The Rules of Golf are Changing and May Confuse
AS the golfing year finally comes to an end, most of us will already be looking forward to 2019 and wondering what it might bring. Everybody who loves this game will have enjoyed some incredible highlights during what has been a memorable 2018, and there is every reason to hope that we are in for another outstanding year.
However, there are some clouds on the horizon. For starters, a raft of rule changes come into force on January 1, probably the most radical that the sport has ever seen, and there is every reason to believe that they may cause some confusion and, heaven forbid, more than a little confusion.
If you watched the Hero World Challenge you will know that Tiger Woods escaped penalty when he controversially pushed his ball from beneath a bush with what amounted to a hockey shot. That he made a double contact was beyond argument, as was the fact that he used an illegal stroke to move his ball. He escaped punishment because of a new rule that decrees that if a player says he is not aware of making a double-hit then he will not be penalised.
What? Are they serious? This is effectively a charter for cheating and it will mightily offend all golf purists. We play a game that is proud of the way it polices itself. Cheating is golf’s equivalent of the f-word, and anybody who knowingly breaks the rules in rightly ostracised by fellow players. The very fact that rules violations always make such big headlines speaks volumes for the way the game is played. Cheats are thrown out of golf clubs, blackballed, shunned. And quite rightly. But here we are giving them licence to turn around and say: “Nope, I was not aware that I hit that ball twice,” even when they know full well that they did. This is something that is unlikely to come up very often in the professional game, but at club level it happens far more often because we are not as skilled. Can you imagine the arguments that will ensue?
And then there is the new rule that allows us to drop a ball from knee height. Admittedly this was changed. Originally we were going to be allowed to drop the ball from six inches until somebody pointed out that this would be exactly the same as placing the ball. So the USGA and R&A went back to the drawing board and came up with the knee-high rule. Will somebody please explain what was wrong with dropping a ball from shoulder height? Let’s be clear about this. You are dropping the ball under PENALTY so why on earth would the lawmakers want to give anybody any form of advantage? Oh, and you can drop it from knee height while kneeling down too. Yes, really,
???? 2019 TAKING RELIEF AND DROPPING RULE CHANGES ????— The R&A (@RandA) December 3, 2018
Need to take relief? ???? Click the link to learn about all the new changes ahead of January 1 and make sure you are #RulesReady ???? https://t.co/Dvf4R2IH7s ?? pic.twitter.com/lgRMx3rkYP
On the plus side, there are now effectively “only’” 24 rules and a new Player’s Edition has been published but how many people do you know at your golf club who have actually bothered to pick up a copy? More to the point, how many do you know who have bothered to read it? You can imagine the chaos that will ensue from January 1, can’t you, as club golfers argue about what is and what isn’t now allowed?
Just to be clear, from January 1, you will no longer have to remove the flag when putting. Bryson DeChambeau reckons that he is going to leave the flag in even when he is faced with short putts. This is a rule that has actually been designed to speed up play. If you are on the green but are 60-feet from the hole, you will no longer have to wait for your playing partner (or caddie) to tend the flag. You can just go ahead and play, and if you hit the pin there will be no penalty. There are those who believe that it will provide an advantage, and they may have a point - if you hit the ball far too hard and it strikes the flagstick it will either stop the ball, or you could even see you ball strike the stick and disappear into the hole. Is that fair? Is that within the true spirit of the game? One senses that Arnold Palmer will be turning in his grave.
Oh, and you will also now be able to tap down spike marks (this is long overdue) and touch the line of your putt with your putter, your foot or anything else you fancy - as long as you don’t improve it. Good luck with settling those arguments when somebody starts walking across the green tapping down every possible indentation with his putter and tries to tell you he is not improving the line of his putt.
Most club golfers hate bunkers. Now, if you find yourself plugged in the sand you can declare your ball unplayable and drop it under a penalty of two shots and take it outside the trap rather than taking umpteen ugly swipes to move the thing. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but isn’t learning how to play a ball from a plugged lie part and parcel of the basic skills of the game of golf? There is some good news though - at some point we have all lost our balance in a bunker and grounded our club as we attempt to remain on our feet. In the past, that would have brought a penalty. No longer. But be careful - you are still not allowed to ground your club while addressing the ball.
More good news - you can move loose impediments in a penalty zone, and you can ground your club when playing from a water hazard. Best of all, if you are looking for a lost ball, you have to find it inside three minutes (previously it was five minutes) - this, like many of the other changes, is designed to speed up play. And that can’t be a bad thing.
Don’t be surprised, however, to see some of these changes being revisited in the months ahead.
For more on the Rules of Golf, visit https://www.randa.org/en/rog/2019/pages/the-rules-of-golf.
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