Does Bryson DeChambeau's compass usage violate the Rules of Golf?

Does Bryson DeChambeau’s compass usage violate the Rules of Golf?

On Sunday, Bryson DeChambeau revealed that the PGA Tour was investigating his use of a compass during tournaments. DeChambeau said he uses the compass to determine “true pin locations.” “The pin locations are a little bit off every once in a while, so I’m making sure they’re in the exact right spot,” he said.

While the PGA Tour has not yet issued a decision on the matter, we went in search of an answer: Is DeChambeau’s usage legal under the Rules of Golf?

The USGA wouldn’t specifically comment on DeChambeau’s case because this potential breach falls under the purview of the PGA Tour. But Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director for the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, did direct us to Rule 14-3, which states that a player may not “use any artificial device or unusual equipment, or use any equipment in an abnormal manner.”

Pagel explained the “abnormal manner” part of the rule this way: “A good example is a bottle of water; by itself, no problem, but a player could not use the bottle of water as a level.” The rule lays out the specific instances when equipment usage is illicit: 

a. That might assist him in making a stroke or in his play;

or b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play;

or c. That might assist him in gripping the club, except that:

(i) gloves may be worn provided that they are plain gloves;

(ii) resin, powder and drying or moisturizing agents may be used;

and (iii) a towel or handkerchief may be wrapped around the grip.”

Appendix IV clarifies the rule further, prohibiting any equipment which aids in “the gauging or measuring of slope; the gauging or measuring of other conditions that might affect play (e.g., wind speed or direction); recommendations that might assist the player in making a stroke or in his play (e.g., club selection, type of shot to be played, green reading or any other advice related matter); or calculating the effective distance between two points based on elevation changes or other conditions affecting shot distance.”

DeChambeau could be in violation of b) or the section of the Appendix that governs “recommendations that might assist the player in making a stroke or in his play.” But it is not clear how the Tour might choose to intrepret these stipulations in Bryson’s case. He is not using equipment to generate his own data about the course; he is using it to interpret data that is available to everyone. DeChambeau said he expects a decision from the PGA Tour sometime this week. 

The Tour has not replied to GOLF.com’s request for comment.