New Jersey: Players will no longer be penalised if their golf ball is moved by a sudden gust of wind after it has been addressed, the game`s governing bodies said on Monday.
This rule has long been regarded as among the most unfair in golf, with Northern Ireland`s Rory McIlroy and American Webb Simpson notable victims during tournaments this year.
The change, announced jointly by the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A), is among nine principal rules which have been amended for 2012-15.
"A new exception is added which exonerates the player from penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move," the USGA said.
"For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position."
McIlroy was penalised one shot during the final round of the British Open after his ball was moved by the wind on the seventh green after he had addressed it. He ended up making a bogey there, though he was never in contention for the title.
Simpson`s penalty was more costly as the American was leading by one shot in the final round of the PGA Tour`s New Orleans Classic in May when he fell victim to the rule.
At the par-four 15th, he was docked a one-stroke penalty when his ball fractionally moved in the wind after he had grounded his putter.
Facing a tap-in par putt from one foot, Simpson placed his putter roughly five inches behind the ball without taking a stance and immediately backed away as his ball oscillated.
After summoning rules official Gary Young to review the incident, he was penalised and ended up with a bogey five to drop back into a tie for the lead.
Simpson ended up losing the tournament to compatriot Bubba Watson on the second hole of a playoff.
Triple major champion Padraig Harrington, who is an R&A ambassador, was delighted with the rule change.
"Every time the wind blows, I am worried that my ball is going to move and I am worried about grounding my putter, distracting me from trying to hole my putt," he said.
"This change will speed up play, there won`t be as many suspensions and players won`t be getting penalised or disqualified unfairly. It is definitely giving us players a little bit of a break."
In other changes, players will be permitted to "smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, including before playing from that hazard, provided it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and Rule 13-2 (improving lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play) is not breached".
Players will no longer be disqualified from a tournament if they start late but within five minutes of their assigned tee time.
"(The penalty) is reduced from disqualification to loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play," the USGA said. "Previously this penalty reduction could be introduced as a condition of competition."
David Rickman, the R&A`s director of rules and equipment standards, said the changes announced on Monday had been "relatively modest" after an extensive review.
"The rules of golf are constantly evolving and our hope is that what we have produced for 2012 is clear, informed by common sense and reflective of the demands of the modern game," he added.