I agree, folks. And the fix is so simple that I can't understand why it's still a problem.
First, let's get one thing clear: Either you made the ball move or you didn't. There's no in-between here. Personally, I think the guys would be honest enough to say they tapped the ball if they did, so I wouldn't make it an issue at all. But that's not the way the USGA thinks, so we need a way to determine whether the player is "deemed' to have moved the ball... and that's a simple fix.
All you have to do is set a threshold, a distance that your putter should be from the ball to guarantee that you didn't touch it, and decide based on that.
So what should the threshold be? Greens are cut very close, so just use the width of a golf ball as the measure.
- If ANY part of your putter is within one golf ball width of the ball -- regardless of whether you ground the putterhead or not -- and the ball moves, you DID make the ball move. Take your one-stroke penalty and replace the ball.
- But if NO part of your putter is within one golf ball width of the ball -- regardless of whether you ground the putterhead or not -- and the ball moves, you DID NOT make the ball move. There is no penalty, play the ball as it lies.
And just for the sake of clarity, let me suggest some solutions for the "deemed to make the ball move" question elsewhere on the course.
- In the fairway, where the grass is cut fairly close, make the threshold two ball widths. Inside that, you made the ball move; take a penalty stroke and replace the ball. Outside that, play on and don't worry about it.
- Anywhere else on the course EXCEPT TALL GRASS, we adapt the bunker rule: If you ground the club, you caused it to move. Take a one-stroke penalty and play it as it lies. I don't care if you're a foot behind the ball, if you grounded the club, you caused the ball to move. We play in bunkers all the time without grounding the club, we can do it in the rough as well. Ground the club at your own risk.
- In tall grasses like heather and such, THERE IS NO PENALTY. PERIOD. Play the ball as it lies. Tall grasses are inherently unstable, and we shouldn't be surprised it the ball moves. Now I expect players to use a little common sense in these situations and not tempt fate by grounding the club two inches behind the ball. As long as they don't do something stupid like that, the bad lie is penalty enough.
But when the ball moves on the green? Come on, USGA. This ain't rocket science. Simplify the rule and speed up the game.