Golf Rules: Ball Movement Rule Change for 2014

The USGA and R&A have announced some rule and decision changes to take effect January 1, 2014.  We’ll discuss some of the changes that will have the biggest effect.

Today, we’ll talk about a new decision for Rule 18, Ball at Rest Moved.  Prior to 2014, if a player causes a ball to move directly or indirectly, he is given one penalty stroke.  If the player fails to replace the ball to its original position prior to hitting the ball, he is given an additional penalty stroke for playing the ball from the wrong place.  As you may recall, this was the rule that cost Tiger Woods two strokes at a tournament in September when a PGA Tour camera showed his ball moving while Woods was clearing debris from around the ball in the rough.  Woods claimed that the ball oscillated and didn’t move (even after he saw video evidence that appeared clearly to contradict him), but he had no choice but to take the two-stroke penalty.

Beginning in 2014, the rule is modified by decision to put a little more humanity into the situation.  Even if a camera is able to show that a player has caused a ball to move, if it is determined that the move could have been imperceptible to the player then no penalty will be assessed.  In some circumstances, the tour will need to decide how much latitude to give a player who says he didn’t see it.  Just because a player doesn’t see it (perhaps he’s looking at the debris he’s moving) doesn’t mean that the movement is not sufficient to be perceived by the player.

No doubt this rule will be tested early in 2014 when a ball moves, a camera catches it and a player claims it to have been imperceptible.  We predict that it will be tested in the first few weeks of 2014.

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