A revised disqualification rule allowing for modern television coverage revelation of infractions was announced by golf's governing boards Thursday just before the start of the 75th Masters.
Notably in the wake of a TV-based disqualification of Ireland's Padraig Harrington from the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship last January, the US Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club agreed on the change Tuesday.
"It became more important for us the more disqualifications we were seeing that were fact-based," US Golf Association (USGA) executive director Mike Davis said. "We came to a resolution and we felt it needed to happen immediately."
Advances in video technology, notably slow-motion television replays and high-definition television sets that allow home viewers to see errors that golfers themselves might not even spot, sparked the reinterpretation.
As a result, rules officials will have the option to simply add the penalty to a player's score if he signs his scorecard for one total and upon video review is later assessed a penalty that changes the correct total.
"All of us in the game have been concerned. It's our duty to make sure the rules are fair and relevant," said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.
"It isn't an easy fix. You have to balance certain long-term pillars of the game, the scorecard, and we have to be sure to protect the whole field in the fairness of application of penalties."
The Rules of Golf revision covers a situation where a player is unaware he has breached a rule "because of facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his scorecard."
Before the change, any such player would have been disqualified in all cases.
Now that can still happen in cases of ignorance in violating the rules of the game, but an unknowing violation revealed by technology would only bring the relevant penalty, not disqualification.
"For some time we've been concerned that, in certain limited circumstances, disproportionate disqualification penalties have been required by the rules," Dawson said.
The rule would have helped Harrington three months ago when he signed an incorrect scorecard for his first round after a TV viewer alerted tournament officials to a violation on the seventh green.
While marking his ball on the green, the Irishman's fingers inadvertently brushed the ball, which moved by an almost indiscernible distance, but enough to show up on the high-definition telecast.
After watching the slow-motion video replay seen by TV viewers, Harrington said it was obvious the ball was a dimple off from returning to place.
"The Rules of Golf never contemplated some of these things," Davis said. "This is really a modern phenomenon. We weren't dealing with these issues three years ago.
"You didn't see cameras zoom in making a golf ball look like a basketball."
Harrington was pleased at the change his situation helped prompt.
"It's great to see that they have got together and acted so quickly," said Harrington. "Going forward it seems like a pretty sensible thing in its wording and that, it's a small change, but a good change."
There is concern that players whose rounds are not being telecast face a different scrutiny than those whose rounds are up for slow-motion and high-definition examination.
"Yeah, if I wasn't shooting 65 I probably wouldn't be on cameras and it would have been no issue," Harrington said. "But such is life.
"You know what? I would say we could wait a lifetime before we see another instance exactly like that one."
Once a competition is over, the statute of limitations for video revelations is over, even if a delayed telecast shows a violation.
The move came in time to ensure no viewers bring about a disqualification in the year's first championship, which began at Augusta National Golf Club barely 30 minutes after the change was announced.
"It's obviously not a bad week to do this but it is a coincidence," Dawson said. "We did it as soon as it was agreed upon."
Source: AFP American Edition