Spotlight on television evidence

Two recent incidents have shone a bright light on the use of television evidence in golf and the penalty structure in the situation where a player returns his score card having failed to include a penalty that he did not know he had incurred.

Camilo VillegasDuring the first round of the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, Camilo Villegas moved a loose divot that might have influenced the movement of his ball in motion – a clear breach of Rule 23-1. Such an act brings with it a penalty of two strokes, but Villegas was unaware of the Rule and did not include the penalty in his score for that hole. The incident was reported to the Committee by a television viewer after Villegas had returned his score card and, as a result, Villegas was disqualified under Rule 6-6d for returning a score lower than actually taken.

A couple of weeks later in Abu Dhabi, TV images showed Padraig Harrington moving his ball in the act of removing his ball-marker during his first round, which of itself is not a penalty (Rule 20-3a), but the ball needs to be replaced. Harrington knew that he had nudged the ball forward, but felt that the ball had returned to the original spot. As it transpired, TV images showed that the ball had stopped a few millimetres short of rolling all the way back onto the original spot. Again the breach of the Rule only came to light when it was reported to the Committee by a television viewer after Harrington’s score card had been returned, and without the two-stroke penalty included in the score for that hole, disqualification under Rule 6-6d applied.

It is a fundamental principle of the Rules in stroke play that the player is responsible for the correctness of the scores on his score card, and if the player has attested for a lower score than he has actually achieved, for whatever reason, the result is disqualification. However, these cases indicate that we have entered a new age of golf viewing where increased coverage, increased use of high definition and super slow motion, the increased viewing of delayed “live” coverage and the ease with which television viewers can make contact with the tournament office through email and the internet make such incidents more likely to occur.

The issues of the escalation of the penalty from one or two strokes to disqualification after the score card has been returned and the admissibility of increasingly sophisticated television evidence have been on the agenda of the governing bodies, and we have been in discussion with the Tours on these matters, but these cases, and the reaction to them, have undoubtedly intensified the discussions on whether the Rules in this regard remain appropriate.