The USGA and R&A got together to try and apply some cover-up to their shared black eye.
The pair of governing bodies announced Tuesday morning Decision 34-3/10. It’s not a change to the Rules of Golf, per se, but rather it’s an addition to the supplementary Decisions in the Rules of Golf. Regardless, it represents an immediate change to the governing power of tournament organizers.
Motivated by the rage and incredulity directed at the authors of the Rules of Golf following Lexi Thompson’s four-stroke penalty at the ANA Inspiration, the powers that be had no choice but to act. Ire, which had been simmering since such incidents as Dustin Johnson’s penalty for grounding his club in a bunker at the 2010 PGA Championship, boiled over. Key in turning up the gas on the burner: Dustin Johnson’s penalty at the 2016 U.S. Open, Anna Nordqvuist’s penalty for grounding her club at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open, and the aforementioned Thompson incident.
Simply, the USGA had to do something to maintain the appearance of being responsive to/actually interested in what is going in the real world of golf. So, in the interest in self preservation and saving face, they threw the public a bone with Decision 34-3/10.
The Decision emphasizes a player’s “reasonable standard of judgement.” Thus, players will not be held to the “the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology,” under the new determination.
With respect to the Lexi Thompson penalty, under the new Decision, she wouldn’t have been penalized as she believed she had replaced her ball on the appropriate spot, not an inch away, as was indicated by a viewer who called in and confirmed by the LPGA.
“So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence,” the Decision states.
Finally seeing the light, USGA Rules chair, Thomas Pagel said, “We are trying to make sure that players that are on television are not held to a higher standard than others playing the game.”
“Television evidence can reveal facts that as a human being you could not reasonably have known in the playing of the game. A player could do everything he or she could to get it right, but video evidence could still show that they got it a little wrong. And the only reason we can know they got it a little wrong is because we’ve been able to slow down, pause, rewind, replay, all the things that the player on the golf course doesn’t have the advantage of doing.”
Those hoping the governing bodies would deal with the other elephants in the clubhouse, however, will have to wait until at least the next revision to the Rules of Golf in January, 2019. The joint statement makes no changes with respect to the practice of viewers calling in penalties, nor to the two-stroke penalty players are hit with for signing a scorecard that later turns out to be incorrect in light of post-round information.
This doesn’t mean the USGA isn’t considering the problem, just not with as much rapidity as the “reasonable judgment” standard. “Everything about television call-ins is on the table, including should we take any at all,” Thomas Pagel said Tuesday.
Good. But the legions who are up in arms about the absurdity of overzealous armchair rules officials won’t be happy the USGA didn’t announce a modification to the practice of “considering all evidence” with the Decisions announcement. And those who were unhappy about the fact that, say, a penalty incurred on Saturday can be enforced mid-way through a player’s round Sunday, won’t be keen to see that issue passed over.
Ultimately, in their efforts to protect the integrity of the game, the USGA makes it look ridiculous. Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A said:
“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.”
If this is true, while all will cheer the sensibility of Decision 34-3/10, many will be left wanting for more.