A few weeks back, Lexi Thompson improperly marked her ball on the green during the third round of the ANA Inspiration, an LPGA major. That’s an infraction that resulted in a two shot penalty. Unfortunately, the infraction wasn’t reported until partway through Sunday’s final round, when a viewer called in the tip from home.


At that point, Thompson was penalized not only for the improper marking, but for signing an improper scorecard; the resulting four-shot penalty took her out of the lead of the event, and she wound up losing in a playoff. In Thompson’s case, she probably did deserve the original penalty, but not due to the resulting viewer call-in. That’s been an issue for a long time, as the rules of golf did not account for the use of high-definition, super-slow-motion cameras when placing the burden of penalty rulings on the players.

The USGA (and their British equivalent/forebearers, the R&A) were already planning on eliminating the call-in element in the next round of rules updates, set to go into effect January 1, 2019. But the Thompson incident, as well as the negative memories of incidents in the past (like Dustin Johnson’s final round penalty at the 2016 U.S. Open), apparently sped up the timeline, as the two governing bodies announced new rules taking place immediately:

There will be no more call-ins from viewers, which is going to make a lot of professional golfers very happy. That was the main point of contention for players, the idea that they could be punished retroactively (and therefore more severely) for infractions they didn’t even realize they’d committed, all thanks to a random tip from someone watching on television.

So, on one hand, yes, this is an improvement. On the other hand, though, it’s still leaving quite a bit open for interpretation; players can still be judged to have committed a penalty based on video review. Now officials will be monitoring and attempting to parse what a player should or should not reasonably be able to determine for his or herself. That’s not any more clear!

Those are real issues that still need to be addressed, because the spirit of the game is that a player should be determining the penalty. That does, of course, leave open the possibility of players skirting the rules to gain every possible advantage (like, say, marking your ball improperly in order to get it out of an indentation on the green to improve your putting line), but this only seems to further codify a massive gray area. It’s a jungle of rules officials using video review, in consultation with the player, to judge intent and reasonable efforts and on and on.

It really, honestly, does not have to be this complicated. It just doesn’t. Golf is essentially turning all of this into the NFL’s catch rule. If the infractions in question are legitimately too small to be noticed by a player as they occur, then they’re probably small enough to not offer any meaningful advantage. Might this lead to players getting away with a few things? Sure, but they already do, and video review continues to unfairly penalize the players who are on television; cameras aren’t following every single player.

Nothing is perfect. But it’s possible to get a lot closer to perfect than this.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a columnist at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer. He is probably talking to a dog in a silly voice at this very moment.