By Colin Callander
The time has come for golf’s governing bodies to accelerate their proposal to stop TV evidence being used retrospectively to settle rules disputes.
It is utterly unfair that TV pictures can be used as evidence of violations when some players are on camera much more frequently than others and it is even more unsatisfactory that a member of the public can have a significant bearing on the outcome of a major sporting event as happened at the recent ANA Championship.
The Lexi Thompson incident at that event was the third time in less than a year that one of the central figures in a major championship has been sanctioned following a trial by TV and on each occasion it proved to very damaging to golf’s image.
The first of those incidents came at last year’s US Open when Dustin Johnson played much of the final round with the threat of a two-stroke penalty hanging over him after he was said to have caused his ball to move on the 5th green.
Ultimately the imposition of that penalty did not stop Johnson from winning the title but it was a different story for Anna Nordqvist who was docked two shots for inadvertently touching the sand with her club in a bunker at the subsequent US Women’s Open and again at the ANA Championship, where the leader Thompson lost out to Korea’s So Yeon Ryu after being penalised four shots for a violation said to have occurred late in the third round.
The matter came to a head when a TV viewer emailed the LPGA during the final round suggesting Thompson had been culpable of replacing her ball in the wrong place on the 17th green the previous day and it is clear the authorities agreed because the American was penalised two shots for that infringement and another two for subsequently signing for an incorrect score.
Cue bedlam as a rash of other top players called for TV evidence to be banned.
Cue also the realisation that, no matter how harsh it seemed, the authorities had no choice but to act the way they did.
“It is one of those situations where the penalty doesn’t match the crime,” said LPGA commissioner Mike Whan.
“I feel bad about it but I’m not going to abort the rules of golf in the middle of a round. I’m not going to overrule something that is correctly ruled.”
The good news is that the R&A and the USGA have been discussing use of video evidence and have developed a proposed new standard to limit its use when a player is estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance.
The proposed new Rule 1.3a(2) provides that “so long as the player does all that can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation or measurement, the player’s reasonable judgement will be accepted even if later it is shown to be wrong by other information (such as video technology).”
That seems a very sensible solution but the problem is that as things stand there is little likelihood of it being implemented until the modernised new Rules come into force in 2019, which means that until then the game risks being dragged into further disrepute should further incidents occur.
Of course, the best way to stop that happening is for the players themselves to be more diligent when it comes to adhering to the rules and more rigorous when it comes to applying them.
The former would not have helped in the episodes involving Johnson and Nordqvist but in Thomson’s case the whole unfortunate business could have been avoided had she taken greater care to return her ball to the correct spot.
Lee Westwood summed it up nicely when asked for his take on the subject: “You know, all this rules confusion could have been averted if Lexi just mastered the art of marking and replacing the ball in the same spot,” he said.
And it is impossible to disagree.