Decision 34-3/10 institutes two new criteria for judging rule breaches. They are the "naked eye" standard and the "reasonable judgment" standard.
In addition, a new "working group" has been created to examine the best way to deal with video and viewer-submitted evidence when enforcing the rules. That working group includes folks from the USGA, R&A and the major tours.
Personally, I was thrilled to see the "naked eye" test included. If you follow my blog, you know I've been arguing this for a while, as I did in my Why Armchair Officials Are Unneeded post right after the Lexi debacle, where I wrote:
I think that any "infraction of the rules" that can't be seen with the naked eye from a few feet away ISN'T an infraction. That's how the rules were enforced when The Rules of Golf were originally written.And that's why I call this new rule the Nordqvist Rule -- because it specifically mentions the Nordqvist ruling at the US Women's Open last year:
...there are two situations in which the use of video evidence is limited: When a player unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in a backswing with a club in making a stroke from a bunker... In such situations, if the Committee concludes that such facts could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye and the player was not otherwise aware of a potential breach of the Rules, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise.The second example they quote happened several years ago. (I forget the name of the player, although GC mentioned him during their broadcast.) The point is that the USGA and the R&A agree that the rules need to evolve along with technology. That's a HUGE step forward, and the fact that they've decided to put it into effect immediately is also very promising. (Kendra Graham told GC that evolving the rules along with the technology is a guiding principle of the new rule revisions and, since it's so basic to the revision, they saw no reason not to put it into effect right now.)
Ironically, neither of the new standards would have actually helped Lexi. According to the video evidence that was used originally, you can see that the ball was moved perhaps two inches from its original position -- no closer to the hole, just sideways. But based on the standards, that's an amount that's observable by the naked eye of a competitor.
The "help" will be left up to the working group. They will work to decide what evidence will be allowed in the enforcement of the rules. And I suspect this will be somewhat messy for a while, as different methods are tried at different events in different circumstances. Ironically, Kendra said she was all for eliminating video evidence entirely -- but noted that doing so would also eliminate using video to help players, as when it's used to determine where a ball entered a hazard.
MAKE NO MISTAKE -- THERE WILL BE SOME MISTAKES MADE DURING THIS PROCESS. As Kendra noted, there are going to be unforeseen consequences with any decision the group makes, and we'll just have to put up with them during the process.
But I think that's okay. The rules will be worked out in the crucible of the game itself, not in some remote office where only the carpets are green. The actual effects of proposed changes -- the often unexpected repercussions -- will be seen in the real world, not just in some theoretical debate.
In the end, there is no substitute for experience. As critical as I have been of the ruling bodies for some of their decisions, I think this is a necessary step if they really want to make the Rules of Golf work under actual circumstances. I'm applauding them for what they did Tuesday.