Golf’s governing bodies have introduced a new local rule to eliminate the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the green, the scenario that overshadowed Dustin Johnson’s maiden major victory at this year’s U.S. Open.
Johnson played the closing holes of his final round at Oakmont not knowing whether he would be given a stroke penalty after the ball moved fractionally on the marble-slick fifth green when he grounded his putter next to it.
The American ended four strokes clear. Although he was later docked a shot, it made no difference to the outcome of the tournament, sparing the United States Golf Association (USGA) the embarrassment of denying him the title on a technicality.
“Eliminating this penalty responds to the concerns we have heard from both golfers and committees about the difficulties in applying the current rules when a player accidentally causes a ball to move on the putting green,” Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior rules director said in a joint statement with the R&A.
“This change is a good example of the type of rules modernisation changes we hope to implement after completing our fundamental review of all of the rules.”
The new local rule will be adopted by all the major tours from January 1, the statement said.
Johnson’s crowning moment had ended in near farce after he was told on the 12th hole that he had been put under notice of a possible stroke penalty, with a decision to be made after his round. The rest of the field were also informed, leading to a chaotic conclusion to the showpiece event.
The USGA came under fire from the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth and admitted at the time that it “regretted” the distraction caused by the decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling.
The new local rule states: “When a player’s ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment.
“The moved ball or ball-marker must be replaced as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1.”