Rules of golf have been amended in regard to use of video evidence

Everyone who has played the wonderful game of golf knows that the rules for the sport are both many and complicated. In addition, there are no officials present to enforce those rules for us weekend duffers. No, we are expected to know the rules and abide by them. If we realize we have broken a rule we are supposed to penalize ourselves.

Now many of us don’t know all the rules. My guys know a lot of them, but choose to ignore many. “Gimme” putts are common and rolling the ball is done frequently. As long as we all play by the same standards, I guess everything is OK.

On the professional level, where thousands of dollars are at stake in any given tournament, playing by the rules is paramount.

So when the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the United States Golf Association announced some modifications to the rules recently, the golf world took notice. There have been some rules interpretations over the years that left many shaking their heads. Craig Stadler kneeling on a towel to keep his pants from getting wet while he hit his ball from under a bush comes to mind. Dustin Johnson grounding his club in a bunker that patrons were standing in at Whistling Straits does as well.

In both cases these golfers lost tournaments they would have won if not for the rulings.

In 2016 Anna Nordqvist was penalized for grounding her club in a bunker. The only way anyone knew about the violation was because a TV camera zoomed in and if one looked very, very closely you could see a grain of sand topple over. She was informed of the violation and the subsequent two-stoke penalty several holes later and lost a chance to be the U.S. Open Champion.

This year Lexi Thompson misplaced her ball after marking it on a green. A TV viewer called in the violation (where does one find that telephone number?) the NEXT day. Two thirds of the way through the final round of the tournament Thompson was penalized four shots — two for the violation and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard. She went from a big lead to trailing and eventually lost in a playoff.

Golf fans were incensed by these two events and the two governing bodies addressed the situation. Whether they got things right or not is open to question, so let’s take a look at the changes and you can decide for yourself.

Two changes, which took place immediately, have been created to limit the use of video replay in this televised world we live in. The first will limit the use of video to anything that can reasonably be seen with the naked eye. Nordqvist could not possibly have seen that grain of sand move, nor could anyone else standing nearby. With this rule change she would not have been penalized.

The second one reads like this: reasonable judgment should be used to determine a specific location when applying the rules. This one applies to the Thompson situation, but becomes much murkier when you read further.

Tournament officials will review information concerning a possible rules violation such as Lexi replacing her ball in a slightly different location than originally marked. The officials will take four things into account.

1 — The actions of the player and the context in which they were taken.

2 — The player’s explanation.

3 — Information from others who were there.

4 — How far off the player was in picking the location.

Now I like the idea behind this rule change which is to not punish a player for an unintended mistake, but this sounds more like a court hearing would have to take place before any punishment is handed down.

Two items that had a lot of golfers outraged that were not addressed by these changes are viewer call-ins and penalties for signing an incorrect scorecard. Let’s start with the second one.

For years the penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard was disqualification. In fact, that is what happened to Craig Stadler. Since he failed to assess the two-stroke penalty for trying to keep his pants dry (the violation was that by kneeling on the towel he was improving his stance) he signed an incorrect scorecard. Sorry, but you are DQ’d.

That penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard has since been reduced to a two-stroke penalty. Stadler may not have won the tournament, but still would have cashed in.

Many questioned why Thompson should receive a two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard when at the time of the signing she didn’t know it was incorrect.

As for allowing TV viewers to call in a violation, the two governing bodies will take a look at that in the future. I can’t believe they allow this — no other sport does — and I assumed everyone felt the same way I did. Not so fast.

In 1991 Paul Azinger, while addressing his ball in a water hazard at Doral, moved a small rock. This apparent violation of the rules was called in the NEXT day by a viewer and he was DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Azinger never complained about the situation, while suggesting he did not realize it was a rules violation. He also had no problem with the violation being reported by a viewer — apparently the fact that it was not reported until the next day did not bother him either — and had this to say about viewers calling in: “I hope that never changes.”

I’m sure all of you have opinions on these changes and the things that were not addressed. I certainly do and I will briefly give my thoughts.

The first change is good. If you need to stop sports action to look at a camera angle that was zoomed in … the violation never occurred. In the second change, the idea is good, but the four-pronged method to determine things is way too bulky.

With all due respect to Mr. Azinger, get rid of viewers calling in rules violations. To those people who have called them in … get a life.

Finally there needs to be a statute of limitations on rules violations. If a violation occurs and is not noted until after the day has concluded… it didn’t happen!

Some other very significant rules changes are being considered. We will take a look at them as the golf season proceeds.

Al Stephenson is The A-T’s golf columnist

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