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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The USGA and R&A Are at It Again

While everybody awaits 2016 January 1 -- the day anchored putting dies (perhaps Don McLean will write a song about it) -- the USGA and the R&A didn't want us to get bored. Tuesday morning they announced more rule changes.

These will take effect in a little more than a month, on 2014 January 1. You can read about the changes in this news release at There are a total of 87 changes. Technically these are changes to the Decisions on the Rules of Golf rather than the Rules themselves, but they include changes that will effect all golfers (amateur or pro) playing in a tournament.

If you're curious, those 87 changes include "...three new Decisions, 59 revised Decisions, one re-numbered Decision and 24 Decisions withdrawn."

The news release specifically mentions 4 of those decisions, 3 of which will affect lots of golfers:
  • You can now walk up to 50 yards from the tee without forfeiting your right to go back and hit a provisional. Presumably this is so you can make a better determination as to whether you need to re-tee or not, thus saving time.
  • You're now allowed to use a smartphone to access weather reports during a round. They specifically say this addresses a safety issue.
  • And there's a section with pictures to clarify when a ball is embedded.
But as you may have guessed, it's the fourth decision they mention that's getting all the attention. It specifically affects the pros. Here's what the news release says:
New Decision 18/4 provides that, where enhanced technological evidence (e.g. HDTV, digital recording or online visual media, etc.) shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time. 
Yes, the governing bodies have finally decided that video technology is affecting the game enough that they should address it. (Really? I hadn't noticed...) And GC reported that they intend to make more far-reaching decisions concerning video technology, presumably for the 2016 Rules of Golf.

But I fear that this decision may have merely muddied the waters a bit. The problem is the phrase "reasonably discernible to the naked eye," which seems rather vague to me. How much movement is that? If the player didn't see it but the officials are aware of it because they saw hi-def video, isn't there a danger that their perceptions have already been colored a bit? We all know that a camera lens can make an area appear to be more brightly lit than it actually is to the naked eye. How will the officials determine what the player SHOULD have actually been able to see?

That bothers me. With no concrete criteria to determine what is "reasonably discernible" and what isn't, this may open a bigger can of worms than we have now. Some players already contend that the big names get preferential treatment; I don't even want to think about the potential complaints that may come from this!

I still think the easiest short-term solution to this problem is to simply assume the player didn't see the movement -- add the penalty to his or her score and eliminate the DQ penalty for any such infraction discovered on video after the player has signed his or her scorecard. (As I have mentioned before, if the penalty is a DQ regardless of when the infraction is discovered -- and there are a few of those -- the player would still be DQ'ed. I'm talking about infractions where the player could avoid a DQ by correcting the scorecard before signing it.) That is the biggest problem created by technology, and the Rules still don't deal with it.

Let me give the USGA and the R&A credit for at least admitting that technology has become an issue that must be dealt with. This -- plus their decision to allow on-course weather reports via smartphone -- is a big step forward, compared with their past inaction.

But still... couldn't they have at least allowed rangefinders during rounds? That would have sped up the game considerably.

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