Apr
25
2017
USGA, R&A announce new rule to limit use of video review
By Stephanie Wei under Rules

When reports popped up Monday about the USGA and R&A making a big announcement about a rules change after the massive backlash resulting from Lexi Thompson’s unfortunate four-stroke penalty in the final round of the ANA Inspiration that ultimately cost her the major title.

Naturally, Golf Twitter responded in real time with utter outrage and disbelief, and then, of course, a flood of articles and columns dissecting the incident, Rules of Golf, TV vigilantism, etc. followed for days, which is the norm after such a controversial incident, but this was a special scenario because the women’s first major occurs the week right before the Masters. And usually, once Monday rolls around — the official start of Masters week — any coverage of the ladies’ major gets buried and forgotten because all eyes turn toward Augusta National.

This year, though, because of the absurd and extreme circumstances and the main character, Lexi’s story actually almost dominated the Masters coverage the first few days, as every big-name American player that graced the new palatial press center was asked for his thoughts, and they all had plenty to say on the topic and the Rules of Golf (which, IMHO, is partly an offshoot of the players’ pent-up frustrations with golf’s governing bodies in recent years).

I mean, I couldn’t believe we were still talking and ruminating about Lexi and the ANA Inspiration on Wednesday! Trust me, that *never* happens. Aside: I’ve been saying this for *years*, but it’s actually a major injustice to the women because coverage of the tourney normally gets lost and buried once Masters week officially commences Monday. If the rules fiasco hadn’t have happened and Lexi cruised to victory, it would have made headlines, of course — young American wins major!

Unfortunately, most people would have all too quickly moved on and turned their focus to the Masters. I see it happen every year and it continues to baffle me why the LPGA hasn’t moved the event to a week earlier, so it receives the attention and coverage it deserves. (The timing of the ANA doesn’t help with attracting more media outlets to cover it because as I know all too well, it’s not easy to get to Palm Springs and it’s also not easy to get to Augusta, and obviously, most major golf publications have staff specifically covering the women’s beat, but newspapers and the little people don’t… and for good reason.)

My bad. End rant.

So, I was thinking about what rule change the USGA and R&A could unveil and put into effect immediately only three weeks after the Lexi incident. It was tough to come up with something that would have too significant in such a short amount of time. This isn’t a knock on the governing bodies, but just imagining a bunch of rules experts, lawyers and administrators from two different organizations coming together and agreeing on the grueling process of writing a new rule isn’t something that happens…err…in simply one meeting or conference call. I admit I don’t know the exact process, but I know golf and I know the Rules of Golf well enough that I can imagine.

I figured perhaps the USGA and R&A would invoke a new rule that would have protected Lexi from incurring the extra two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard since she didn’t know at the time that she was doing so. The general consensus among rules experts and the majority of the golf media (at least from what I’ve gathered) that there is no doubt Lexi violated Rule 20-7c and didn’t replace the ball to the original spot (or as close as possible). I know many of you don’t see it that way, but that’s because you’ve never played competitive golf or at a high enough level to understand why that rule is so important and integral to the game. That rule is incredibly significant, especially since Lexi moved her ball around half an inch from its original position after marking it.

Of course I’m not accusing her of intending to “cheat” or break the rule in the least, but I said it at the time and I’ll say it again, it was sloppy. I’m fairly certain every Tour player would agree with that assessment in this particular scenario. And for those who have argued that she didn’t gain an “advantage,” that’s not the point at all. Then again, we don’t know — I couldn’t see close enough to discern if there was a indentation or spike mark or something of the like that she was trying to avoid. I know it was a really short tap-in putt and I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt because it just looked like she was haphazard in replacing her ball (and it would be extremely irresponsible, not to mention cynical to assume otherwise — unless you somehow can read Lexi Thompson’s mind and have the super power to know her intent).

The point is, however, that is not always the case and it’s a problem on Tour — it’s not a massive one, but it’s a big enough deal that it’s considered “cheating” when people do it regularly and it’s not a reputation anyone wants. As Phil Mickelson stated in his pre-tournament Masters press conference, there are players on the PGA Tour who are “loose” with how they mark and replace their ball. This is very true. And I recounted an incident that I witnessed in person involving a high-profile player at a high-profile tournament who was very “careless” with this rule. In fact, he had already developed a reputation among his fellow Tour pros, but until I saw it with my own eyes, I hadn’t completely forgotten about watching this aforementioned player on the greens after several players told me about this particular player having this habit a few months prior.

Please reference my previous posts on the topic here and here for a more thorough description of my thoughts on Lexi’s unfortunate situation.

I’ve now spent 1,500 words completely burying the lede. OK, the press release issued Tuesday morning announced that the USGA and R&A issued a new Decision on the Rules of Golf to limit the use of video evidence in the game, effective immediately. The two organizations have also put together a “working group” of LPGA, PGA Tour, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America representatives to immediately commence a thorough review of broader video issues, “including viewer call-ins, which arise in televised competitions.” In other words, a task force! I knew it! It was not specified whether or not the governing bodies would seek counsel from active Tour players on this issue. My guess is as much as the players would like that to happen, it won’t if I’m judging from precedent.

