Dustin Johnson’s U.S. Open win in 2016 wasn’t without major controversy. On the par-4 fifth hole, Johnson went to address his ball, but as he was moving his putter behind his ball the ball moved. At the time, Johnson called a rules official over and along with Johnson, his caddie, and his playing partner Lee Westwood all agreed that Johnson did not cause the ball to move.
That should have been the end of the issue, but thanks to High Definition television the rules officials determined later in the round that Johnson HAD caused his ball to move and he would be assessed a one-stroke penalty. The officials decided not to inform Johnson of the ruling immediately and instead waited until later in the round. Both the ruling and the decision not to immediately inform Johnson drew instant criticism from players like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els, and Tiger Woods.
Now the USGA, who runs the U.S. Open, and the R&A, who run the Open Championship, have added a Local Rule that can be implemented by the committee in charge of each competition or course.
Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1 are modified as follows:
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.
This Local Rule applies only when the player’s ball or ball-marker lies on the putting green and any movement is accidental.
Note: If it is determined that a player’s ball on the putting green was moved as a result of wind, water or some other natural cause such as the effects of gravity, the ball must be played as it lies from its new location. A ball-marker moved in such circumstances is replaced.
This is a spectacular decision considering there are some courses where greens read 14 on the stimp meter and are as slick as glass.
Had the rule been in effect at Oakmont during the U.S. Open, Johnson would not have been penalized and he would have been allowed to replace his ball at the original spot and putt from there.
Here’s a handy infographic from the USGA.
However, if the local rule isn’t in effect, Rules 18-2 (ball at rest moved by player, partner, caddie or equipment) and 18-3 (ball at rest moved by opponent, caddie or equipment in match play) and 20-1 (lifting and marking) would still apply.
If this amendment works out, we could see it added to the revisions to the Rules of Golf in 2020.
Here’s to hoping this is enforced at every major tournament until the revisions can be made.