USGA & R&A Reinterpret DQ Rule Involving TV Viewers

The United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the world's two ruling bodies of golf, have revised a rule that has received a lot of consternation among touring professionals.

Now, players who learn they've committed a violation after signing their scorecards can be penalized without being disqualified. The rule targets television viewers who call in after a penalty has occurred, which has often resulted in the offending player being DQ-ed.

The new interpretation, announced an hour before the first round of the Masters Tournament, goes into effect immediately.

"For some time, we have been concerned that, in certain limited circumstances, disproportionate disqualification penalties have been required by the rules," said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson. "This carefully considered decision reflects our desire to ensure that the Rules of Golf remain fair and relevant in the changing environment in which the game is played today."

Two incidents earlier this year resulted in disqualifications of Padraig Harrington in the European Tour's Abu Dhabi Championship and Camilo Villegas in the PGA Tour's season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.

Harrington was DQ'ed after a slow-motion replay showed that his ball had moved slightly after he replaced his marker. The Irishman knew the rule but didn't realize his ball had budged. Instead of a two-stroke penalty that would have been added to his 65, Harrington was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Villegas received the same fate after he was seen by a TV viewer tamping down a divot in a greenside area as his ball - hit short of the putting surface - rolled back toward him. In that case, Villegas still would have been disqualified for not knowing the rule.

Several incidents over the past 30 years have taken place where TV viewers believed they witnessed an infraction. After viewers called the situation in, tour officials reviewed videotape and concurred that an infraction had occurred, resulting in controversial disqualifications over incorrect scorecard signings.

"This is a logical and important step in our re-evaluation of the impact of high-definition video on the game," said newly appointed USGA executive director Mike Davis when the reinterpretation was announced. "We collectively believe that this revised decision addresses many video-related issues never contemplated by the Rules of Golf."