As for the new actual rule change, I guessed incorrectly. The governing bodies did not decide to “fix” the rule that would’ve saved Lexi from incurring the extra two-shot penalty, which many felt like was the most absurd part of the fiasco.

This is a concise summary of the new Decision:

New Decision 34-3/10 implements two standards for Rules committees to limit the use of video: 1) when video reveals evidence that could not reasonably be seen with the “naked eye,” and 2) when players use their “reasonable judgment” to determine a specific location when applying the Rules. The full language of the Decision can be found here.

What does that all mean? We’ll get to that in a second.

But from what I gathered after reading the press release (several times), along with the full Decision, this provision does not provide clarity with regard to Lexi’s incident earlier this month at the ANA Inspiration. It appears that even if these new provisions to the rule had been in effect, Lexi would have still incurred the four-shot penalty. And since I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the intricacies of the Rules of Golf, I’ll refer you to Missy Jones, who is indeed an authority.

“….same set of facts with Lexi Thompson playing to win the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage. The Committee gets information they need to review some video and rush to the TV trailer. Because the replacement of her ball is so far off from where it needs to be, it’s likely she would not get off the hook with the “reasonable judgment” standard because an inch matters as much as a mile, especially on the putting green. We can’t forget the basic tenet of the game to play the ball as it lies and that being able to lift your ball on the green is a privilege that comes with the responsibility to get it back to the right place.”

However, the explanation of the decision does specifically reference the controversy (not in name but it uses the scenario as an example) that occurred at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open when Anna Nordqvist ended up losing in a playoff after apparently her club barely touched a few specks of sand in her back swing during a bunker shot. She was penalized two shots and ended up losing the three-hole aggregate playoff to Brittany Lang. The way the whole debacle played out was less than ideal and Nordqvist was undoubtedly screwed in this case.

The USGA/R&A describes two sets of standards where this new rule/decision applies — and this is where it’s pretty clear that it’s referencing the unfortunate incident with Nordqvist:

The first standard states, “the use of video technology can make it possible to identify things that could not be seen with the naked eye.” An example includes a player who unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in taking a backswing with a club in a bunker when making a stroke.

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 the potential breach, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise. This is an extension of the provision on ball-at-rest-moved cases, which was introduced in 2014.

So, you see, this likely wouldn’t have exonerated Lexi because it’s reasonable to conclude that she replaced her ball much too sloppily and far away enough from the original mark (around half an inch) that it could have been prevented. And it was blatant enough to be seen with the naked eye. I know we watched Golf Channel’s replay of it in slo-mo, but I’m fairly certain it would’ve been obvious from anyone who was watching it in person and without the aid of technology.

And here’s the second part of the rule:

The second standard applies when a player determines a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location in applying the Rules, and recognizes that a player should not be held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology. Examples include determining the nearest point of relief or replacing a lifted ball.

So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence.

If you’re so inclined, go here to read details of the rule in its entirety. In the examples provided under the second standard, it does reference — though not specifically and not definitively — the situation Lexi faced: “Replacing a lifted ball in relation to a ball-marker or replacing a ball on the spot from which it was accidentally moved.”

That’s as far as it goes — the language does not elaborate and/or clarify anything that pertains to the incident that led to this emergency meeting of the minds at the USGA and R&A to put these new standards into effect immediately. As I’ve said, I don’t consider Lexi’s offense — though an innocent mistake — to have been replaced close enough to its original spot and it was far off enough to be discerned by the naked eye. Again, I’m not saying she was trying to gain an advantage or intended to be so sloppy in this specific instance, but that’s my interpretation and it sounds like from the little I’ve seen written by the experts that they’re in agreement.

However, since Lexi said it was not her intention to replace her ball so far from the original mark, perhaps she would have been exonerated under this new standard of the rule. I don’t know. This is just another example of the Rules of Golf not being so black and white as officials preach. When I see phrases in a rules decision, like “players use their ‘reasonable judgment,'” that automatically screams “gray area!” My “reasonable judgment” might differ from your “reasonable judgment.” When the word “judgement” is invoked, that instantly means there is room for interpretation.

For instance, remember at the 2013 Players when there were quite a few raised eyebrows and red flags after Tiger Woods’ questionable drop after he hooked his tee shot into the pond on the 14th hole at TPC Sawgrass? (Man, that was a crazy year with so many “controversial” rulings and penalties for Tiger.) At the time, I kind of shrugged it off because in my mind, Tiger and his playing partner Casey WIttenberg had agreed that where he did drop was where his ball last crossed the hazard. That was good enough for me because that’s how we did it on the amateur level in junior and college golf — you check with your playing partners and as long as you’re all in agreement, then you’re in the clear. But we obviously didn’t have thousands watching in person and many, many more watching on high-def TV.

