Do proposed USGA changes go too far?


A few months ago, the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient, golf’s governing bodies in this country and the rest of the world respectively, announced a series of proposed changes to the current Rules of Golf.

“Modernizing Golf’s Rules” is the term the USGA is using to describe the changes. The real reason seems to be a simplification of the rules and speeding up the game.

These rule changes, if approved, would go into effect January 1, 2019. The USGA and R&A are asking for golfers’ input through August 31.

So, let’s go over a few of the major and not-so-major changes. I’ll grade them with:

Eagle – great change
Birdie – good change
Par – OK
Bogey – questionable
Double Bogey – not good

CURRENT RULE: The ball has to be dropped while standing erect, holding the ball at shoulder height at arm’s length.
PROPOSED: You will be able to drop a ball from any distance above the ground.
BOB’S VERDICT: This certainly is a simpler procedure and will make sense to the average golfer.

CURRENT RULE: A player has 5 minutes to look for his ball once the search begins.
PROPOSED: The search time has been cut to 3 minutes.
BOB’S VERDICT: The change will hopefully speed up play. A percent of players at the recreational level are accustomed to taking a lot longer than the 5 minutes allotted now. This rule, if followed, will save some time.

CURRENT RULE: A player is not allowed to repair spike marks on the green.
PROPOSED: Players will be allowed to repair spike marks and any other damage to the green done by shoes and other causes.
BOB’S VERDICT: I have a problem with this proposed change. This will slow down the pace of play. With players tapping down multiple “damaged” areas on their line, it can’t help but lengthen the time it takes to play.

CURRENT RULE: If you are on the green and your ball hits the flagstick, it’s a 2 stroke penalty or loss of hole.
PROPOSED:No penalty
BOB’S VERDICT: If you’re 60 or older, you likely remember when there was no penalty for hitting the flagstick when you were on the green.

CURRENT RULE: A player is not allowed to ground his/her club or move loose impediments within a hazard. The penalty is 2 strokes or loss of hole.
PROPOSED: You can ground your club in the penalty area and remove any loose impediments with no penalty.
BOB’S VERDICT: If you’re a traditionalist like I am, you have problems with this proposal. A penalty area should impose a penalty. Depending on each condition on the course, going from fairway to rough to hazard, the conditions and challenges get more difficult as they should. It shouldn’t be easy to hit out of penalty areas.

CURRENT RULE: Before lifting, the player must announce to another player or marker that he/she is doing so, and allow that person to observe the process.
PROPOSED: The player is no longer required to announce to another player the intent to lift the ball or give that person the opportunity to observe the process.
BOB’S VERDICT: If I’m on the opposite side of the fairway and see my opponent lift the ball without announcing the reason why, I’m going to be concerned. Wouldn’t you be? I realize it’s a “gentlemen’s game” but this is a common courtesy that should not be eliminated.

CURRENT RULE: In a standard individual stroke play event, players must hole out at every hole.
PROPOSED: The new rule is a “Maximum Score” form of stroke play. The committee can establish a maximum score.
BOB’S VERDICT: This proposal is really bizarre. There would now be Match Play, Stroke Play and Sort-of Stroke Play.
GRADE: DOUBLE BOGEY (I’d say quadruple bogey, but the committee announced a maximum score of double bogey.)


  • Not allowing the caddie to stand behind the player to aid with alignment – EAGLE
  • Range finders can be used unless a local rule forbids it – EAGLE
  • Committee may mark more hazards as lateral (red stakes) – BIRDIE
  • No penalty for playing out of turn in stroke play – BIRDIE
  • No penalty if a player’s own ball accidentally deflects off him/her – EAGLE

But let’s face it, the 800-pound gorilla in the room, as far as the Rules of Golf are concerned, is reacting to the three recent incidents that have involved television viewers calling or emailing the governing bodies when they see an infraction.

The most recent incident being the Lexi Thompson ruling at the ANA Inspiration championship. A viewer emailed the LPGA tournament committee on Sunday that during Saturday’s round, Lexi had marked her ball on the 17th green, but had not replaced it to the exact spot it had been. After much video review it was determined she had not returned it to its original spot. Consequently, on the 12th hole Sunday, with a 2 stroke lead, Thompson was
assessed a 2 stroke penalty for playing a ball from the wrong position and an additional 2 stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. That put her 2 strokes behind with 6 holes to play. Thompson finished the round tied for the lead, but lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The uproar from around the golf world was deafening. Much louder than the Dustin Johnson situation in the U.S. Open at Oakmont last June or the Anna Nordqvist situation in the Women’s Open. DJ went on to win the championship despite the 1 stroke penalty he was assessed for accidentally moving his ball. Nordqvist was assessed a 2 stroke penalty for “grazing” the sand on her backswing while hitting a shot from a fairway bunker in a playoff with Brittany Lang in last year’s Open. Lang won the playoff.

There’s no doubt these were all infractions that went unnoticed by the player. They were seen by television viewers who brought it to the attention of the respective tournament rules committees.

In late April, the USGA and R&A formed a rule that limits the use of video evidence, effective immediately. It is as follows; New Decision 34-3/10 implements two standards for Rules committees to limit the use of video: 1) when video reveals evidence that could not reasonably be seen with the
“naked eye,” and 2) when players use their “reasonable judgment” to determine a specific location when applying the Rules.
The first standard states, “the use of video technology can make it possible to identify things that could not be seen with the naked eye.” An example includes a player who unknowingly touches a few grains of sand in taking a backswing with a club in a bunker. If the committee concludes that such facts could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye and the player was not otherwise aware of the potential breach, the player will be deemed not to have breached the Rules, even when video technology shows otherwise. This is an extension of the provision on ball-at-rest-moved cases, which was introduced in 2014.

The second standard applies when a player determines a spot, point, position, line, area, distance or other location in applying the Rules, and recognizes that a player should not be held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology. Examples include determining the nearest point of relief or replacing a lifted ball.

As long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence.

So, North Shore Golf readers: How do you feel about the new rules? Has the new ruling on the use of video clouded the issue even more or does it solve the problem?

What do you think about the delay in assessing these penalties? Should signing and attesting the card at the conclusion of the round be the end of any possible penalty resulting from a viewer’s email or call?

“Reasonable judgment” and “intent” are difficult to define. Who decides that?

Is the real question whether to allow any viewer input at all? But isn’t the main goal to “get it right” no matter what?

Should there be a 2 stroke penalty for signing an incorrect card after a viewer brings an infraction to light after a round?

Let me know what you think of the proposed rules and the video review rules that were rushed into place.

Bob Green is the head PGA professional at Tedesco Country Club in Marblehead. Write to him at

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