes replacing a ball that has been marked on the green, a situation that caused considerable angst for Thompson at the ANA Inspiration.

The committee will consider the following to establish reasonable judgement: 1) the actions of the player and the context in which they were taken; 2) the player’s explanation; 3) information from others who were there; 4) how far off the player was in picking the location.

“The new reasonable judgement standard deals with situations where a player is required to make a prompt determination in applying the rules, with the act of replacing a lifted ball being only one of those many situations,” Pagel said. “If the situation were to arise, the committee would need to take into account all of the relevant factors, including the actions the player took and the context in which they were taken, the player’s explanation and also the extent of the inaccuracy in replacing the ball.

“In each case, it would be up to the committee to make these inquiries and assess all the circumstances in applying the reasonable judgment standard. Under this standard, a committee could conclude that there would be no penalty if it found that she was acting reasonably in trying to replace the ball accurately and just made a small mistake.”

In other words, players will not be expected to orchestrate the same degree of precision as video replay. In Thompson’s situation, the committee could have determined she was “acting reasonably in trying to replace the ball accurately and just made a small mistake.”

Thompson is expected to address the media for the first time since the ANA on Wednesday at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout in Irving, Texas.

The rules change comes in the wake of Thompson receiving a four-shot penalty while leading the ANA Inspiration in early April, the first women’s major championship of the year. The 22-year-old American mis-marked her ball before a short putt on the 17th green in the third round, and a television viewer spotted it and called in the violation the next day. Thompson was given a two-shot penalty for mis-marking her ball on the green and an additional two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Thompson’s penalty was assessed during the fourth round as she had a commanding lead, knocking her down the leaderboard. She eventually lost a playoff to So Yeon Ryu. Thompson said after the round that she didn’t realize she had moved the ball and that she was not trying to gain an advantage.

Many fans and players were aghast at the ruling, and the controversy of having a viewer make such an impact on an event reached beyond normal LPGA coverage and took off on social media.

In past years, the option of assessing the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect card was not an option, and Thompson would have been disqualified. The USGA softened the rule in 2016, allowing a tournament committee to assess a penalty instead of enforcing a disqualification if the player didn’t know they were guilty of a rules violation when they signed the card.

Call-in violations coming after a player signs a scorecard are nothing new. One of the earliest such penalties came at Paul Azinger’s expense in the 1991 Doral-Ryder Open. While addressing his ball in a water hazard, Azinger kicked away a small rock. The violation was spotted by a television viewer and called in the next morning. Azinger, who later said he had intended to gain no advantage and didn’t even realize he had broken a rule, was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

“I didn’t argue the rule, nor did I think the call-in should have been ignored,” Azinger told Golfweek on Monday after the USGA announced it planned a rules change. “You can’t ignore that. … The penalty has to be assessed if it’s caught by a call-in viewer – 100 percent. I hope that never changes. …

“I don’t see how you cannot take call-ins as long as the tournament is underway. Nobody wants to make the mistake, have it spotted – especially in a Twitter or social-media generation – and then have to deal with the brunt of that if they were to go on to win.”

Azinger, a 12-time PGA Tour and major champion who has gone on to work in television, said he hoped that if violations are spotted before the end of a tournament that rules officials will give the proper penalty strokes. As for adding two additional penalty shots for signing an incorrect scorecard, as the LPGA did in the Thompson case, Azinger said those strokes should not have been necessary.

“They could have just added two shots to her score, and not the extra two, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain said. “But they decided to give her two for signing an incorrect score and two for making a mistake, which just looked so bad. …

“She didn’t even know she made the breach. Of course she signed the incorrect card. She signed the correct card. It was made incorrect because of the breach that she was unaware of.”

– Martin Kaufmann, Alistair Tait, Brentley Romine and Jason Lusk contributed to this report

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