At this year’s BMW Championship, Tiger Woods was involved in yet another well-publicized rules controversy. As he was attempting to remove a loose impediment from near his ball, a videographer following Woods for PGA Tour Entertainment noticed that the ball moved a bit from its original position. Woods, upon viewing the recording several times, insisted that it merely “oscillated”. If you’d like to judge for yourself, you can see the original footage here.
If you ask me, golf should be about a bit more than arguing the semantics of “movement” versus “oscillation”, and the new rules decision from the United States Golf Association, along with the Royal & Ancient, is a move in the right direction to that end.
The specific rule, officially known as Decision 18/4, is meant to “ensure a player is not penalized under Rule 18-2 in circumstances where the fact that the ball had changed location could not reasonably have been seen without the use of enhanced technology,” according to a joint statement from the USGA and R&A. In other words, the “naked eye” will generally rule, as it has for basically the entire history of the game.
While the situation with Woods wasn’t the driving force behind this decision, it’s important to note that this will actually make the playing field more even for every PGA Tour player, regardless of their fame or following.
As I’ve stated in some of the previous rules debates Woods has found himself at the center of, his following ensures that every single step and stroke is hyper-analyzed. There’s no reason why a lesser-known player, or even an entire field in a lesser-known tournament, should be subject to any different level of scrutiny when it comes to issuing penalty strokes.
The cynical view is to look at this as kowtowing to Woods, and it could be seen as another archaic, anti-technology move in a time when other sports are encouraging replays to get calls right. However, the governing bodies got this call exactly right. Nobody is shedding a tear for Tiger Woods having to deal with the huge following he has, but everybody should be happy with the rules being the same for every player.