Commentary: DQ clarification deserves applause

Padraig Harrington of Ireland hits his tee shot on the fourth hole during the first round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2011 in Augusta, Georgia.

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AUGUSTA, Ga. - The U.S. Golf Association and R & A should be applauded for their quick and decisive action on unwarranted disqualifications.

Under a new interpretation of the rules, a disqualification can be waived (by a tournament committee) if it was precipitated by high-tech evidence from modern televisions or recording devices. The player would still be saddled with the prescribed penalty for violating a specific rule, but would not be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

A few widely publicized disqualifications of touring pros have occurred when video evidence of rules violations surfaced after scorecards had been signed. Before this new interpretation, the automatic penalty was disqualification.

The USGA and R & A stressed they want to be fair to all players. There remains no excuse for ignorance of the rules, so the disqualification of Camilo Villegas at January’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions (for removing a divot from the path of a moving ball) could not be overturned.

The player most responsible for the rules change was Padraig Harrington. In January, he was disqualified at the Abu Dhabi Championship based on after-the-fact video evidence that his ball inadvertently was moved a fraction of an inch while resting on a green. This DQ was followed by a resounding outcry from golf fans.

The formal decision to adopt the new interpretation was reached Tuesday night here in Augusta. The two rulesmaking organizations had been discussing the situation for several months.

However, this isn’t necessarily the end of it.

Alan Holmes, new chairman of the R & A’s Rules of Golf Committee, confirmed “we will continue to address the issue of the submission of evidence. There is a legitimate question whether someone watching a television in Timbuktu should have essentially the same (rules) authority as a referee.”

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has asked the USGA to disregard observations relayed by television views. Finchem suggested that evidence of rules infractions should come only from on-site players and officials.

The USGA and R & A occasionally been have denounced over seemingly trivial rules violations that resulted in disqualifications. When asked if the ruling bodies are sensitive to public perceptions, USGA executive director Mike Davis was forthright and did not duck the question.

“I would say to an extent we are,” Davis responded. “It’s important for the R & A and for the USGA to make sure that the rules are written in a concise and fair manner. And you know, some of the comments that get made about the difficulty of the rules, we would not argue with that.”

Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R & A, said he was “delighted that we have come to this resolution. We have been talking about this for some time. It isn’t an easy fix, because you have to balance certain important long-term pillars of the rules of the game -- the integrity of the scorecard, and its importance that it is completed correctly and in a timely manner.

“We have issued this decision immediately upon reaching an agreement,” Dawson related. “There has been no delay.”

Changes within the USGA and R & A go far beyond the rules. At one time, both groups operated largely behind closed doors without much publicity or scrutiny. This has changed.

Now both are communicating more openly and freely with their constituents, and the world of golf is much better served because of it.

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