Golf brings in rule change to avoid Dustin Johnson farce

Dustin Johnson talks to a rules official during the final round of the US Open at Oakmont. Picture: John Minchillo/AP
Dustin Johnson talks to a rules official during the final round of the US Open at Oakmont. Picture: John Minchillo/AP
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Golf’s rulemakers are bringing in new legislation relating to ball movement on the putting surface in an attempt to avoid farcical situations like the one which befell Dustin Johnson during his US Open victory.

From 1 January a new local rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the green will be introduced and will be adopted by The R&A and the USGA in all of their championships, qualifying competitions and international matches.

The rule will also be available for use by any committee in charge of a competition. It has been introduced as a local rule for expediency as official Rules of Golf revisions are done on a four-yearly cycle.

There have been several high-profile incidences of balls moving on the green but it was the one affecting Johnson in the final round of the US Open which sparked much controversy and debate.

The American was on the fifth green when his ball moved before he had grounded the putter behind it, but having decided he had not incurred a penalty Johnson was met on the 12th tee by rules officials who alerted him to the fact there may be an issue.

Johnson disagreed and managed to hold his game together to eventually win his first major by three shots as, after again refusing to call a penalty on himself when challenged by scoring officials at the end of his round, the USGA penalised him one stroke.

“It was a very high-profile incident and we built it into the review part of the debate as it was certainly part of our thinking,” David Rickman, executive director - governance at the R&A, said.

“It was certainly a very difficult case but within the rules environment it was more the repetition of incidents rather than one or two which was of greater concern.

“We had one or two situations at the Open which happened the following month, a couple at the Olympics.

“On a regular basis we were having this debate on putting greens with players not knowing what the answer was.

“We haven’t been able to completely remove the discussion but it is a much more comfortable conversation now there is no penalty involved.”

Despite the change the rule remains that if a ball on the putting green is moved by wind, water or some other natural cause, such as the effects of gravity, the ball must be played as it lies from its new location.