Rule Tip of the Week: Lessons Learned

There are many famous quotations on the subject of learning from one’s mistakes. Here are just two of them: Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” [Oscar Wilde] and Success does not consist in never making mistakes, but in never making the same one a second time.” [George Bernard Shaw]

During much of the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, the USGA held everyone in suspense by postponing a decision to penalize the eventual champion, Dustin Johnson, one stroke for accidentally causing his ball to move on the 5th green.


You may recall that Johnson had lightly grounded his putter to the side of his ball, and then, as he was relocating his putter behind his ball, he saw his ball move. The attending Rules Official determined that Johnson had not caused his ball to move, so Johnson putted his ball from its new position without penalty. While Johnson continued with his round, USGA officials reviewed video evidence of the incident, and became concerned that Johnson may have caused his ball to move. Johnson was informed of this possibility at the 12th hole. From that point on, he, as well as the rest of the players contending for that major, had to play the remainder of their rounds not knowing if he would be penalized.


As stated by the USGA: “Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the scorecard is returned. While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leader board ….”


Having learned from its mistakes at Oakmont, the USGA announced several changes prior to the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills. The first of these changes took effect on January 1, 2017 with the USGA authorizing and encouraging the adoption of the following Local Rule entitled “Accidental Movement of a Ball on a Putting Green”


Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1 are modified as follows:


When a player’s ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment.


The moved ball or ball-marker must be replaced as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1.


This Local Rule applies only when the player’s ball or ball-marker lies on the putting green and any movement is accidental.


Note: If it is determined that a player’s ball on the putting green was moved as a result of wind, water or some other natural cause such as the effects of gravity, the ball must be played as it lies from its new location. A ball-marker moved in such circumstances is replaced.


The USGA announced several procedural changes in order to make rulings in a very timely manner at Erin Hills. Those changes could very well serve as the model for the officiating of other major championships in the future, and included the following:


  • Having at least two Rules Officials stationed at strategic locations at each of the non-par-3 holes to better help players with Rules questions or situations.
  • The elimination of walking officials with each group, thereby giving the players a completely clear stage for them to perform.
  • Improved video review capability, including four on-course locations for video review.
  • Making sure that all five members of the Rules Committee remain in close proximity to one another at all times.

•           Designating one person as the “white hat” referee who is empowered to make instantaneous rulings


June 2017 Rules