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Q&A With Mike Davis

Was Decision 18/4 prompted by Tiger Woods? The USGA executive director says no

Mike Davis

"Contrary to what some think, the whole thing was already written and essentially put to bed long before Tiger's issue ever came up," Davis said.

November 21, 2013

On Tuesday the USGA and R&A announced New Decision 18/4 to the Rules of Golf, which addresses the use of video technology in determining whether a ball at rest has "moved" within the meaning of the rules. The change means that beginning Jan. 1, 2014, if a player causes a ball to move in a way that is only discernible through video technology but not "reasonably discernible to the naked eye," that player will no longer be penalized. Given the controversial nature of these rulings in the past, and particularly the furor that resulted after Tiger Woods was penalized at the BMW Championship in September after an enhanced video camera captured his ball changing position when Woods removed a nearby twig, we asked the USGA's executive director, Mike Davis, to further explain.

Why is the new rule needed?

What's good about this change is that it gets back to the intent of what the rule (18-2) has been for decades and decades and decades.

We were beginning to see players penalized in situations where the player was saying, "I didn't even know the ball moved." The rules never contemplated that.

Before you had high definition, you never got the close ups on television where you could see the ball moving on camera. It really was the naked eye that determined whether the ball moved or not. We didn't have these things come up. So it's a new phenomenon.

 

Was the rule written in reaction to what happened to Tiger Woods at the BMW Championship?

Contrary to what some think, the whole thing was already written and essentially put to bed long before Tiger's issue ever came up. It's been in the works since before I became executive director in 2010. Truth be known, when the Tiger thing happened, everybody involved on both sides of the pond, said "Oh man, talk about bad timing." Because we didn't want people to think we'd written it just because of Tiger. The decision had already been written and everybody had signed off on it. These things take a long time to write, and take a long time to go through the approval process. And this had been done long before the Tiger incident.

 

Is the new decision intended to discourage call-ins from television viewers?

We still firmly believe that you need to use all the information possible to make the rulings in stroke play.  Our notion has never been to say, "We hate these armchair rules officials that call in." If a player doesn't know the rule and no one sees him breach a rule, by not allowing call-ins it's almost like we are incentivizing payers not to know the rules. And it's not fair to the player who knows the rules and calls a breach on himself.

   

Isn't there a conflict in saying you want all the information on when a ball might move, but not high definition video information?

It's a subtle difference. We expect a player if he breaches a rule, to call that penalty on himself. If he doesn't know it, and someone else who sees the breach does -- say a spectator or a competitor's caddie or someone watching television -- in that situation we want whoever sees it to call it. But that's a different situation than something that nobody can see except if its being televised in close-up beyond what the naked eye could be expected to see. They really are two different things.

Please explain how the new rule might have effected what occurred with Tiger at BMW?

In Tiger's case, what a rules committee would ultimately have to do is say, "OK, did Tiger see that with his naked eye. Was it possible or probable?" Sometimes you may just need to take all the evidence involved. We do that all the time in championships.

Let's say Tiger's thing wasn't televised, and all we had was a spectator saying they thought Tiger's ball moved. And we learn about that, what we would do is get to Tiger before he returned his scorecard, and ask him "Can we talk about what happened on the hole where you removed a pine needle and a spectator said your ball moved?"  And we would ask him, "Did your ball move?" If he said, "Absolutely not, it didn't move," it would be OK, case closed.

But if Tiger said, "Well I don't think it moved," then we would ask, "Tell us about the pine needle, could it have caused the ball to move?" Again, you use all the evidence you have, because we've got to somehow make a ruling here. And in a case like this, if it's one person against another person, usually the player is going to win on that.

But perhaps in a case where something wasn't televised, and 12 people are saying the ball moved, but the player said, "I don't think it moved," there would be too much weight saying the ball moved and the ruling would go against the player.

But the bottom line on the new rule is that if the ball somehow moved minutely and it was picked up on camera, and the player plays the shot, we're not going to say, "Well the ball moved and it should have been a one-stroke penalty, and you didn't replace it, so now it's a two stroke penalty." And furthermore, if it goes all the way in and the player signs the scorecard, not only is he or she not going to be penalized, but they are not going to be disqualified. We just feel the rules never contemplated that, and it's the right thing for the game. If you couldn't see it with your naked eye, how much did it really compromise the other 155-some players in the field?

 

But what if a television replay clearly showed a player causing the ball to change position, in a way that should have been discernible to the naked eye, but the player maintains he didn't see the ball move. Then what? Wouldn't not ruling against the player ultimately cause the inevitable replays to impugn his integrity and the even integrity of the competition?

In that case, if the player is looking down at that ball, and the ball moves enough where you go, "Wait a minute, there's no way he or she didn't see that," believe me, that player will get the penalty then.

Take a hole where the spectators can only be on one side, and the player is on the other side in the rough, so that no one can see the ball, but the TV camera can see the ball. And the player grounds his club and the ball moves half an inch, but the ball moves while the player is looking out to where he wants to hit his shot. So he never saw the ball move with his naked eye, but you've got this evidence right there that is so crystal clear that the player caused the ball to move. Believe me, in those cases the player's going to be penalized.

All we are saying with this new decision is that if those spectators and that player couldn't have seen the ball move with the naked eye, its not fair to penalize the player in that case.

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