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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Debut of the HD Rule

Although it was talked about often on Sunday, all of the circumstances surrounding the "Rose Decision" weren't consistently repeated during every report. I want to make sure everybody understands why Justin Rose's 2-shot penalty was rescinded Sunday... and why the precedent it set should work without problem in the future.

You can read golf.com's article about it at this link.

Justin and Sergio

During the third round at THE PLAYERS, Justin Rose was preparing to play a chip at the 18th green. As he addressed the ball he thought he saw it move, so he backed off and asked Sergio, his playing partner, to come take a look. There was a large video scoreboard by the green and both watched the replay -- which would have been a pretty large replay! -- and Sergio didn't think it moved. After a brief discussion they decided that it must have "oscillated" (wiggled back and forth), which is not a violation of the Rules.

I only heard this mentioned during one of the discussions about what happened, but oscillation would explain why Rose thought he saw movement but Garcia didn't think it had moved. They didn't call a rules judge because the ruling seemed pretty simple, but Rose says he would do so in the future. (Once again the Rules may result in slow play.)

After the round but before Rose signed his scorecard, officials went to several TV trucks in an effort to determine whether the ball had moved or not. After finally magnifying the video 50 times its normal size -- Rose said it looked like a Lego ball (the pixels forming the image were so big they looked like squares) -- officials determined that the ball actually had moved some infinitesimal amount and Rose received a two-stroke penalty. One stroke was for causing the ball to move, the other stroke was for not replacing the ball.

Before Rose teed off Sunday, the on-site rules officials contacted the USGA and the R&A to see if the new Decision 18/4, aka "the HD Rule," could be applied. It was decided that Rose's situation was exactly what the new decision was created for, and Rose's penalty was rescinded.

Here's the logic behind the new rule and why the precedent it sets shouldn't cause any problems:

One of the things we claim to be most proud of in golf is how the players police themselves. However, there's a certain amount of logic at work here -- namely, the information players need in order to police themselves should be easily available to those players, so they can make an informed decision. Here's what Justin Rose did:
  • He called on his playing partner to help him make a decision, because his partner's opinion would help "protect the field."
  • They made use of what technology was available to them, which in this case was a large electronic display replaying the chip in question.
His playing partner's decision was that the ball had not moved, and the oversized replay was used to make that decision. That should have been enough.

In the process of overruling their decision, the officials had to visit multiple TV trucks and enlarge the video to an extent far beyond what the technology is reasonably capable of -- the "Lego ball" that Rose referenced -- and I would argue that such an extreme use of the technology rendered the officials' decision inconclusive because an accurate representation of a golf ball should be round, not a "Lego ball." When the image of the ball has been distorted so badly by the technology, how can you be sure that any perceived movement of that distorted ball isn't a distortion as well?

That's why the new precedent everyone is worried about shouldn't be a problem at all. When the movement in question is so small that extreme measures are required to see it, the movement is not sufficient to impact the game. Had the movement been clearly visible, Justin and Sergio would have called the penalty themselves, Justin would have replaced the ball, added a stroke penalty, and all would have been fine. That's what our players do!

I would like to see the original Rule rewritten to say that, if the movement is so small that the players themselves can't determine clearly that the ball moved or that watching a simple undistorted video replay doesn't clearly show that the ball moved, the movement should be automatically deemed an oscillation and play should continue without penalty. That would speed up the game considerably without affecting the integrity of the game.

But the "HD Rule" is a good stopgap solution. At least we eliminate rulings based on "Lego balls."

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