Rules Column: Russ Wing

Officials need to make quicker decisions

In 2016, two of the USGA’s biggest events, the US Open and the US Women’s Open, were both tarnished by Rules-related incidents and the way they were handled. Let’s review what happened.

In the US Open, it was the Dustin Johnson incident. Did he cause his ball to move on the fifth hole putting green of the final round? The Rules Official walking with the group ruled that Dustin did not cause his ball to move, and the players played on. But later on, other tournament officials used slow-motion video replay to raise questions about that ruling, to subject that ruling to further review, and to eventually overrule the ruling and impose a 1-stroke penalty (Rule 18-2) on Dustin after the round was over. In the meantime, players and fans were left to wonder about the status of the tournament during most of the final nine holes. In my opinion, that was bogus! The pursuit of Rules perfection spoiled the show.

In the US Women’s Open, it was the Anna Nordqvist incident. Did she ground her club in a bunker on the second hole of a three-hole playoff? The Rules Officials walking with the playoff did not observe any infraction at the time. But soon afterwards, other tournament officials used slow-motion video replay to show that a grain or two of sand had indeed been moved, and therefore Anna had “grounded her club,” a two-stroke penalty (Rule 13-4). Officials then notified Anna during the play of the third hole of the playoff, essentially ending the playoff at that moment. In my opinion, that was bogus! Once again, Rules perfection run amok spoiled the show.

When the pursuit of Rules perfection spoils the show, the Officiating System is broken and needs to be fixed. During the final round of these events, and certainly during playoffs, Rules issues need to be resolved at the hole in question so that players and fans know where things stand. Retroactive rulings and penalties spoil the show. You don’t see any of that in other sports, and for good reason.

At a time when golf’s key organizational bodies (USGA, R&A, PGA, LPGA, etc.) are working hard to find ways to “grow the game”, incidents like those related above hurt the game. And so my hope for the new year is that the USGA will “blow taps” on their broken Officiating System and fix it.