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US Open: Golf officials hope new rules approach brings smooth play

ERIN, Wisconsin, June 14 (Reuters) - Last year's rules snafu that clouded the last nine holes of the U.S. Open at Oakmont had a ripple effect on the U.S. Golf Association, which has taken action to avoid confusion at Erin Hills starting on Thursday.

Uncertainty over a possible penalty stroke lingered over final-round leader Dustin Johnson, putting the status of the leaderboard in doubt before Johnson pulled away for an emphatic victory for his maiden major.

Changes at Erin Hills include reliance on a central group of rules officials headed by chief referee Thomas Pagel, who is empowered to make rulings, use of on-course video replay stations and adoption of local rules offering a more commonsense approach to inadvertent ball movement on the greens.

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10 highest-paid golfers of 2017
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10 highest-paid golfers of 2017
10. Gary Player

On course: --

Off course: $15,000,000

Total: $15,000,000

9. Adam Scott

On course: $8,160,920

Off course: $6,900,000

Total: $15,060,920

8. Jason Day

On course: $8,845,112

Off course: $10,750,000

Total: $19,595,112

7. Dustin Johnson

On course: $12,664,185

Off course: $7,100,000

Total: $19,764,185

6. Jack Nicklaus

On course: $42,000

Off course: $20,000,000

Total: $20,042,000

5. Jordan Spieth

On course: $6,403,470

Off course: $24,000,000

Total: $30,403,470

4. Tiger Woods

On course: $107,000

Off course: $34,607,000

Total: $34,607,000

3. Phil Mickelson

On course: $4,267,628

Off course: $33,500,000

Total: $37,767,628

2. Arnold Palmer

On course: --

Off course: $40,000,000

Total: $40,000,000

1. Rory McIlroy

On course: $17,514,505

Off course: $32,000,000

Total: $49,514,505
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Under the new protocols, Johnson would not be subject to a penalty as he had at Oakmont when his ball moved slightly before he addressed his putt on the fifth green of the final round. He would just remark his ball and play on.

The USGA came in for withering criticism from players and fans alike for taking so long to clear up the Johnson ruling.

"It affects the whole organization," USGA executive director/CEO Mike Davis told reporters at a news conference on the eve of the opening round at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

"Anytime your competency comes into question, that affects the people that are doing our equipment testing, the agronomic people on the greens section, our people in dealing with the history of the game and helping to grow the game.

"So, of course, we want to avoid those things.

"Moving forward we want a nice, smooth U.S. Open."

Johnson officially claimed a three-stroke win despite a one-stroke penalty imposed after the round.

John Bodenhamer, the USGA senior managing director of Championships & Governance, outlined the protocol changes at the news conference, reiterating details he shared in an interview with Reuters last week and.

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WAGs of notable Masters golfers
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WAGs of notable Masters golfers

Daniel Berger's wife, Victoria Slater

(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Paul Casey's wife, Pollyanna Woodward

(Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)

Roberto Castro's wife, Katie Castro

(Photo via Twitter)

Kevin Chappell's wife, Elizabeth Chappell

Jason Day's wife, Ellie Harvey

(Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

Ross Fisher's wife Joanne Fisher

(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Branden Grace's girlfriend, Nieke Coetzee

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Bill Haas' wife, Julie Haas

(Photo by Vincent Sandoval/WireImage)

Adam Hadwin's fiancee, Jessica Dawn

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Russell Henley's wife, Teil Duncan

(Photo by Thomas Concordia/Getty Images)

Charley Hoffman's wife, Stacy Vasil

JB Holmes' wife, Sara Holmes

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Dustin Johnson's fiancee, Paulina Gretzky

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Kevin Kisner's wife, Brittany Kisner

(Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Brooks Koepka's girlfriend, Becky Edwards

(Photo by Scott Halleran/PGA of America via Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy's girlfriend Erica Stoll

(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Phil Mickelson's wife Amy Mickelson

(Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Ryan Moore's wife, Nichole Olson

Alex Noren's fiancee Jennifer Kovacs

(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Webb Simpson's wife, Taylor Dowd Simpson

(Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)

Jordan Speith's girlfriend Annie Varret

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Daniel Summerhays' wife, Emily Summerhays

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Hudson Swafford's wife, Katherine Wainwright Brandon

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Bubba Watson's wife, Angie Ball

(Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

Chris Wood's wife, Bethany Wood

(Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Danny Willett's wife ,Nicole Willett

(Photo credit OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

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Bodenhamer said another change was dispensing with having a referee walk with each group. Instead, referees will be assigned two or three holes to officiate "so they can familiarize themselves with every aspect and nuance of those couple of holes."

"Our main goal is for this week to be about the players and their journey to the final round," Bodenhamer added: "They're the story of this championship." (Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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