Golfers no longer face automatic disqualification for two violations, including an incorrect scorecard, under the latest set of rules that reflect a little more leniency in handing out penalties.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club and U.S. Golf Association announced changes to the 2016 edition of the Rules of Golf, which is updated every four years.
Players will avoid disqualification if the incorrect scorecard is the result of penalty strokes they didn't know about when they finished their rounds. The penalty also was softened for players using artificial devices, such as training aids, in the middle of the round.
The new rules take effect Jan. 1.
The most notable addition was Rule 14-1b, which bans an anchored stroke used primarily for long putters. That already went through an exhaustive discussion and debate two years ago, along with some protesting from the PGA of America that it would keep some recreational golfers from playing.
Changes were made to 18 of the 34 rules. Most of them were tweaks, though there were two instances when the penalty no longer is disqualification.
''I think we would take the view that we're certainly always looking to apply proportionate penalties, and we're very conscious that disqualification is a very serious situation,'' said David Rickman, executive director of rules and equipment standards for the R&A. ''And the removal from competition is something that we should use judiciously and therefore only when appropriate. We feel that this is a step in that right direction.''
One of those changes involved the scorecard.
Players still face disqualification if they sign for a lower score on a hole. However, the new exception to Rule 6-6d allows a player to avoid disqualification if the score includes a penalty that was discovered only after he signed his card.
Previously, players were disqualified if a violation was reported after the round because their scorecards did not account for the penalty strokes. Starting in 2016, players would have the penalty added to the hole, along with an additional two-shot penalty for the scorecard error.
One example was Camilo Villegas, who chipped up the slope to the 15th green at Kapalua in 2011, and the ball rolled back toward him. Villegas casually swatted away some loose pieces of grass in front of the divot as the ball was moving in that direction. The violation (23-1) was detected by a television viewer after the round. It was a two-shot penalty, and thus Villegas was disqualified for an incorrect card.
Under the new rule, Villegas would have four shots added to his score - two for the rules violation, two for the scorecard error. But he would remain in the tournament (unless the additional shots meant he missed the cut).
Rickman said the case of Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters does not apply.
Woods took an incorrect drop on the 15th hole of the second round. A former rules official saw it on TV and notified the Masters rules committee, which decided it was not a violation and Woods signed for a 71. Only later, after the committee spoke to Woods, was it a clear violation. He was given a two-shot penalty but not disqualified because the committee felt it was at fault.
Rickman said the new exception to Rule 6-6d would not have applied because a committee error was involved.
Another change involved artificial devices.
During a 30-minute wait in the middle of her round at the 2010 Safeway Classic, Juli Inkster put a weighted ''doughnut'' on her 9-iron. She was disqualified for violating Rule 14-3 banning artificial devices. Now that penalty is two shots (loss of hole in match play), and the penalty for any subsequent violation of the rule is disqualification. D.A. Points was disqualified for that rule at Pebble Beach when he put a sponge ball under his arm to swing during a delay on the 18th tee.
Rickman said that also applies to range finders. To use it once is a two-shot penalty, twice is disqualification.
The other significant change to the rules involved when a ball at rest moves (Rule 18-2b)
Currently, if a ball moves after it has been addressed, the player is deemed to have caused the movement and is penalized one shot. An exception was added in 2012 for when it is virtually certain that it wasn't the player's fault (such as strong gusts).
Now, the rules no longer say players are guilty unless proved innocent. The penalty will be applied only if the facts show a player caused the ball to move.
''It's not an absolute anymore,'' said Thomas Pagel, the USGA's senior director of rules.
This change comes with a new decision to serve as a guideline (18-2/0.5). Among things an official would consider is what actions the player takes near the ball; how much time elapses between those actions and the ball moving; the lie of the ball (on a slope, perched on a tuft of grass) and weather conditions.