Open officials hoping to avoid Oakmont repeat

Tournament officials are confident there will be no repeat of the farcical scenes which threatened to ruin the U.S. Open in this week’s Open Championship at Royal Troon.

Dustin Johnson won his first major title at Oakmont last month, but only after being given a one-shot penalty following an incident which left players, officials and spectators unsure of his score with just seven holes to play.

The world number six began the final round four shots behind Ireland’s Shane Lowry, but moved two clear of the field before being told on the 12th tee that officials would review an incident on his fifth hole after the round.

Johnson had seen his ball move fractionally as he lined up a par putt, but called in the referee walking with his group and was initially cleared of any wrongdoing before holing out for par.

Fortunately for both Johnson and tournament officials, the challenge of rivals Lowry, Scott Piercy and Sergio Garcia faded and Johnson ensured any penalty would not matter with a stunning birdie on the 18th.

“The team here have been thinking about how to respond and monitor any sort of chain of command around rules for over 10 years now,” chief executive Martin Slumbers said in the R&A’s traditional pre-championship press conference.

“And about 10 years ago a fundamental change was made by the team here which I think makes a big difference in the way we would deal with any situation that arises in the next four days, which is that the chief referee doesn’t leave this compound here.

“He has access to video replays in his office and in addition to that, either Peter (Unsworth, chairman of the championship committee) or I are also always here.

“All sorts of things can happen and generally do happen in this game. It is the speed and the clarity with which we respond and I think it’s a function of us sitting here, just about 50 yards away, being able to respond and provide instructions back to the referees.

“The rules meeting was this morning and the process by which the information goes from the walking referees to our rovers and back into the chief referee’s office was discussed, clarified and reinforced. I think we’re pretty good at getting that right. We’ve made some changes in the light of Oakmont and being more prescriptive.

“But I would say the referees that we have here are highly experienced referees. A lot of them work on the major tours and the major amateur events all year around. We have the best professional referees coming from the tours here as well. Our feeling is that the standard of the refereeing that will be out there this weekend is second to none.”

Slumbers said he was “delighted” that Royal Troon had voted to allow women members, with Muirfield set to have a second ballot on the issue later this year after narrowly failing to get the two-thirds majority required in May and instantly being dropped from the Open rota.

This year’s Open is being broadcast by Sky Sports for the first time after the BBC ended its contract a year early, with live coverage including the opening tee shots from 6:35am on Thursday.

“I think the package of opportunities to view the Open this year are broader than they’ve ever been,” Slumbers added. “You’ve got Sky through to NOW TV, to the two-hour highlights that will be run at prime time on the BBC. I think that combination is very, very powerful.”

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