Changes In The Decisions For 2010 And The Evolution Of One Particular Decision
The year 2010 will usher in a crop of 28 new Decisions and 51 revised Decisions as approved by the USGA and The R&A. Those numbers are misleading, though, as there are no earth-shattering changes that will affect the fundamental way the game is played. That lack of significant change reflects the fact that the Rules themselves were not changed (the next revision of the Rules in their quadrennial review cycle will be in 2012) as well as a general satisfaction with the current state of the Rules and their Decisions. The great majority of changes fall into the category of clarifications of details of the Rules.
One of the more interesting new Decisions is Decision 20-2a/8 (Player Drops Ball to Determine Where Original Ball May Roll if Dropped). Over the years, some students of the Rules had wondered about a situation where a player takes a “test drop” to determine if it would be wise for him to take relief from a condition (i.e., if the dropped ball would likely roll into a poor lie). While the staffs of the USGA and The R&A had talked informally about such a situation, the respective Rules of Golf Committees had not discussed the matter, given its hypothetical nature. The need for more formal discussions came about after a player in a professional event in Europe did just that. Before deciding which option of the unplayable ball Rule to use, the player left his original ball on the ground and dropped several other balls under Rule 28c to determine how likely it would be that a dropped ball would come to rest in or near some bushes.
There was immediate agreement among the members of the USGA’s and R&A’s Rules of Golf Committees that a player should not be able to perform such “test drops.” Going hand-in-hand with the expanded explanation for the answer to Decision 20-4/2, it was agreed that a ball dropped as a “test drop” does not become the ball in play as the player did not intend to put that ball into play.
The question then became whether such an act is a breach of a specific Rule. There was some discussion as to whether the player should be considered to have been in breach ofRule 14-3 for using his equipment in an “unusual manner,” but that approach was eventually dismissed as it was felt that dropping a ball is not “unusual” (although the reason for doing so was unusual). As it was agreed that such an act is contrary to the spirit of the Rules, it was suggested that the player should be disqualified under Rule 33-7, which grants a Committee the authority to disqualify a player in “exceptional individual cases.” An attempt to circumvent the Rules could certainly fall under the scope of this Rule, but there was concern that such an act is somewhat similar to the testing of the putting green’s surface as prohibited by Rule 16-1d, which carries the lesser penalty of loss of hole in match play and two strokes in stroke play. As it was ultimately felt that the Rules do not address this specific act, equity (Rule 1-4) was called for to provide an answer, as Rule 1-4 is intended to apply only to situations ”not covered by the Rules.” Keeping in mind the penalty under Rule 16-1d, it was decided that the general penalty (rather than disqualification) is appropriate for such an act. After a year of discussion by the USGA and The R&A, the Decision was approved in its final form.