Mike Davis, Peter Dawson Transcript On Modified Rule

By ASAP
April 7, 2011

RAND JERRIS:  Good morning, thank you all for joining us this morning for this brief question and answer session.  I am joined on my right by Mike Davis, the Executive Director of the United States Golf Association, and on my left, Mr. Peter Dawson the Chief Executive of the Royal and Ancient.

We are going to have some brief comments this morning to start things off and then we'll go immediately to the floor for questions.  So with that, I will turn the floor over to Mike to open us up.

MIKE DAVIS:  Rand, thank you.  First of all, thank you for joining us this morning.  First thing I want to do is thank Chairman Billy Payne and all of the Members of Augusta National for allowing us to have this forum.  This is a pretty big announcement that the R&A and USGA are making, and it's great that we are allowed to do this on the first round of the Masters Tournament.

So I guess getting right to it, what I want to do is spend a little time going through the press release that was issued earlier today.  Some of the specifics, and then I'm going to turn it over to Peter Dawson who is going to talk a little bit about some of the general ‑‑ or make some general comments, as well as talk a little bit about philosophically why we did this.

So to start out with, I guess I would say we are absolutely delighted that we have made this change.  Essentially what this does, in layman's terms, or in simple terms, this gives the committee under certain circumstances the ability to waive a disqualification penalty that was imposed on a player who returned a scorecard that did not include a penalty for a breach that incurred during that stipulated round.  I'm going to get into a few specifics here about when that committee can use that discretion to waive this disqualification penalty.

I guess what I would say, and I know Peter is going to talk a little bit about it, too, that this has been in the works for the last couple of months.  I will tell you, there's been some things that have happened over the last few years with respect to disqualification penalties that had been very troubling to the R&A and to the USGA, and they had been talked about at length between ‑‑ with our respective Rules of Golf committees, and we are absolutely delighted that we finally worked through the issues.  And we feel like we have come up with a very good solution to deal with what really is a modern phenomenon in terms of some of these disqualifications happening.

So with that, I guess what I would say is the key to this, in terms of when a committee can actually use this discretion to waive a disqualification penalty, is that there had to be facts arise after the scorecard had been returned, that the player either couldn't possibly have known about, or, in the committee's judgment, couldn't have reasonably known before he returned the scorecard.

That's the key here.  We are dealing with fact‑based issues.  It's not issues dealing with not knowing the rules.  It's not knowing the facts; and therefore, you couldn't apply the penalty, and then all of a sudden, these facts arise after the scorecard's returned.

It's a very narrowly interpreted decision.  It's meant to be that.  I think that the number of committees that will actually utilize this, and it is an existing decision that we have revised.  But the number of committees that will actually be able to utilize this are going to be very, very small.  And if you've read through the decision, you'll see in there that the examples we give, every single one of them are talking about High Definition TV, slow‑motion video and the likes.

And I think as I said, this is really a modern phenomenon.  We were not dealing with these kind of issues three years ago.  Yes, there was TV.  Yes, there was slow motion, but you didn't see cameras zooming in and making the golf ball look the size of a basketball.

So this is really, again, this is trying to deal with a relatively new issue; and being very candid, the Rules of Golf never contemplated some of the things that have been happening.

So we are, as I say, very delighted that we have been able to work through this.  I think when you read the decision,  what you see in there, and what you really try to do is to give committees guidance as to when they can operate under this decision and when they cannot.  There are three examples used and they are real‑life examples, too, of situations where we think this is applicable.

Example one was a player who double‑hits; basically double‑hits a shot, was not aware of it.  His fellow competitors, caddies, no one else was aware of it.  He returns a scorecard but doesn't include the one‑stroke penalty for the double‑hit.  And then after the fact High Definition, slow‑motion video, reveals that, yes, in fact, there, was a double hit.

And I think that both the R&A and USGA believe that, listen, this is not what the Rules of Golf contemplated.  This would not happen on a day‑to‑day basis with golf and why should we essentially be throwing somebody out of a competition with a disqualification penalty for that?

So what will happen here is all of these times when a committee can operate under this decision, that we are going to apply the penalty that the player should have gotten.  So in that case, with the double‑hit, that's always a one‑stroke penalty.  And so after the player returns his scorecard, we are simply going to add a one‑stroke penalty to it, but the player stays in the competition.

