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USGA changes rules regarding video reviews of infractions

On Tuesday, the USGA announced rules changes that could fundamentally change the way in which rules are enforced during televised PGA and LPGA Tour events.

The substance of the rules change involves the use of video replay to spot and enforce rules infractions. These issues recently came up when Lexi Thompson was penalized not only for replacing her ball on a putting green incorrectly but, also penalized for signing an incorrect scorecard at the end of the round. That’s right. She was penalized four strokes the day after the infractions occurred. Infractions, I might add, that she did not realize she had made. They were noticed by a television viewer who contacted the Tour event after Round 3.

I mused on the effect of these rulings in an editorial after it happened. To my knowledge, there is no other sport that retroactively penalizes players the way that golf does. Here are the rules changes that now govern the game of golf.

The Naked Eye Test

The USGA now admits that certain events can be noticed on video that cannot be seen with the naked eye. The rules change now says that anything that is not able to be reasonably seen with the naked eye will not penalize the player. Basically, if the player did not realize they had violated the rules, there is no penalty.

Examples:

When a player unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in a backswing with a club in making a stroke from a bunker.

When a player is unaware that the club struck the ball more than once in the course of making a single stroke.

Reasonable Judgment

In golf, players police themselves. They are often required to make a judgment where to place a replacement ball while enforcing the rules. Players typically “eyeball” these judgments to the best of their ability.

Examples:

Estimating where a ball last crossed the margin of a water hazard

Estimating or measuring where to drop or place a ball when taking relief, such as by reference to the nearest point of relief, to a line from the hole through a point or to the spot from which the previous stroke was made.

Estimating or measuring whether a ball that was dropped in taking relief was dropped in the correct location and whether it has come to rest in a position where a re-drop is required.

Replacing a lifted ball in relation to a ball-marker or replacing a ball on the spot from which it was accidentally moved.

USGA has now made the rules change that players will not be held to the same standard of detail that can be provided by video review.

A “reasonable judgment” standard is applied in evaluating the player’s actions in these situations: 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 wrong by the use of video evidence.

An important distinction to remember with these rules changes. This is not the end of rules tweaks.

The two organizations (USGA and R&A) have also established a working group of LPGA, PGA Tour, PGA European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America representatives to immediately begin a comprehensive review of broader video issues, including viewer call-ins, which arise in televised competitions.

These changes are welcomed by me. Golf is remarkably different than other sports in so many ways. Perhaps the most important is the integrity required to play properly. In no other sport are participants required to operate with honor like in the game of golf. These changes allow for the best players in the game to set an example for the rest of us.

Lexi Thompson lost the ANA Inspiration in a playoff this year due to retroactive video officiating. These changes should change that from happening again in the near future, at least. Unfortunately, for Lexi, it’s a day late and a dollar short.

Written by Leonard Elmore

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