In retrospect, I was wrong at the time in thinking Tiger’s drop was kosher. There is no way Tiger’s ball crossed the hazard as far ahead as he “estimated.” Others who had pulled their ball into the same pond had taken their drops much farther back. I’m fairly certain I was walking with Tiger’s group when it happened and I have trouble following ball flights in the air, so I usually just watch the player’s body language because I can gather more from that.

It’s actually quite shocking considering there was indeed video evidence and plenty of questions raised at the time for Tour officials to carefully review the footage in the truck and make a determination, but instead they issue a weak statement and gave Woods a pass. Whatever, I was fine with it at the time, but now , given all the crap we’ve seen in recent years, that was not the right call and at the time, he should have received a penalty. However, with the new stipulation of the rule, he would’ve been in the clear and the Tour’s statement would have sufficed.

Back to the new rules unveiled Tuesday and how it would’ve impacted Lexi’s controversial four-shot penalty. As I said, the USGA and R&A did not provide a definitive answer or exonerate Lexi — even though this rule is/was being dubbed as the “Lexi rule.” The language in the new standards to the decision was murky, and from my point of view and my “reasonable judgment,” Lexi would have still been slapped with a four-shot penalty.

If I haven’t emphasized this enough in previous post on this topic, the rules official enforced the rules correctly as they were written. My main issue is with TV vigilantism, but I’ve heard arguments that are rational and that I don’t disagree with from those who are OK with viewers calling in, *but* with a statue of limitations of some sorts or at least if its discovered after a round has been completed, spare the player who committed the infraction of incurring another two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard since at the time he/she was not aware of such.

I’m not completely sold on this, but I guess I could live with the above. I’d prefer a time limit or statute of limitations when it comes to penalties, though. Like, once a round is over, you can’t go back and impose penalties, etc. the following day. I know that there actually is a statue of limitations with regard to Sundays because unfortunately enough of these rules gaffes have occurred that I’ve asked Tour officials on-site for clarification. Naturally, the question popped up multiple times on Twitter during the Lexi fiasco, and I actually (which is pretty sad) knew the answer. Once a champion is declared and determined on Sunday, the tournament has concluded and the result cannot be changed. So, if someone watching the replay on Monday sees the champion break a rule or cause an infraction, the player will not be penalized. How about just make that the case for Thursday, Friday and Saturday? Probably too rational to happen.

Kudos to the USGA and R&A for acting so quickly on implementing a rule to help prevent similar future embarrassing fiascos from occurring going forward — that’s not an easy feat when it comes to these things, as it’s like writing a law into legislature. However, I guess it’s a little confusing that obviously the timing of this new rule would strongly suggest that it was done in response to the Lexi controversy, but as its written, it doesn’t provide any definitive clarification that Lexi would have been spared all four penalty strokes and/or have changed her fate and the result. Well, baby steps, I suppose!

 


 

Here’s the full press release:

FAR HILLS, N.J., USA AND ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND (April 25, 2017) – The USGA and The R&A have issued a new Decision on the Rules of Golf to limit the use of video evidence in the game, effective immediately.

The two organizations have also established a working group of LPGA, PGA Tour, PGA European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America representatives to immediately begin a comprehensive review of broader video issues, including viewer call-ins, which arise in televised competitions.

New Decision 34-3/10 implements two standards for Rules committees to limit the use of video: 1) when video reveals evidence that could not reasonably be seen with the “naked eye,” and 2) when players use their “reasonable judgment” to determine a specific location when applying the Rules. The full language of the Decision can be found here.

The first standard states, “the use of video technology can make it possible to identify things that could not be seen with the naked eye.” An example includes a player who unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in taking a backswing with a club in a bunker when making a stroke.

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 the potential breach, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise. This is an extension of the provision on ball-at-rest-moved cases, which was introduced in 2014.

The second standard applies when a player determines a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location in applying the Rules, and recognizes that a player should not be held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology. Examples include determining the nearest point of relief or replacing a lifted ball.

So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence.

Both of these standards have been extensively discussed as part of the Rules modernization initiative. The USGA and The R&A have decided to enact this Decision immediately because of the many difficult issues arising from video review in televised golf.

The standards in the Decision do not change any of the current requirements in the Rules, as the player must still act with care, report all known breaches of the Rules and try to do what is reasonably expected in making an accurate determination when applying the Rules.

Video-related topics that require a deeper evaluation by the working group include the use of information from sources other than participants such as phone calls, email or social media, and the application of penalties after a score card has been returned.

USGA Executive Director/CEO Mike Davis said, “This important first step provides officials with tools that can have a direct and positive impact on the game. We recognize there is more work to be done. Advancements in video technology are enhancing the viewing experience for fans, but can also significantly affect the competition. We need to balance those advances with what is fair for all players when applying the Rules.”

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said, “We have been considering the impact of video review on the game and feel it is important to introduce a Decision to give greater clarity in this area. Golf has always been a game of integrity and we want to ensure that the emphasis remains as much as possible on the reasonable judgment of the player rather than on what video technology can show.”

The USGA and The R&A will consider additional modifications recommended by the working group for implementation in advance of Jan. 1, 2019, when the new code resulting from the collaborative work to modernize golf’s Rules takes effect.