May
5
2011
After Simpson’s Mishap, USGA Looking to Change Rule 18-2b
By Conor Nagle under General

Bubba Watson commiserates with Simpson at the conclusion of their play-off

We probably should have brought the news to you sooner, but it looks like the USGA is exploring the possibility of changing rule 18-2b. The rule, which contributed to denying Webb Simpson his first PGA Tour victory, refers to the unintentional movement of a player’s ball at address:

“If a player’s ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke. The ball must be replaced, unless the movement of the ball occurs after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of the club for the stroke and the stroke is made.”

USGA Vice President Thomas O’Toole announced the news at Monday’s US Open Media Day, but claimed that the initiative wasn’t prompted by Sunday’s high-profile ruling. Under the proposed new rule, if it could be either demonstrated or adequately deduced that some outside agency– wind, gravity, etc.– had caused the ball to move, a player would not be penalised.

The difficulty with this, as trusty Geoff Shackelford points out, is that the rules of golf specifically state that wind is not an outside agency, thus raising the spectre of a needlessly convoluted exception to a clearly defined rule.

In addition, I find it hard to see how rulings made under the new amendment would be capable of accurately differentiating between the various factors influencing a ball’s movement. The rule as it currently stands makes the specific nature of the movement essentially irrelevent: if it moved after address, it’s a penalty. The new proposal seems to allow for two completely different rulings to be separated by little more than a hair’s breadth of philosophical distinction. Did a player cause the ball to move in a given situation, or was it the wind? It’s often impossible to tell and, given the conditions under which most of these judgements will be made, it very nearly ceases to matter.

We can only wait and see how the USGA and R&A decide to parse the re-vamped 18-2b, but I can’t say I’m hugely enthusiastic about their decision to meddle with it. As silly as it may occasionally seem– witness last Sunday’s PR debacle– 18-2b is both simple and philosophically unambigous. Tampering with it seems to court only confusion and the increased likelihood of inaccuracy.

Conor