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The Golf Gods Finally Get It Right

by | May 1, 2017

Recent Decision on the Use of Video Evidence

I had posted a blog on the sad plight of Lexi Thompson losing a golf tournament after a couch potato emailed tournament officials alleging that Lexi had mismarked her ball on the green while playing the previous day.

The outrage over this penalty was experienced throughout the golf world and was damaging to the sport.  Let’s give credit (for once) to the United States Golf Association (“USGA”) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Association (“R&A”) for reacting to this situation swiftly.  The governing bodies of the sport reacted with common sense and decided how much video evidence can influence rules decisions at televised events.  The new procedure, which is not a new rule, but a new decision (34-3/10) to the Rules of Golf, limits the use of advanced video technology-such as high-definition or super slow-motion cameras-in making rulings.  The decision is effective immediately.

While I think this is a good decision, I would have liked to have seen the Rule address the big picture issue, which is the prohibition of accepting information from anyone outside of the group of tournament officials during any event.

The new rule focuses on the use of technology for enforcing the rules of Golf rather than defining the people that can enforce the rule using technology.  I would have addressed both points and my vote is to eliminate anyone not associated with the tournament from having any influence in rules enforcement–the same as any other sport.  The USGA stated that “the new decision would limit the use of video when it revealed evidence that could not be reasonably be seen with the “naked eye,” or when players used their “reasonable judgment” to determine a specific location when performing certain tasks like replacing a marked ball on a green.

An example of the “naked eye” standard was when Anna Nordqvist unknowingly touched a few grains of sand while taking a backswing in a bunker.  Unfortunately this occurred during the US Women’s Open on the first playoff hole.  Nordqvist lost the tournament after a penalty was imposed by the USGA after reviewing video evidence of a super slow-motion camera.  I was watching the tournament live at the event and could not detect the infraction standing 15 yards from her and neither could Nordqvist.

Another example of the “reasonable judgment” standard cited in the statement referred to conditions where a player was putting a ball back in play or determining the nearest point of relief.  My experience in these circumstances is that tournament contestants usually seek the judgment of the rules official covering the group to ensure that the drop or relief point is in conformance with the Rules of Golf.  The statement went further and stated that “so long as the player does what can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an “accurate determination,” the player’s “reasonable judgment” will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate through the use of video evidence.  The player, should not, however, be held to “the degree of precision” that can sometimes be provided by video technology.

The USGA and the R&A didn’t stamp out the couch potatoes yet which is still troublesome for me.  They are forming a working group from the various professional tours and the PGA of America to begin a comprehensive review of broader video issues, including television viewers who call to report rules violations in competitions.  I personally think this is a “no brainer” and a working group is not needed to study much of anything.  The “Rules of Golf” should prohibit any external influence outside of tournament officials and match referees to determine how the Rules of Golf should be applied in any set of circumstances.  The player is the ultimate arbiter of the rules that maintains the ethics and standards of the game.  The new decision of “reasonable judgment” and “naked-eye standard” enables the player to do the right thing at any time during an event.  I am still troubled by the ability to “call it in” except now the influence of that call will not be impacted by evidence from super slow-motion cameras and these new standards.

Let’s hope that the USGA and R&A resolve this final issue and disconnect their phones and PC’s from the viewing public.




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