Golf: No more dithering over rulings at US Open, official vows

Dustin Johnson (above) suffered a one-stroke penalty in the final round in 2016.
Dustin Johnson (above) suffered a one-stroke penalty in the final round in 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

MIAMI (REUTERS) - New measures will be in place at next week's US Open golf championship in Wisconsin aimed at avoiding rules controversies that hit last year's event, a top US Golf Association (USGA) official told Reuters.

Local rules offering a more commonsense approach to inadvertent ball movement on the greens, improved technology to speed up video reviews and a "white-hat" official with the power to make instantaneous decisions will be employed at Erin Hills.

The ruling that cost eventual 2016 champion Dustin Johnson a one-stroke penalty in the final round for a small movement of his ball on the fifth green, would not be made this year when the championship begins on Thursday.

John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of Championships & Governance, said the USGA's bywords are "expedite and decide" for the upcoming championship that begins on June 15.

"We didn't do everything right last year, we took too long and left uncertainty. But we've learned from that and we believe we're in a good position to move forward," Bodenhamer told Reuters in a telephone interview from Erin Hills.

Johnson was first cleared by an on-course official of wrongdoing regarding a slight movement of his ball before he addressed it. Six holes later he was told by officials that he might be subject to a one-shot penalty, leaving the status of the leaderboard in doubt.

The USGA came in for withering criticism, from players and fans alike, not necessarily for eventually imposing a one-shot penalty on Johnson, but more so for dithering over the matter.

"What it really comes down to is two words - expedite and decide," said Bodenhamer, who oversees inside-the-ropes conduct of the US Open and also oversees the USGA's governance-related activities, including the Rules of Golf.

"Expedite the ruling process as best we can and still be as thorough and thoughtful for the entire field and the players. But make a decision and not leave uncertainty as we did at Oakmont."

Bodenhamer said video review capability was improved.

"We actually have enhanced it through technology, the integrity of the feeds, how we can watch the feeds in a central location. That will help us move quickly.

"Also there will be on-course locations for video review for the first time ever at the US Open this year," the rules chief said.

Bodenhamer said last year's delayed Johnson ruling was in part due to key rules officials being out on the golf course, and it took time for them to get off the course to review and consult.

"We will make sure that the members of our committee, which will be five people this year, will be all in close proximity to one another at all times and they'll have access to technology that will allow them to make an instantaneous review," he said.

"We have designated our own 'white hat' chief referee, who makes the final call and is empowered to make an instantaneous decision.

"That will allow us to expedite rulings as well."

Bodenhamer said the naked eye and reasonable judgment standards, included in the proposal for a modernisation of rules announced jointly last March by the USGA and the Royal & Ancient aimed for 2019, would be used to cut back need for video review.

"If it has been found that the player accidentally caused his ball to move in marking it or grounding his club close to the ball like Dustin did, then that would be accidental and you just put it back and no penalty," said Bodenhamer.