Motivated by the Dustin Johnson Rules incident during final round play of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont, the USGA introduces a new Local Rule regarding movement of a ball on a putting green. It is anticipated that the Local Rule will be widely adopted throughout the professional and elite-level amateur events and it is recommended for all levels of play. Encinitas Ranch Men’s Golf Club will implement the Local Rule for all of our competitions effective January 1, 2017.

The Oakmont ruling controversy began with Dustin Johnson’s ball moving while he was preparing to putt on the green of hole #5. At the time, a ruling was delivered that the player had not caused the ball to move and therefore no penalty would be assessed under the applicable rule (18-2 Ball at Rest Moved by Player). Later, video review of the incident raised the possibility that Dustin’s actions may have caused the movement, and the USGA determined that a penalty might be assessed at the end of the round, pending further review of the footage and discussion with the player. Dustin was advised of the possible penalty on the tee of hole #12, and had to play the balance of the round without knowing exactly where he stood on the leaderboard.

Rule 18-2 had recently been changed (January 2016) to make it more player-friendly by permitting consideration of specific circumstances in determining if the movement of the ball was “more likely than not” to have been caused by the player. In practice, the change failed to eliminate questions about what might have caused the ball to move and did little to streamline rulings.

Since most of the “ball moved” instances occur on the putting green, the Local Rule applies only to ACCIDENTAL movement of the ball ON THE PUTTING GREEN and not elsewhere on the course. Recommended wording of the Local Rule is shown below.

Accidental Movement of a Ball on a Putting Green

Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1 are modified as follows:

When a player’s ball lies on the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment.

The moved ball or ball-marker must be replaced as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1.

This Local Rule applies only when the player’s ball or ball-marker lies on the putting green and any movement is accidental.

Note: If it is determined that a player’s ball on the putting green was moved as a result of wind, water or some other natural cause such as the effects of gravity, the ball must be played as it lies from its new location. A ball-marker moved in such circumstances is replaced.

It is important to note the difference between accidental movement caused by the player, his partner, his opponent, etc. and movement caused by wind, water, effects of gravity, etc. If the ball or ball-marker is moved accidentally, it is replaced WITHOUT PENALTY. If the ball is moved by natural causes, it is played from its new location.

What is an “accident” within the context of this Local Rule?
• Ball moves when player is preparing to make a stroke or when addressed.
• Ball struck during a practice stroke.
• Ball dropped on ball marker or putter falls on ball.
• Ball kicked by player not paying attention.

You get no help from this Local Rule if you INTENTIONALLY move or lift the ball without first marking its location. Intentional movement results in a one-stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced. Remember that the Local Rule applies ONLY on the putting green of the hole being played.

Dick Beckman – December 2016