Has golf just got easier? 'Dustin Johnson rule' changed

    Dustin Johnson was eventually penalized a stroke for a rule infringement in June's US Open at Oakmont.

    Story highlights

    • Rule change for balls accidentally moving on greens
    • No penalty to be incurred
    • Rule comes into force January 2017

    (CNN)Golf's rules can be mind-boggling and the penalties draconian, but lawmakers are slowly relenting -- and a new change could help ease the pain players sometimes face.

    From January 1, a ball or ball marker that is deemed to have been moved accidentally on the green can be replaced with no loss of stroke.
      The local rule -- at the discretion of tournament or course organizers -- has been altered in part in response to the farcical situation at the US Open in June when Dustin Johnson's ball was judged to have moved fractionally on the fifth green.
      Johnson protested his innocence and was initially cleared of any error, but officials then revisited the incident.
      The American was told he could later be subject to a one-shot penalty, and the rest of the final round was played with a question mark hanging over his score.
      Johnson eventually finished four shots clear to win his first major title, but the margin of victory was amended to three when the penalty was subsequently applied.

      'Modernization'

      The rule covers situations such as accidentally dropping or moving your ball or marker, or that of an opponent, or inadvertently causing the ball to move.
      "Eliminating this penalty responds to the concerns we have heard from both golfers and committees about the difficulties in applying the current rules when a player accidentally causes a ball to move on the putting green," said Thomas Pagel, United States Golf Association (USGA) senior director, rules of golf and amateur status.
      "This change is a good example of the type of rules modernization changes we hope to implement after completing our fundamental review of all of the rules. We are looking for ways to improve the rules by making them easier to understand and apply."
      The local rule, announced jointly by the USGA and the R&A -- golf's governing body outside the US and Mexico -- is a discretionary law, not a permanent rule.
      It has been welcomed by all the game's major tours and competitions, including the Masters, the USGA added in a statement.
      The main body of golf's rules are reviewed on a four-year cycle and will next be overhauled in 2020.