A rules team that is “second to none” will ensure there is no repeat of the shambles that overshadowed last month’s US Open in the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon, according to R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers.
Golf comes under the spotlight on the Ayrshire coast over the next four days for the first time since the USGA embarrassed the sport by creating a farcical end to the season’s second major.
While Dustin Johnson eventually ran out a deserved winner, it was only after he’d been forced to play the last six holes worrying that he might be penalised for an incident for which he had been cleared of any wrongdoing earlier in the round. That sorry episode has led the R&A to “discuss, clarify and reinforce” its robust rules process, leaving Slumbers confident that his first Open Championship since taking over the reins from Peter Dawson will pass without any similar controversy.
“The team here have been thinking about how to respond and monitor any sort of chain of command around rules for over ten years now,” he said at the R&A’s traditional pre-championship press conference. “And, about ten years ago, a fundamental change was made by the team here which I think makes a big difference in the way we would deal with any situation that arises in the next four days, which is that the chief referee [David Rickman] doesn’t leave this compound here.
“He has access to video replays in his office and in addition to that, either Peter [Unsworth, chairman of the championship committee] or I are also always here. All sorts of things can happen and generally do happen in this game. It is the speed and the clarity with which we respond and I think it’s a function of us sitting here, just about 50 yards away, being able to respond and provide instructions back to the referees.”
Asked by The Scotsman if steps had been taken to hammer a message home about the importance to golf that there are no repeats of what happened at Oakmont, Slumbers added: “The rules meeting was this morning and the process by which the information goes from the walking referees to our rovers and back into the chief referee’s office was discussed, clarified and reinforced. I think we’re pretty good at getting that right. We’ve made some changes in the light of Oakmont and being more prescriptive.
“But I would say the referees that we have here are highly experienced referees. A lot of them work on the major tours and the major amateur events all year around. We have the best professional referees coming from the tours here as well. Our feeling is that the standard of the refereeing that will be out there this weekend is second to none.”
Slumbers, meanwhile, admitted he did not know how many drug tests were carried out in last year’s Open, though it later emerged that figure was just eight out of 156 players. “Our anti-doping policy follows that of the European Tour,” he said on that topic.