There were another couple of examples with two‑stroke penalties.  So we would apply the applicable penalty, the two‑stroke penalty, but the player would not be disqualified.  I think that's the key is that this is a very narrowly interpreted decision.  As I say, it's dealing with facts that the players simply could not have known before, or in the estimation of the respective committee, it's not reasonable that the player could have figured that out before he returned his scorecard.

So with that, and I know we certainly will have some time for questions afterwards, but I'm going to turn it over to Peter Dawson for some more general comments and some of the philosophy behind this change.

PETER DAWSON:  Thank you, Mike, and good morning, everyone.  Could I start by adding my thanks to Mike's to Augusta National and the Masters Tournament for allowing us the use of these facilities this morning for this meeting?  It's much appreciated.  And thanks, also, to you, for being with us.

Mike, I would also like to take this first public opportunity to congratulate you on your new appointment as Executive Director of the United States Golf Association.  I look forward to working with you in the years ahead.  Well done.

MIKE DAVIS:  Thanks.

PETER DAWSON:  I think all of us in the game have been concerned about some incidents that have happened over the last year or two where penalties for seemingly small breaches of the rules have grown into a disproportionate disqualification of players for what was originally perhaps a rather trivial breach of the rules, and that has happened through the scorecard mechanism, the signing for an incorrect score, which under the rules, leads to disqualification.

So I think we have all been concerned about it.  The R&A certainly has.  I know the USGA has and I know the tours have.  It's our duty as governing bodies to ensure that the rules remain fair and relevant, and that we are responsive to changing circumstances.  The advances we are seeing in television and associated technology is certainly a change that the rules didn't contemplate, as Mike has said, over the years.

So I'm delighted that we have come to this resolution.  I'd like to recognize the work that Glen Nager, Chairman of the USGA Rules of Golf committee, and Alan Holmes, Chairman of the R&A Rules of Golf Committee that are both here, and their respective committees have done all that work in reaching this conclusion.

We have been talking about this for some time.  It isn't an easy fix, because you have to balance the certain important long‑term pillars I think of the rules of the game:  The integrity of the scorecard; and its importance that it is completed correctly and in a timely manner; and one also has to be very careful to protect the whole field to ensure fairness in the application of penalties.

We did consider a number of options, a number of ways to deal with this, and we do think that the solution we announced this morning is a good, fair and responsive result.  We are delighted with it.

We have issued this decision immediately upon reaching an agreement.  There has been no delay, and it's important that once a decision like this is reached that it does get out and put into practice immediately.

We obviously all hope that these sorts of situations don't arise very often; I'm sure they won't.  But we now have a mechanism for dealing with them, and committees in charge of competitions, I'm sure, will be very careful in the application of this new decision.

I think that's all I have to say, so over to you.

RAND JERRIS:  Thank you, Peter; Mike.

Q.  I think I understand the distinction, but as I understand it, using the recent red flares that have gone up on this front, Harrington would have been okay; Villegas would have been disqualified.  

MIKE DAVIS:  Sure, yes, just to repeat the question, which is a good one. Pádraig Harrington's situation, where he essentially played from a wrong place, we felt that he did all of the things he should have done.  And there was an example of if it had just been everyday play, he would have been okay.

I think in the Harrington situation, I think it's important to note that regardless of the information a committee gets, when it gets it, it's got to use it to protect the rest of the field.  So for that reason, he did play from a wrong place.  He's going to get the applicable penalty.

And to answer your question, in the Camilo Villegas thing, the R&A and the USGA feel very strongly that one of the pillars of the game, one of the principles of the Rules of Golf, is knowing the rules; playing by the rules.  And so in this case, that's one of the examples that we use at the end of the decision; that ignorance of the rules will not in this particular case get a player off disqualification, if he breaches a rule, doesn't include the penalty, and then returns a scorecard.

Q.  So Harrington gets the shot added or two shots from playing from the incorrect place to his actual total? 

MIKE DAVIS:  That's correct.  In the Harrington case, he did end up playing from the wrong place, and he got disqualified, which was the appropriate ruling, given how the rules were written at the time.  But under this new one, as Peter said, effective today, we would apply the penalty that he should have gotten, but not the disqualification penalty.

Q.  Was there an urgency to get this done in time for today?  Did you want to have it by the first round of the first major?  

MIKE DAVIS:  Very good question.  I would say with respect to urgency, it became more urgent for us the more and more disqualification penalties we were seeing that were fact‑based and that the player simply couldn't have known.  That's what the urgency was.

