AUGUSTA, GA. -- Ignorance of the Rules of Golf is still no excuse. However, should a golfer breach a rule because of "facts that he didn't know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his score card," he or she no longer will be subject to a disqualification for signing for an incorrect score.
The R&A and USGA issued a release on the revision less than two hours before the start of the first round of the Masters. The revision to Decision 33-7/4.5 goes into effect immediately.
"For some time we have been concerned that, in certain limited circumstances, disproportional 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."
The change arose from multiple incidents earlier this year in which professional golfers were disqualified because of rules violations that were determined after the players signed their scorecards. Upon accessing the appropriate stroke penalties, the golfers then were disqualified from the events because they had signed for a score lower than they shot.
In an instance involving Camilo Villegas at the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Villegas was unaware of rule he had violated when he brushed away a divot while his ball was in motion. The violation was spotted by a TV viewer, but by the time the PGA Tour officials had talked Villegas about the incident he had already signed his scorecard without accessing any penalty.
In a separate incident, however, Padraig Harrington was found to have violated a rule while on the putting green at the European Tour's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. However, Harrington had no ability to know he had violated the rule; it was only after watching a high definition TV image of the offense that it was spotted. Harrington, though, was also disqualified for having signed for the wrong score because he hadn't accessed himself with the penalty.
Under the new decision, Villegas' DQ would likely stand (the ultimately decision on an individual's fate would be at the discretion of the Committee) but Harrington would likely have been merely accessed the stroke penalty but allowed to continue to play the tournament.
-- *Ryan Herrington *