News & Opinion

Looser rules guidelines offer convenient excuses

Most sports are using high-definition TV to determine whether a call or ruling is correct, but golf would rather go in the opposite direction.

Under a new guideline that could be described as “right is not important, but how it looks is,” the USGA has decided that officials should discard their best tool (technology) in determining whether a rules violation has occurred and instead create subjective standards that are certain to confuse.

In Decision 34-3/10, issued jointly Tuesday by the USGA and R&A, the standards of “naked eye” and “reasonable judgment” were introduced.

Under the naked-eye criterion, a violation that can’t be seen by the human eye and is unknown to the player but discovered on video would be ignored and no penalty assessed. Whose eyesight, you might be wondering? That wasn’t defined.

Using the recent Lexi Thompson next-day penalty in the ANA Inspiration as a primer, this new standard might apply. I say might only because the TV viewer who disclosed the violation seemed to do it by viewing the broadcast, but his or her naked eyes may not be the standard.

“The whole intent of this is if somebody is playing the game and they are doing what is reasonable, they're doing what they think is best or something has happened that they couldn't have seen or someone around them could not have seen in real time, then the committee should have the ability to say, we're not going to hold a player on television to a higher standard because the only reason we're aware of those facts is through the use of this video evidence,” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules of golf and amateur status. “Whether that's stopping and replaying, whether that's zooming in, whether that's high resolution or not.”

The second new standard is called “reasonable judgment.”  

Under this principle, when a player determines a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location in applying the rules, it recognizes that a player should not be held to the degree of precision that sometimes can be provided by video technology. The reasonable judgment of the player is sacrosanct. Even if video clearly were to show a violation, it would be ignored and no penalty assessed if the player believed that he applied the rules properly.

Both standards are built on subjectivity, some of which exists in the current rules but not as persuasively as with these changes.

“There's going to be more things for a committee to determine, but I would say that what we have heard from our friends that are involved with televised events is that having rules in these scenarios that are so black and white, whereas if television could show that a player is just fractionally wrong, we would prefer not to be in a place of having to penalize them,” Pagel said. “We would prefer to have a little bit of subjectivity or leeway to look at the facts of the situation and make a determination.” 

Any PGA Tour or LPGA player would like to have a little “leeway” on a lie or a stance, but that’s not golf.

Now, if a player makes a mistake, it’s possible that he or she will not be penalized.

What’s next is anyone guess, but Old Tom Morris must be rolling over in his grave. The Rules of Golf slowly are being eroded as players escape responsibility for their actions.

I just wonder what Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer would do if, on Sunday night, a viewer at home would have found that he had committed a violation that affected the result but because it was revealed after the tournament had been certified that the violation was ignored.

Englishman David Howell found himself in a difficult situation in China last week at the Shenzhen International. After the final round, Howell approached officials with concerns relating to his preferred lie on the 15th hole during the second round. He was unsure whether he had taken a preferred lie using the correct scorecard length and therefore insisted on accepting a penalty.

Howell incurred a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place and an additional two strokes for having signed for a lower score. Sound familiar?

The four strokes would have pushed Howell beyond the cut line, so he received no prize money and officially missed the cut.

It would have been Howell’s first made cut in seven starts in 2017. 

Howell’s action is what golf is all about, not getting off on a technicality.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email:; Twitter: @AlexMiceli