Both Rules of Golf committees have been working for the last few months to try to come up with something that we felt could work that wouldn't compromise the rules, the history.

And I will tell you why this week:  It's pretty simple.  We had a chance Tuesday; we being the R&A, and the USGA, to meet face‑to‑face.  And we spent the better part of an entire morning, after we had spent countless hours over the last few months working through these things.  We finally came to resolution.

We felt that once we did that, whether it was this week or another week, it needed to happen immediately.  Because this was really a problem that we didn't want to wait until the next rules cycle to change.

RAND JERRIS:  If Peter has anything to add to that.

PETER DAWSON:  That's absolutely right, as Mike has said.  It's obviously not a bad week to do this.  But that said, that is coincidence.  We have issued this decision as soon as we came to a conclusion on the matter.

Q.  Were any of the professional tours involved in the discussions as to what was the best way to proceed on this?  And the second question is more of a statute of limitations question.  Are there any restrictions within the competition; if this comes up two days later or a day later or any of that sort of thing?  And in a TiVo age, what if it's after the competition is closed and this comes up on a Monday or something like that?  How is that circumstance handled?  

MIKE DAVIS:  Well, to answer your first question, of course the tours were involved.  We have in our respective Rules of Golf committees, we have members:  In our case, members of the PGA TOUR staff, LPGA Tour staff who sit on the committee as consulting members.  I know The European Tour certainly is part of the R&A Rules of committee as a consulting member; so of course they were a part of it.

But to suggest that these changes were done just because the tours wanted them done would not be accurate.  This was done because the R&A and the USGA truly saw a problem.  We never contemplated some of these things that have happened.

So the second part of your question, yes, there really is already a statute of limitations built in with the Rules of Golf.  Once the competition closes, if a player who had breached a rule unknowingly and isn't aware of that until after the competition closes, then, you know, that would be a statute of limitations.

And you have to do that, because at some point, you have to draw the line and say the competition is over.  In the case of professional golf, you disburse prize monies and give out a trophy; so there is.

Q.  But within the competition?  

MIKE DAVIS:  Within the competition, if there was a breach that happens in round one and we don't become aware of it until round four, would it fall under these set of circumstances?  That's what we are speaking about here, and the player would be okay.  We would add whatever the applicable breach was.

But in other areas, if we found out in round four that a player breached something in round one that isn't covered from here, well, then he's going to be disqualified because he returned a scorecard which is lower than what he actually shot.

PETER DAWSON:  It could of course affect the cut retrospectively; that a penalty discovered late in the day after round one, not discovered until round three could affect the cut.  But I guess that would be a matter for tour regulations and conditions of competition.

Q.  I applaud the decision.  But in fairness to the game, just to bring up Camilo Villegas's situation, had that had happened on Sunday, as the rule reads, and the score is posted and the result is posted, he would not have been disqualified.  So how do you differentiate between two rules infringements when they are quite blatant?  In other words whether by the use of slow‑motion camera with Harrington or it was very visible what Camilo did.  Because like you said, if that happens any day of the week, as the rule reads, it was a two‑shot penalty for Camilo, but on Sunday, the score is posted, he would get through.  Where is the equity in that?  

MIKE DAVIS:  Well, you're right there, that there is a timing issue to Camilo Villegas.  When you're dealing with ignorance, if Camilo had become aware of that breach before he returned his scorecard, would he have had a two‑stroke penalty?  If he becomes aware of that after he returns his scorecard but before the competition closes, then it's a disqualification.  And then, as I just mentioned to Dan, once the competition closes, we have to draw the line at some point.

As long as the committee is convinced that Camilo did not ‑‑ he was not aware of the breach ‑‑ he may have been aware that, yeah, I moved this, in his case, a divot.  But as long as he was not aware that that was a breach of the rules, that would be one example where ignorance is bliss in that case.

Again, we have got to draw the line at some point.  Now, again, there are times after the fact that if you happen to have made a 4 on the hole, and you mark down on your scorecard 3, and you're not dealing with a penalty situation, you just had bad math; we can go back and disqualify you three years later.  But in the case of not knowing the rules, we do have a statute of limitations.

PETER DAWSON:  The last impression I would want to give, of course, is that Tour players are generally ignorant of the rules and that there are a lot of these breaches going on; that is, of course, far from the truth.  One of the great things about our game is that the top players respect the rules and do everything they can to abide by them, and long may that continue.

