USGA: No plans to expedite revision of ‘reasonable judgment’ rule in wake of Lexi incident

April 3, 2017

What’s done is done.

There’s no changing what happened during the final round of the ANA Inspiration, during which then-leader-by-two Lexi Thompson was slapped with a four-stroke penalty for a sin committed a day earlier.

But could immediate steps be taken to prevent a similar rules fiasco from happening again?

In case you missed it, LPGA officials meted out the punishment on Sunday after a viewer at home alerted them to an incident that took place Saturday on the 17th green, where Thompson appeared to place her ball in the wrong spot while lining up a short putt.

After officials reviewed the video evidence, Thompson was hit with a four-shot penalty (two strokes for improperly replacing her ball; and two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard). Unlike the ruling itself, which came down nearly 24 hours after the initial violation, the golf world’s reaction was swift, and not just from Thompson, who could be heard on camera exclaiming, “Oh my God. This is ridiculous.”

No less than Tiger Woods promptly chimed in on Twitter: “Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes. Let’s go @Lexi, win this thing anyway.”

Lydia Ko tweeted her own dismay: “Unbelievable . . .really need to CHANGE and do something about people being able to call in!”

Change is, in fact, more than likely on the way. Under a series of proposed revisions to the Rules of Golf put forth last month by the USGA and R&A, “later evidence,” such as video replay, would no longer factor into penalty decisions, assuming “the player did all that could be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation or measurement.” That move would not necessarily do away with viewer call-ins, but it would, presumably, all but eliminate awkwardly delayed rulings.

But those proposed revisions, if adopted, will not go into effect until 2019.

And the Thompson incident has done nothing to change that timeframe, according to Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of Rules of Golf and Amateur Status.

“We are in the middle of the feedback period,” Pagel told by email. “And there is no intent at this time to expedite the process before anything is final.”

Pagel was referring to a six-month public feedback period, ending Aug. 31, during which the governing bodies are welcoming input on the proposed rules changes.

Still, it is not unheard of for the governing bodies to adopt stopgap measures to address nettling problems with the Rules.

This past December, for instance, the USGA and R&A introduced a local rule that allows tournament officials to eliminate the penalty for a golfer accidentally moving a ball on the green. That announcement came in the wake of a number of awkward decisions involving accidental movement of balls on greens, including a 2012 incident in Dubai involving Ian Poulter; and, more infamously, an infraction featuring Dustin Johnson at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

At the time, the governing bodies emphasized that the local rule was not a response to any one specific incident but rather the result of an ongoing effort to modernize the Rules.

In the wake of the Thompson incident, Pagel underscored that point again: “To look at a Rules change for one specific incident and not consider all of the situations that might arise or be compromised from it — both bad and good — would not be good for the game.”