The rules of golf at the highest level are apparently an ever-evolving organism. While the USGA and R&A will implement wholesale changes to the rules of golf for professionals on the PGA Tour and European Tour (among all other pro tours) starting in 2019, there will be some modifications starting Jan. 1, 2018. One of those is that television viewers will no longer be able to affect the outcome of golf tournaments.

This most famously happened, of course, during the 2013 Masters when Tiger Woods was penalized after an errant drop following a call from a television viewer. There have been other instances, too, but that one is the fulcrum around which this argument swings. 

This week, a working group headed by the USGA and R&A decided that will not be permitted any longer. Additionally, that group has decided that rules officials at major events will be implemented to "monitor the video broadcast." Here's the full statement from the USGA.

The group, consisting of the PGA Tour, LPGA, PGA European Tour, Ladies European Tour and The PGA of America, as well as the governing bodies, will implement the following measures from January 1, 2018:

  • Assign one or more officials to monitor the video broadcast of a competition to help identify and resolve Rules issues as they arise
  • Discontinue any steps to facilitate or consider viewer call-ins as part of the Rules decision process.

"The level of collaboration with our partners has been both vital and gratifying as we look to the future," Thomas Pagel, USGA senior director of the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, said in a statement. "As technology has continued to evolve, it has allowed us to evolve how we operate, as well."

These new addendums are in association with the "naked eye standard" and the "reasonable judgement standard," both of which deal with video replay and both of which were implemented earlier in 2017.

So now there are rules in place that acquit players if they were unable to see an error with their naked eye (thinking moving grains of sand), if they could be reasonably expected to make the decision they made in a given situation. These replays are also now limited to a rules official and the official broadcast (no cell phone footage), and television viewers are barred from affecting the festivities.

This begs several questions, the foremost of which is, "Who exactly is going to call to light potential rules infractions?" The rules official assigned to the broadcast? That will be interesting. And none of this makes me feel much better about the reasonable judgement standard. That's as interpretative as it get and will surely lead to another monstrous rules conundrum in the near future.

It should also be noted that the two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard that a player did not know was incorrect at the time they signed (i.e. for a penalty discovered via replay later on) has been eliminated.

All in all, it's probably a good thing that viewers can't affect major sporting events, but golf still has a long way to go to get to a place where players and fans feel comfortable in a HD television world where only the stars get all of their shots shown.