Golf fans viewing tournaments on TV got a message from golf’s governing bodies: no one will be available to take your calls.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (RAGC), which jointly administer the rules of golf worldwide, announced that officials at tournaments run by their organizations—along with the PGA Tour, LPGA, European PGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America—will no longer accept viewer communications on suspected rule violations and instead will assign more trained rules officials to monitor broadcasts and identify and resolve rules issues if necessary.
What was described as a “working group,” led by the USGA and R&A, and including the other governing bodies, will implement the measures on Jan. 1.
In addition, the USGA and the R&A are eliminating an additional two-stroke penalty for failing to include a penalty on the score card when the player was unaware of the penalty. The governing bodies are adopting that change as a “local rule” for 2018 and it will become permanent, along with other recently proposed rule changes, on Jan. 1, 2019.
The working group began discussion the issue in April following an incident at the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration, the first major of its season, when a TV viewer watching the replay of the third round communicated to the LPGA that Thompson did not re-mark her ball correctly on the green.
While Thompson was playing in the final round the next day—and leading the tournament—officials informed her that she would be hit with a four-stroke penalty, two for the original violation and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard. She lost the tournament in a playoff.
“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the rules of golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson said in a statement posted on her Twitter account. “In my case, I am thankful that no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”
Thompson wasn’t the only player penalized as a result of fans calling tournament offices, TV trailers or sending e-mails. Dustin Johnson in the 2016 U.S. Open, Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters and Padraig Harrington at the 2011 Abu Dhabi European Tour event.
Under the new rules, Thompson would be assessed a two-stroke penalty at the most, if a rules official had caught the violation on the green when she placed her ball about a quarter-inch away from her mark.
Tyler Dennis, the senior vice-president and chief operating officer for the PGA Tour, said monitoring process will not be new to the rules staff each week, because they’ve been doing it “for a number of years.”
“It’s going to be easy for us in the sense that it’s more evolutionary,” he said. “This won’t be a big thing for us because we’ve already been doing it. We’re delighted that the USGA and R&A have taken these steps.”
Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of rules, said technology has helped bring golf to the point where it doesn’t need help from outsiders.
“The level of collaboration with our partners has been both vital and gratifying as we look to the future,” he said in a statement. “As technology has continued to evolve, it has allowed us to evolve how we operate, as well.”
Video review also will be limited to material obtained from the broadcast partners, including live streaming such as the Tour’s “Live@17” at each Players Championship, where every groups’ shots at the 17th hole of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is streamed.
Other video, such as from an individual’s smartphone or camera, will not be considered.
The changes marks a reversal from previous p0licies in which governing bodies viewed fan communications as another safeguard on the rules of golf.
“We like the fact that people call in. We like the fact people who watch the telecasts get excited about something they see,” former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said during a 2011 interview. “We don’t want to turn those people off. We want to accept the information and deal with it. Cutting them off is not an option. It is just a question of how the rule is applied.”
Dennis said the Tour still wants fan to enjoy telecasts without worrying about rules situations. In effect, he said, officials monitoring the broadcasts will be on it.
“We want our fans to be fully engaged in our broadcasts,” he said. “We just don’t want them worrying about someone getting a penalty.”