CALL it the Dustin Johnson Rule.
Overnight the R&A and USGA announced the introduction of a new local rule that effectively rescinds the penalty applied when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green. The new rule will be available to committees in charge of competitions from January 1, 2017.
The official wording from the two bodies reads: “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.”
While far from the first to fall foul of the rule, Johnson became the posterboy for this change when his ball moved under these circumstances on the fifth green at Oakmont Country Club during the final round of this year’s US Open. His plight led to a protracted ruling and delayed penalty stroke that few agreed with but, fortunately for the USGA, didn’t alter the outcome.
Applying this new rule would have kept Johnson’s US Open winning margin at four strokes. It will be adopted by the R&A and USGA 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 for the Rules of Golf and amateur status. “This change is a good example of the type of rules modernisation 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, the R&A’s executive director, governance, said, “For the past several years, as part of the R&A and USGA’s rules modernisation 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 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 organisations that will implement the local rule for all future events, beginning next month.