AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The decades-old rules of golf have officially entered the video age.
The game's two rulemakers, the Royal & Ancient and U.S. Golf Association, jointly announced Thursday that allowances have been made in the rules to allow for unwitting violations by players that were caught on videotape.
Call it the Padraig Harrington rule -- the three-time major champion was disqualified from a European Tour event earlier this year when replays showed his ball had moved almost imperceptibly while Harrington was removing his marker from behind the ball on the green. Unaware of the violation, Harrington signed his card and was disqualified for signing for an incorrect score when the video evidence later surfaced.
In other words, disqualification for posting an incorrect score, revealed by TV cameras, is no longer automatic.
"Put it this way -- it's a good change," Jack Nicklaus said after hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot Thursday morning at Augusta National.
Harrington's ball rolled perhaps a dimple forward on a lengthy putt, but it was enough that a TV camera with a zoom lens detected it and viewers reported it to the European Tour.
"It recognizes the reality of super slo-mo speed, high-def technology in the game," said Fred Ridley, a past USGA president and the chief of the competition committee at the Masters.
Making an important distinction, USGA executive director Mike Davis said ignorance of the rules and an absence of knowing the facts are separate issues. Camilo Villegas, who committed a violation caught on video in Hawaii in January and was subsenquently disqualified, would not have been given dispensation under the revision. That was ignorance of the rule -- Villegas improperly removed a divot from an area where his ball was rolling.
Harrington was unaware of issues that "were fact-based and the player couldn't have known," Davis said.
"We weren't dealing with these kinds of issues three years ago," Davis said. "The rules of golf never contemplated some of the things that have been happening."
Nicklaus, a six-time Masters champion, applauded the rule and said he spoke at length with USGA director Mike Davis about the potential rule change since the Harrington violation occurred.
"I think it's absurd," he said of the old disqualification penalty. "I have probably had 10 or 20 balls move in my entire career when I didn't now it. I think rules should be about intent. If a fellow wants to cheat, he'll cheat. What advantage did he [Harrington] gain?"
"It makes the rule what it should have been," Nicklaus continued. "We've always been our own referee, and our own custodians of the rules. To have a TV camera ... a ball that moves in the wind, or settles on the grass, that has zero effect on what really happens, but if you don't detect it [you get penalized]?
"I think this puts the integrity of the player back into the game."
The USGA and R&A called a joint press conference at Augusta for 10 a.m. ET to discuss the nuances of the rule, but already laid out some hypotheticals whare the revision would apply:
* A player makes a short chip from the greenside rough. At the time, he and his fellow-competitors have no reason to suspect that the player has double-hit his ball in breach of Rule 14-4. After the competitor has signed and returned his score card, a close-up, super-slow-motion video replay reveals that the competitor struck his ball twice during the course of the stroke. In these circumstances, it would be appropriate for the tournament committee to waive the disqualification penalty and apply the one-stroke penalty to the player’s score at the hole in question.
* After a competitor has signed and returned his score card, it becomes known through the use of video replay, that the player unknowingly touched a few grains of sand with his club at the top of his backswing on a wall of the bunker. The touching of the sand was so light that, at the time, it was reasonable for the player to have been unaware that he had breached Rule 13-4. It would be appropriate for the committee to waive the disqualification penalty and apply the two-stroke penalty to the player’s score at the hole in question.
* A competitor moves his ball on the putting green with his finger in the act of removing his ball-marker. The competitor sees the ball move slightly forward but is certain that it has returned to the original spot, and he plays the ball as it lies. After the competitor signs and returns his score card, video footage is brought to the attention of the committee that reveals that the ball did not precisely return to its original spot. The competitor cites the fact that the position of the logo on the ball appeared to be in exactly the same position as it was when he replaced the ball and this was the reason for him believing that the ball returned to the original spot. As it was reasonable in these circumstances for the player to have no doubt that the ball had returned to the original spot, and because the player could not himself have reasonably discovered otherwise prior to signing and returning his score card, it would be appropriate for the Committee to waive the disqualification penalty. The two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place would, however, be applied to the player’s score at the hole in question.
However, here are a couple of instances where disqualification would still be the penalty for signing an incorrect card:
* For example, in the following scenarios, the Committee would not be justified in waiving or modifying the disqualification penalty:
As a player’s ball is in motion, he moves several loose impediments in the area in which the ball will likely come to rest. Unaware that this action is a breach of Rule 23-1, the player fails to include the two-stroke penalty in his score for the hole. As the player was aware of the facts that resulted in his breaching the Rules, he should be disqualified under Rule 6-6d for failing to include the two-stroke penalty under Rule 23-1.
* A player's ball lies in a water hazard. In making his backswing for the stroke, the player is aware that his club touched a branch in the hazard. Not realizing at the time that the branch was detached, the player did not include the two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 13-4 in his score for the hole. As the player could have reasonably determined the status of the branch before signing and returning his score card, the player should be disqualified under Rule 6-6d for failing to include the two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4