Golf will no longer accept input from fans on rules violations

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 25: Rickie Fowler of the United States get a ruling from PGA rules official John Lillvis on the 17th hole during the third round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on February 25, 2017 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Golf will no longer accept input from fans on rules violations

PGA Tour

Golf will no longer accept input from fans on rules violations

Golf’s governing bodies have a message for armchair rules officials who reach for the phone whenever they think they’ve spotted a rules violation in a televised tournament: “Don’t bother. We got this.”

Effective Jan. 1, the U.S. Golf Association, R&A and the game’s major professional tours no longer will accept calls and emails from fans who think they have spotted rules violations. The governing bodies – in conjunction with the PGA Tour, LPGA, PGA European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America – agreed to assign at least one rules official to monitor all tournament telecasts and resolve any rules issues.

“The message is, have confidence in those conducting the event that if you’ve seen it, they’ve seen it, and there’s no need for anyone to call in what they think they have seen,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of the Rules of Golf and amateur status.

The move is an effort by the governing bodies to reclaim control of tournaments, much like other sports in which rules challenges are handled by league officials monitoring games in real time.

This issue has tarnished some of golf’s biggest championships in recent years, most notably with the decision in April to slap Lexi Thompson with a four-stroke penalty during the final round of the ANA Inspiration for marking her ball on the green, then failing to replace it properly.

A viewer emailed rules officials about that possible infraction, which occurred during the third round, but it was not verified until the final round. Thompson was penalized two strokes for the infraction and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

That ignited a firestorm among fans, many of whom thought the extra two-stroke penalty was a case of piling on because Thompson was not aware of the infraction when she signed her third-round scorecard.

The rules-makers agreed with that sentiment and adopted a local rule, available Jan. 1, that would eliminate that penalty if the player was unaware of the infraction. The scorecard penalty will be eliminated permanently in 2019 when the USGA and R&A release a sweeping overhaul of the Rules of Golf.

“There was just a level of controversy that was not good for the game,” Pagel said of the Thompson flap. “It was very unhealthy. People said, ‘The original breach is fine. If you’re going to penalize a player, penalize a player. But there’s no need to add on to that.’ The working group stepped back and said, we agree with that. There’s no need to add on an additional two-stroke penalty.”

Similarly, Pagel said many of the rules changes that will take effect in 2019 are intended to do away with what he called “unnecessary penalties.”

“A lot of the stuff that people are looking to call penalties on from home – a good majority of those penalties go away with the rules modernization code,”
he said.

The U.S.-based professional tours are on board with the changes.

“The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today’s announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally,” Tyler Dennis, executive vice president and COO of the PGA Tour, said in a statement.

“The PGA Tour will adopt the new local rule beginning Jan. 1, 2018, and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said he was pleased with the rule change and the speed with which it was adopted. He dislikes viewer call-ins and said that after the Thompson fiasco, the LPGA began assigning a staffer to monitor TV coverage for possible infractions.

“As a golf fan myself, loving watching these players play at this level, I had the same sort of frustration as some of our fans had,” Whan said. “To me, there were certain cases where the rules, when written, probably didn’t ascertain 700 times the naked eye of super slow-mo. And sometimes I think we had a few rules where the penalty doesn’t match the crime.”

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