USGA Changes the Rules After DJ Controversy

It’s been pretty easy of late to dump on the USGA for some easily avoidable mistakes, everything from championship course set-ups to name-mangling by the organization’s leaders. But perhaps nothing has exercised the golf public more than some recent Rules imbroglios, and none more so than the one-stroke penalty charged to U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson for his ball accidentally moving on the green during the final round of this year’s Open at Oakmont.

Luckily, one stroke didn’t affect the tournament outcome, but both the Rule and the officials’ handling of it—informing DJ and his fellow competitors during the round that things wouldn’t be cleared up until afterward—left a bad taste in golfers’ mouths from Pittsburgh to Prestwick.

Thankfully, we won’t have that Rule to kick around anymore. The USGA and R&A announced late last week a new Local Rule, to go into effect on January 1, 2017, that eliminates precisely that penalty. According to the USGA, all the major Tours—including the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA, PGA of America, as well as the Masters—have welcomed the change and will follow it. As well they should. The USGA also offered this wording when any committee in charge of a competition wants to introduce said Rule:

Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1 are modified as follows:

When a player’s ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment.

The moved ball or ball-marker must be replaced as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1.

This Local Rule applies only when the player’s ball or ball-marker lies on the putting green and any movement is accidental.
 Note: If it is determined that a player’s ball on the putting green was moved as a result of wind, water or some other natural cause such as the effects of gravity, the ball must be played as it lies from its new location. A ball-marker moved in such circumstances is replaced.

The USGA has more information on the new Local Rule on its website, including a video and a detailed Q&A.

“Eliminating this penalty responds to the concerns we have heard from both golfers and committees about the difficulties in applying the current Rules when a player accidentally causes a ball to move on the putting green,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA Senior Director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status. “This change is a good example of the type of Rules Modernization changes we hope to implement after completing our fundamental review of all of the Rules. We are looking for ways to improve the Rules by making them easier to understand and apply.”

What do you think of the new Rule? About the Rules in general? And what Rules would you like to see “modernized”? Let us know.

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