Q.  Has there been any thought by the R&A or the USGA to ignoring golf rule violations by television all together, ignoring these callers?  

PETER DAWSON:  That's a subject that I'm sure is going to be debated in the months and years ahead.  It's a fast‑changing environment.

My own opinion is that if the information is out there, it's going to be very hard to ignore it.  But let's leave that for future committees to discuss.

MIKE DAVIS:  The only thing to it add to that is that when you're dealing with a stroke‑play competition, you have to keep in mind that you have to protect the field, and we don't want to incentivize somebody for not knowing the rules.

So everybody is supposed to know the rules and play by them.  Now, we realize the rules are very complicated, but I think it gets back to the concept that in stroke play, you have to protect the field.  A little bit different when you get into match  play, but certainly with stroke play, there's kind of that principle that you need to protect the field.

Q.  I guess for both of you, I know about Harrington; I know about Villegas; but there's not many more that I know about this year or even last year.  So I'm just wondering why the urgency over what happens very, very seldom.  

PETER DAWSON:  I can only say to that that I'm pleased it isn't a frequent occurrence.  But I think when it does happen, it's been serious and disproportionate.  So while I agree, thank goodness, there has not been a huge frequency of this, but when they do occur, I think they are extremely unfortunate; and if we have a mechanism to deal with it, we should invoke it, and I'm glad we found one.

MIKE DAVIS:  I agree with that.  Alex, what I would say, is that the beauty of this, is this really should be applied very, very, very seldom.  But we feel that when some of these things do come up, they really are unfair situations.

And I think these probably come up a little bit more than what you might think.  I mean, I can think of the double‑hit situation.  It came up last year at Pebble Beach.  Now, we didn't have a disqualification because we became aware of it before he returned his scorecard, and Peter Hanson had a double ‑‑ that was Shaun Micheel; and Peter Hanson had a double‑hit situation.

I think there's been enough of these come up that we are really bothered that they were not coming up three years ago before High Definition TV and zooming in and slow‑mo and the rest.

So I think there's been enough come up, and we think ‑‑ there's nothing to make us think that they are not going to continue to keep coming up.

Q.  Are you sensitive to the public perception of the rules and the application of those rules?  

MIKE DAVIS:  Jim, I would say to an extent we are.  I think it's important for the R&A and for the USGA to make sure that the rules are written in a concise and fair manner.  And you know, some of the comments that get made about the difficulty of the rules, we would not argue that.

But if you think about it, there's no other sport where you've got so many different arenas.  You've got stroke play; you've got match play; you've got singles; you've got foursome; you've got fourball.  There's a lot of things that can happen.

And one of the reasons the rules have become more complicated in the last couple of decades is that there is this insatiable appetite to have situations, outcomes, be fair.

Every time you see a situation come up and somebody says, I don't like the outcome of that with the rules.  What happened?  We write an exception.  We write a decision.  In one sense, it's great because out comes are more fair, but it does make the rules a bit more complicated.

But we are trying to stay up with the times.  I think we want the game to prosper, but at the same time, the rules do have to be very clear and concise.  We want to have the answer to questions that come up.

Q.  What about very good scores filled in scorecards but on the wrong side of the scorecard when people start on No. 10, but all of the scores are perfectly okay?  Do you understand what I mean?  So No. 10, 11, 12 is for No. 1, 2, 3, but they are perfectly okay.  

MIKE DAVIS:  What you're really speaking of are scorecard errors.  In stroke play, one of the principles is that at the end of the round, we want each player to basically be responsible for telling the committee what they shot, and part of that is to make sure that they do ‑‑ they make scores individually identifiable; so we know what a player made on the first hole.  We know what the player made on the second hole.  And if all of a sudden a player makes a 4 on the first hole, and he writes it down on the 10th hole; and he makes a 6 on the 10th hole and writes down a 4 on the first, that's providing the committee something that they can't ultimately deal with.

And you have to remember, when you're dealing ‑‑ not every event that is played in golf is the Masters, the U.S. Open or The Open Championship.  This has to work for day‑to‑day golf, too, where maybe you're playing in a local competition and you're handing in your scorecard to the pro shop; and for it not to be that way would cause the committees problem and ultimately affect the competition itself.

So there are certain responsibilities in stroke play with the scorecard that have been around for decades and decades, and there really is no momentum to change that.

RAND JERRIS:  Mike and Peter thank you very much for your time this morning.  Thank you all for joining us.

           

           

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