USGA, R&A: 'Naked eye' key to moving-ball penalty

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The USGA explains the rules in this photo.

Players will not be penalized under the Rules of Golf if their ball moves and it wasn’t obvious to the naked eye, the USGA and R&A have decided.

The governing bodies have introduced a new decision, 18/4, so that players are not penalized under Rule 18-2 (“Ball at Rest Moved: By Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment”) if a ball changes location and the movement could not have been seen without the use of enhanced technological evidence.

In a joint statement, the USGA and R&A said: “New Decision 18/4 provides that, where enhanced technological evidence (e.g. HDTV, digital recording or online visual media, etc.) shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”

Video technology to assess rules violations has been a source of contention in recent years. Tiger Woods was assessed two penalty strokes during the second round of the BMW Championship. Woods had moved a twig near his ball. Video evidence showed that the ball moved, prompting a penalty stroke but Woods claimed the ball had merely oscillated. He was docked another stroke (Rule 20-7: Playing from Wrong Place) because the ball was not returned to its original position.

“In that situation the only question that was asked was, Did the ball move? And the ball did move. That’s why the ruling was handed down the way it was,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of the Rules of Golf.

“It’s difficult to go back and speculate what the ruling would be because we have a new set of criteria and it’s difficult to test that criteria against an old set of facts,” Pagel said. “If there’s some compelling evidence that the player truly believed that the ball was back in its original location, then the committee would want to consider that.”

The new decision comes into effect Jan. 1, but the two governing bodies will continue to debate the use of video technology as part of the 2016 rules review.

“When the definition of move or moved was written, the level of precision, the level of scrutiny that we have today wasn’t expected,” Pagel said. “The decision reflects that increased level of scrutiny.

“In the future this decision provides a set of criteria and factors that the committee will have to take into account when ruling on any one situation.”

In another decision, players can access weather reports on smart phones during a round. Decision 14-3/18 allows players to access information about the threat of an impending storm without being in breach of the rules.

Two decisions have been revised for greater clarity. Decision 25-2/0.5 helps clarify the meaning of an embedded ball with the use of illustrations.

Decision 27-2a/1.5 has been changed to allow players to go forward approximately 50 yards without forfeiting the right to go back and play a provisional ball. Currently that is disallowed.

The above four decisions are the highlights among 87 changes made in time for the “2014-2015 Decisions on the Rules of Golf” book. There are three new decisions, 59 revised decisions and 24 decisions have been withdrawn.

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