AUGUSTA, Ga. – In a change directed at scorecards and television viewers, golf revised one of its rules Thursday so that players who learn of a violation after they sign their cards can be penalized without being disqualified.
The Royal & Ancient and USGA announced the new interpretation an hour before the Masters. It is effective immediately.
The change stems from two incidents earlier this year on separate tours.
Padraig Harrington was disqualified after opening with a 65 in the Abu Dhabi Championship when a slow-motion replay on high-definition television revealed that his ball moved ever so slightly after he replaced his marker.
Harrington knew the rule, but did not realize it had moved. It should have been a two-shot penalty, but because it was discovered after the round, he was disqualified for signing an incorrect card.
Under the change, Harrington would have had two shots added to his score and could resume playing the tournament.
"It's great to see that they have got together and acted so quickly," Harrington said. "Going forward, it seems like a pretty sensible thing in its wording. It's a small change, but a good change."
In the first PGA Tour event of the year in Hawaii, Camilo Villegas was disqualified for signing an incorrect card after a television viewer noticed he had tamped down a divot in an area where his chip was rolling back down a slope. In that case, Villegas still would be disqualified for not knowing the rule.
It is not a change in the actual Rules of Golf, rather a book of Decisions that allows officials various case studies. The new interpretation is of Decision 33-7/4.5, that essentially gives officials more latitude to determine if a player should be disqualified.
Even with the new interpretation, it makes clear that knowing the rules is up to the player.
"For some time, we have been concerned that, in certain limited circumstances, disproportionate disqualification penalties have been required by the rules," R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said. "This carefully considered decision reflects our desire to ensure that the Rules of Golf remain fair and relevant in the changing environment in which the game is played today."
That changing environment mostly relates to television.
For the last three decades, there have been a few incidents in which TV viewers will see what they believe is an infraction. It can lead to penalties, but often the reporting of the violation comes after the player has signed his card.
"This is a logical and important step in our re-evaluation of the impact of high-definition video on the game," USGA executive director Mike Davis said. "We collectively believe that this revised decision addresses many video-related issues never contemplated by the Rules of Golf."