Local Rule! Intent! The R&A And USGA Wisely Relent On Accidental Ball Movement

The governing bodies have long resisted introducing the question of intent to the Rules of Golf. They've also been loathe to introduce Local Rules because players have shown a tendency to not understand read them and not all courses get the message (but they do often lead to progressive Rules shifts).

But with one smart gesture preventing the game from three more years of silliness (until the next Rules of Golf update), they've introduced a local rule that eliminates a penalty for accidental ball movements. While it'll inevitably be dubbed the Dustin Johnson rule, there were many victims along the way.

Josh Sens at Golf.com scored an exclusive (well, embargoed) interview with the USGA's Thomas Pagel who wisely doesn't shy away from the motivation.

"Oakmont certainly did bring the matter to a lot of people's attention, and it did prompt us toward further conversation," Pagel said.

Phil Casey with this account of the change and quotes the R&A David Rickman:

"It was certainly a very difficult case but within the rules environment it was more the repetition of incidents rather than one or two which was of greater concern.

"We had one or two situations at the Open which happened the following month, a couple at the Olympics.

The full press release:

New Local Rule Eliminates Penalty for a Player Who Accidentally Causes a Ball to Move on the Putting Green

FAR HILLS, N.J. (Dec. 8, 2016) – The USGA and The R&A today announced the introduction of a new Local Rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green.

The Local Rule will be available for any committee in charge of a competition to use starting Jan. 1, 2017. It will be adopted by the USGA and The R&A in all of their championships, qualifying competitions and international matches.

“Eliminating this penalty responds to the concerns we have heard from both golfers and committees about the difficulties in applying the current Rules when a player accidentally causes a ball to move on the putting green,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director, Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, said. “This change is a good example of the type of Rules Modernization changes we hope to implement after completing our fundamental review of all of the Rules. We are looking for ways to improve the Rules by making them easier to understand and apply.”

David Rickman, executive director - Governance at The R&A, said, “For the past several years, as part of The R&A and USGA’s Rules Modernization initiative, we have considered the penalty for a ball that is accidentally moved on the putting green. Both Rules Committees agreed that it needed to be changed and decided that in this particular case it was important to act now, through a Local Rule, rather than wait for the next overall set of revisions to the Rules of Golf.”

The Local Rule has been welcomed by all of the major tours worldwide, and the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA, PGA of America and the Masters Tournament are among the golf organizations that will implement the Local Rule for all future events, beginning Jan.1, 2017.  

If a committee wishes to introduce this Local Rule, the following wording is recommended:

“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.”

For more information about the new Local Rule, including explanatory diagrams, videos and a detailed question-and-answer document, please visit www.usga.org/2017localrule.

Now we just have to get the word out to all golf courses, though this is really largely an issue where High Definition television and people who don't hit the ball any longer than they did five years ago converge with greens Stimping 14.