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USGA and R&A Pick up the Pace with Rules Changes and Adjustments

The Rules of Golf Committees of the USGA and R&A have been extremely busy the past several years, as evidenced by recent announcements. Historically, these groups have moved at a glacially slow pace in regards to Rules of Golf changes, which have been on a four-year cycle and Decisions on the Rules of Golf changing every two years.

This was a strict structure and rigid timeline which resulted in changes that were very well thought out and vetted. However, it prevented the Rules from being nimble in responding to what was happening in the game.

The USGA and R&A showed unprecedented flexibility when the new Local Rule Accidental Movement of a Ball on the Putting Green was announced in December 2016 and made available for Committees to use starting January 1, 2017.

This Local Rule eliminates the penalty for a player whose ball lies on the putting green and the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent or any of their caddies or equipment.

A draft of this Local Rule was making its way through the USGA and R&A’s review process and nearly finalized prior to the incident involving Dustin Johnson at the 2016 U.S. Open. (To recap: the USGA seemed to take an inordinate amount of time determining whether Johnson caused his ball to move and then inform him that he had incurred a one-stroke penalty.)

The implementation of the Local Rule by the USGA and R&A prior to the typical Rules change cycle makes sense. Keep in mind this Local Rule must be implemented by the Committee in charge of the competition or in charge of the course and only applies when a ball is on the putting green.

On March 1, 2017 the USGA and R&A announced the Rules Modernization initiative which had been in the works for years. The plan is for the Modernized Rules to go into effect January 1, 2019. This is another example of the USGA and R&A stepping away from the traditional four-year cycle.

In a more recent announcement, the USGA and R&A put a new Decision on the Rules of Golf that limits the use of video evidence, effective immediately.

As part of the Rules Modernization initiative, the USGA and R&A had been discussing the issue of limiting the use of video evidence. Such limitation would have gone into effect with the new Rules in 2019. The impetus for early release of the new Decision (34-3/10) was a situation that occurred last month in the final round of the LPGA Tour’s ANA Inspiration. Lexi Thompson held a two-stroke lead through 12 holes when she was informed by an LPGA Tour referee that she had played from a wrong place during the third round, the day before. The LPGA learned of the breach after reviewing video evidence that was brought to its attention during the final round. The LPGA correctly ruled that Lexi incurred a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place and an additional two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard following her third round.

The new standard is to limit video evidence when a player is estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance, so long as the player does all that can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation or measurement, the player’s reasonable judgement will be accepted even if later shown to be wrong by other information (such as video technology).

These examples of the USGA and R&A’s due diligence regarding Rules of Golf changes with a dose of flexibility is refreshing.

We can all look forward to the changes proposed for 2019. They will be good for the game.


Genger Fahleson, PhD

Executive Director 


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