ERIN, WISCONSIN — You’ve seen ’em. Men wearing ties, white shirts and grey trousers holding thick, black books. Around one sleeve of their shirt, just above the elbow, would be a ribbon designating them as people of importance. Some would carry a shooting stick in case it rained and to sit on from time to time.
Got ’em? They are USGA rules officials accompanying each group of competitors in the US Open, there to deal with any rules issue that their group of players might encounter during their 18 holes.
They’re gone now as part of the changes the USGA instituted following the criticism of Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 US Open, and the fiasco concerning Dustin Johnson at last year’s Open when he was warned that he might have broken a rule on the fifth hole of the final round and was assessed a one-stroke penalty when he finished his round.
Instead of walking officials, the USGA will now have rules officials stationed every three holes with immediate access to Thomas Pagel, the chief referee, who is empowered to make instant decisions.
Two other changes from last year: Under a local rule, players no longer will be penalised if a ball or ball marker is accidentally moved on a green. “Likewise, a new decision adopted in April regarding the naked eye and reasonable judgement standards is available,” said John Bodenhamer, the USGA’s managing director of rules, competitions and equipment.
These changes were an admittance by the USGA that all had not gone well at Oakmont last year nor in the Open at Chambers Bay the year before. “We know we’ve had some issues the past two years,” said Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. “But we mobilized right after last year … and asked ourselves, ‘Where do we need to change?’ And we not only learned but we made changes.”
How much has been changed and whether the changes work will be seen in the coming days.