The end of the armchair referee: R&A and USGA agree new rules on video reviews


The R&A and USGA have unanimously agreed to adopt a new set of rules surrounding video reviews which will eliminate viewer call-ins and additional two-shot scorecard penalities

A working group led by The R&A and the USGA has unanimously agreed to adopt a new set of protocols for video review when applying the Rules of Golf.

The group, consisting of the PGA TOUR, LPGA, PGA European Tour, Ladies European Tour and The PGA of America, as well as the governing bodies, will implement the following measures from 1 January 2018.

● Assign one or more officials to monitor the video broadcast of a competition to help identify and resolve Rules issues as they arise

● Discontinue any steps to facilitate or consider viewer call-ins as part of the Rules decision process

In addition, The R&A and the USGA have approved the adoption of a Local Rule, available from 1 January, to eliminate the additional two-stroke penalty for failing to include a penalty on the score card when the player was unaware of the penalty.

All of the organisations represented on the working group will introduce the Local Rule for 2018 and this score card penalty will be permanently removed when the modernised Rules of Golf take effect on 1 January 2019.

The R&A and the USGA established the video review working group in April to initiate a collaborative discussion on the role video footage can play when applying the Rules, including the challenges and benefits of its use and also the issues that arise from viewer call-ins. 

David Rickman, Executive Director – Governance at The R&A, said, “This has clearly become an important issue in the sport that we felt we should address at this stage ahead of the implementation of the updated Rules of Golf in 2019.

“We have concluded that whilst players should continue to be penalised for all breaches of the Rules during a competition, including any that come to light after the score card is returned, an additional penalty for the score card error is not required.”

“The level of collaboration with our partners has been both vital and gratifying as we look to the future,” said Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status. “As technology has continued to evolve, it has allowed us to evolve how we operate, as well.”

The new protocols also recognise the importance of limiting video review to material obtained from the committee’s broadcast partner. Other video, such as from an individual’s smartphone or camera, will not be used under these protocols.

The new protocols and Local Rule are the latest measures announced by The R&A and the USGA to address concerns related to video evidence. In April, Decision 34-3/10 was issued to limit the use of video through the introduction of a “reasonable judgement” standard and a “naked eye” standard.

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What does it all mean? 

It means that Lexi Thompson, who was assessed a four-shot penalty that led to her losing the ANA Inspiration, would not have suffered the same fate. 

While underway in the fourth round and holding a two-shot lead, an unidentified viewer had emailed officials about Thompson committing a possible rules infraction when she replaced her ball on a short-putt during the third round. Thompson was informed of the four-stroke penalty (to for replacing her ball incorrectly and two for signing for an incorrect scorecard) while walking to the 13th tee on Sunday.

She ended up birdieing the 13th, but despite forcing her way in to a play-off, lost the major title to So Yeon Ryu. The world of golf was up in arms, and sadly it had not been the first time an armchair referee had impacted the outcome of a tournament. 

With the new rules, Thompson would have had to have been assessed the penalty by the tournament video review officials, and would not have suffered two additional penalties for unintentionally signing an incorrect scorecard. 

It seems common sense has now prevailed, but how has Thompson reacted? According to GolfWeek, her agent Bobby Kreusler told her shortly after she finished playing at the QBE Shootout yesterday, and said that she has moved past it.

“Lexi analyzed what happened to her, processed it,” Kreusler said. “She lived it, and she genuinely moved on.”

"When asked how she reacted, Kreusler said that in typical Thompson fashion, there wasn’t much of one. She was mostly glad that the rules have changed so that history won’t repeat itself."