The USGA and The R&A jointed announced today the introduction of a new Local Rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green.
This rule would have eliminated the uncertainty and confusion when Dustin Johnson’s ball moved on the 5th green when leading in the last round at the 2016 US Open at Oakmont.
Johnson did not believe he caused the ball to move yet the rules require that there would be a penalty if it was “more likely than not” that Johnson caused the ball to move after assessing all of the factors. After the referee in his group indicated there would be no penalty, Johnson was then informed by officials on the 12th hole that he may still get a penalty after the round when further analysis of video would be reviewed. Hence, Johnson and the rest of the leaders played without knowing the true status of the leaderboard. It was not the best moment for the USGA. They received over 10,000 letters, emails, texts and phone calls in the 3 days following, most of which were unfavorable.
Note that this is not a new Rule of Golf. It is suggested wording for an optional Local Rule in the Appendix. Tournament committees and course administrators will have to include this wording in their local rules. It applies only to accidental movement of the ball on the putting green. Any purposeful movement of the ball that is otherwise not allowed by the rules would still incur the one-stroke penalty.
Kudos to the USGA and R&A for taking immediate action. It is definitely a great improvement to the game of golf and a concrete example of the beginning results of their rules modernization program to improve other illogical and unfair rules. I will describe a few other rules that should be considered for change for the same reason in future articles.