Date: April 26, 2017
Author: Martin Blake

”Call-ins” rule changed

The Lexi Thompson furore has led to a quick rule change by the bodies responsible for golf's rules, the USGA and the R&A.

Under the new rule, invoked immediately to limit the use of video evidence, players will be protected from being penalised for infractions that "could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye''.

The USGA and the R&A have not removed the ability of viewer call-ins, such as the one that nailed Thompson in the ANA Inspiration tournament in California recently after it was shown that she had incorrectly marked and replaced her ball on a putting green during the third round.

The infraction was discovered a day later after a call-in from a viewer, and Thompson was slapped with a two-shot penalty for the first infraction, and another two strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard at the end of the round. Leading by three shots at the time in the final round and seemingly cruising, she lost the lead in an instant and ended up losing a playoff to So Yeon Ryu, of South Korea.

There was also outrage at the penalty applied to American Dustin Johnson during last year's US Open, when he was deemed to have moved his ball while addressing a putt during the final round. Again, the infraction was discovered after a television viewer called in to report it.

"As technology has continued to improve, it has enhanced the viewing experience for fans but it has also raised the possibility of uncomfortable scenarios where the TV cameras see something but maybe the naked eye cannot," said Thomas Pagel, senior director for Rules of Golf and Amateur Status for the USGA. "Addressing that issue immediately is good for the game."

The governing bodies had talks at the Masters in Augusta recently after the Thompson ruling caused a backlash in the golfing community, particularly among players sympathetic to Thompson's cause.

They are already in the midst of a substantial "modernisation" review of the Rules of Golf to be implemented in 2019.

The organisations have also established a working group of LPGA, PGA Tour, PGA European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America representatives to begin a comprehensive review of broader video issues, including viewer call-ins, which arise in televised competitions.

Video-related topics that require a deeper evaluation by the working group include the use of information from sources other than participants such as phone calls, email or social media, and the application of penalties after a score card has been returned.