Rules Column: Russ Wing

USGA and R&A to change policies on video evidence

In late April, the USGA and the R&A announced a new Decision on the Rules of Golf. It is Decision 34-3/10 Limitations on Use of Video Evidence, and it is effective immediately.

This new Decision came in response to the increasing use of video evidence in identifying Rules violations during televised tournaments. A recent example of this was the Lexi Thompson incident at the LPGA Tour’s ANA Inspiration in early April, where Thompson was given four penalty strokes during the final round for an incident that happened the day before during the third round. That incident sparked a lively debate and raised a number of questions about the Rules and the way they are enforced. This new Decision addresses a couple of those questions. The remaining questions have been assigned to a working group of Rules authority and pro golf tour representatives for further study.

This new Decision describes two Standards that should be applied by a tournament Committee when considering video evidence of Rules violations. They are the “Naked Eye” Standard and the “Reasonable Judgment” Standard. These two Standards are described in the exhibit that accompanies this article. You can read the entire Decision on the USGA web site.

I think this new Decision is a step in the right direction. First and foremost, it acknowledges that golf is a game played by human beings, who for the most part are trying to do the right thing, but who sometimes may get it just a bit wrong when viewed through the lens of zoomed-in, slow-motion video replay. It also incorporates ideas from the previously announced Rules Modernization Project, which is trying to make the Rules more “golfer friendly”. And the fact that this Decision is effective immediately, instead of waiting for the next Decision update cycle in 2018, recognizes that the Rules have lagged behind and need to catch up to the current state of video technology.

Those of you who play club golf and think that this Decision will never apply to you should perhaps think again. Cell phones that can take good quality pictures and video are in almost all player’s pockets or golf bags. So it wouldn’t surprise me if even local club tournament Committees get presented video evidence of a Rules incident during one of their events. Hopefully, this new Decision will help those Committees with their rulings.

Decision 34-3/10 Standards

“Naked Eye” Standard – The use of video technology can make it possible to identify things that could not reasonably be seen with the naked eye. If the Committee concludes that factual evidence presented to it could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye and the player was not otherwise aware of a potential breach of the Rules, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise.

“Reasonable Judgment” Standard – Players are often required to determine a spot, point, 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. Players should not be held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology. So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s judgment will be accepted even if later shown to be wrong by the use of video evidence.