Golf’s rule-makers announce a welcome change
Golf’s governing bodies have supplied a reason to get excited about 2017.With the blessing of The R&A and USGA (effective January 1), courses and tournament committees can enact a Local Rule that says if you, your caddie, your partner or your equipment (or that of your opponent) accidentally move a ball or ball marker on the putting green, there’s no penalty, and the ball should be replaced. ▶ You read that right. Rule-makers did something really good for the game, and the reaction from professional tournament organisers has been extremely positive: All the major pro tours and the Masters Tournament said they will use the rule in 2017.
“We’re golfers, too, and when we saw players penalised for minor movement of a ball on the putting green, it didn’t sit well with us,” says Thomas Pagel, senior director of the Rules of Golf and amateur status for the USGA. “I hope people are excited about the change and it’s well received.” Pagel said he could envision this Local Rule becoming permanent when the next revisions of the Rules of Golf go into effect in 2020, but “I’m not going to guarantee anything,” he says.
The new Local Rule was a reaction in large part to the messy situation that affected Dustin Johnson at the 2016 US Open. Johnson was deemed to have accidentally moved his ball on the fifth green during the final round and later received a one-stroke penalty, although video evidence seemed inconclusive, and Johnson said he didn’t cause his ball to move.The way Decision 18-2/0.5 is worded, if the weight of the evidence indicates that it’s more likely than not that a player caused the ball to move, the penalty must be assessed. In Johnson’s case, the USGA said there was no other reason more likely than Johnson.
Another key reason for the change is agronomy.As green speeds have become faster, keeping a ball at rest has been a challenge. Something as innocent as stepping in to address a putt could cause the ball to move.
So what happens if the Local Rule is not in effect? The one-stroke penalty for violating Rules 18-2 (ball at rest moved by player, partner, caddie or equipment), 18-3 (ball at rest moved by opponent, caddie or equipment in match play) or 20-1 (lifting and marking) would still apply. Those rules specify a penalty for moving a ball or ball marker in many situations, including accidents such as kicking the ball or moving it when you make a practice stroke.
Keep in mind that the new Local Rule applies only if a ball is on the green – by definition, when any part of the ball is touching the putting surface. Furthermore, if the ball should move on the green as a result of wind, water or some other natural cause, such as gravity, the ball must be played from its new position. A ball marker that moves as a result of strong winds, for example, should be replaced.
But put all of that aside for now, and just take a moment to salute The R&A and USGA for doing something positive for golf. – ron kaspriske