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The Loop

What the R&A is doing to avoid a repeat of the rules controversy at Oakmont



TROON, Scotland — It was only two questions into the R&A’s pre-Open Championship press conference on Wednesday before the subject was broached: the Sunday snafu at the U.S. Open. The USGA’s fumbled handling of the rules issue surrounding its eventual champion, Dustin Johnson, during the final round at Oakmont will long be a cautionary tale for any organization running a golf tournament. It was only natural then that the one hosting the next men’s major be asked the not-so-delicate question of what they might do to “avoid an Oakmont.”

To no one’s surprise, R&A officials say they have discussed in detail their own procedures and believe they have a system set up that will help avoid in particular any undo delays in relaying information between walking rules officials, the championship committee and players.

“It’s the speed and the clarity with which we respond, which is something we’re very focused on and have been for a number of years,” said R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.

According to Slumbers, it was 10 years ago that the R&A reviewed its process and established a chain of command in which the chief referee, David Rickman, remains in the rules compound throughout play. It’s the procedure that will also be followed this week at Royal Troon.

“He has access to video replays in his office, and in addition to that, either Peter [Unsworth, chair of the R&A Championship Committee] or I are also always here. … I think it’s that function of us sitting here, just about 50 yards away, being able to respond and provide instructions back to the referees, that is the difference in how we would deal with it.”

By comparison, the USGA's Jeff Hall and Thomas Pagel, two of the members of the USGA rules committee involved in handling Johnson's situation at Oakmont, were on the golf course Sunday while a separate official watched video of the round in its entirety. Hall was a rover between groups, and Pagel was walking with the last pairing. After the official reviewing the video noticed a possible issue with Johnson on the fifth green, Hall and Pagel were contacted, and both had to return to the rules compound from the course, losing time in transit before being able to reach back out to Johnson to discuss the matter on the 12th hole.

Slumbers said that during a Wednesday morning meeting with all the rules officials, it was reiterated the process for which information would go from walking referee to rovers to the chief referee’s office was “discussed, clarified and reinforced.”