(Reuters) - Administrative “bogeys” at last year’s U.S. Open have led officials to better balance modern technology with golf’s time honoured values at this year’s event starting on Thursday at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
Greater access to sophisticated video replay at a central location for rules officials, and on-course video review stations will help expedite decisions, said U.S. Golf Association rules maestro John Bodenhamer.
And employing local rules as a common-sense approach to accidental ball movement on greens and unintentional infractions in bunkers will cut down the need of video review and underscore one of golf’s cherished traditions — the players’ honour system.
The fresh approaches sprung from a review led by USGA executive director and CEO Mike Davis after the 2016 championship, where officials made a mess of dealing with a questionable final-round rules infraction by Dustin Johnson.
“Mike Davis said we made a bogey. I’d say we made a couple of bogeys at Oakmont last year,” Bodenhamer, the USGA senior managing director of championships & governance, told Reuters.
“It took too long to make a ruling, to come to our own decision, and we took too long to make the decision with Dustin.”
Johnson was first cleared by an on-course official over a slight movement of his ball before address on the fifth green. Six holes later he was told he might be subject to a one-shot penalty, leaving the status of the leaderboard in doubt.
The USGA was ravaged on social media by players and fans alike, not necessarily for eventually imposing a one-shot penalty, but more so for dithering over the matter.
Despite being handed the one-shot penalty after he walked off the 18th green, Johnson won by three strokes.
Under rules in play at Erin Hills, there would have been no penalty for Johnson, who would simply replace his ball and play on, as has been proposed in rules changes by the USGA and Royal & Ancient for adoption in 2019.
“The spirit of rules modernisation is just common sense, no harm, no foul. Just put it back,” Bodenhamer said. “Let’s not get caught up in drawing fine lines and being so precise we lose sight of common sense.”
Bodenhamer said the rules fit a basic tenet of the game.
“Players police themselves,” he said. “One of the tenets of rules modernisation is relying on player integrity even more than we have in the past, and we relied on it heavily in the past.”
Three weeks after the Open, another thorny rules matter reared up at the U.S. Women’s Open in California.
A high-definition TV close-up of a fairway bunker shot by Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist during a playoff against Brittany Lang revealed that, unwittingly, her club disturbed some grains of sand at address in the hazard, where grounding the club is not allowed.
The decision to uphold the letter of the law resulted in a two-shot penalty for Nordqvist, who lost the playoff.
Under the reasonable judgment provision in the rules to be used at Erin Hills, Nordqvist would not have been penalised.
“It was only through very high def extreme close up, extreme slow motion that a couple grains of sand could be noticed to have moved,” said Bodenhamer. “Under the naked eye standard, that would no longer be a breach.
“If it has been found that the player accidentally caused the ball to move in marking it (on the green) or grounding his club close to the ball like Dustin did, then that would be accidental and you just put it back and no penalty.”
In this age of high definition close ups, home viewers have been alerting organisers of potential infractions.
Bodenhamer said the USGA and R&A are looking at reaching a policy around video reviews.
“In the meantime we will do what we’ve done in collecting all information, whether it’s from a gallery member, another player, a caddie, or anybody that calls in,” he said.
“Can you imagine if something comes out that could taint the winner, taint the competition and compromise the integrity of that champion and the competition? That’s why we do it ... And the players want to get it right.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both