New golf rules limit power of TV viewer in calling penalties, influencing events

The USGA and R&A clapped back at television viewers (sort of) on Tuesday by putting into place the following two rules — known as Decision 34-3/10 — effective immediately. 

A player will not be penalized: 

After what happened to Lexi Thompson earlier this year at the ANA Inspiration, something had to be done. Thompson was penalized four strokes during her final round because a viewer at home emailed in about Thompson mis-replacing her ball on the green in the third round. Video evidence did seem to show that Thompson put her ball in a space other than where her marker was (by a short distance), and Thompson was hit with two penalty strokes for the incident and two for signing an incorrect card. She was infamously assessed those penalties in the middle of her final round.

This was just the latest in a long list of viewer call-ins and emails. The most famous one happened during the 2013 Masters when Tiger Woods dropped his ball farther back than he should have on the 15th hole and was penalized going into his third round.

The first portion of Decision 34-3/10 is relatively simple. If you could not have reasonably seen your error (i.e. a ball moving 1 millimeter) and it is only revealed after a zoomed-in video reveals the mistake, you will not be penalized. This is a good thing and will be more or less easy to apply to the game.

The most recent example we have of this is at last year’s Women’s U.S. Open when
Anna Nordqvist caused some sand to move in a bunker
with her club but could not have possibly seen it. It was called in, and she was penalized. But the only reason she was penalized is because the cameras were able to zoom in. Under the new rule, she would no longer have been penalized. 

The second portion of the new rule is a little more vague. Here is what the USGA and R&A say about it: 

Players are often required to determine a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location on the course to use in applying the Rules. Such determinations need to be made promptly and with care but often cannot be precise, and players should not be held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology. A “reasonable judgment” standard is applied in evaluating the player’s actions in these situations: 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 wrong by the use of video evidence.  

This is ambiguous, and I fear puts too much power into the hands of rules officials that are at these events. What is “reasonable judgement?” How many different ways can that be defined? Who is the final arbiter, the player or the head of rules?

There is no ruling on how this would have affected Thompson (or Woods, for that matter, although he indicted himself by saying on…

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