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USGA and R&A Massive Rule Changes: And A Few We Would Have Liked

03/06/2017

The times they are a changin’.

Last week golf’s two major governing bodies, the USGA and The Royal & Ancient, announced a sweeping series of proposed changes to the rule book, the biggest update in over 30 years. The proposed changes, while probably still 20 years too late, are at the very least a step in the right direction.

The USGA and R&A mission is to simplify and make the game easier to understand and play. Something we can certainly all support. None of the proposed changes would take place until January 1, 2019, so don’t freak out the next time you tee it up because you haven’t brushed up on all the changes. Also, for the next six months the golf lords want to hear from you about their ideas. Fans are encouraged to write, call or email the USGA and R&A to give their opinion about the proposed rule changes, what else they should change and anything else you can think of to make the game better. Your voice matters!

Well, blue blazers, ask and ye shall receive!

Let’s review some of the biggest proposed changes and my two cents as well. The below rule changes are by no means a complete list. You can find all of the proposed changes on the USGA site.

 

Fans are encouraged to write, call or email the USGA and R&A to give their opinion about the proposed rule changes, what else they should change and anything else you can think of to make the game better. Your voice matters!

 

6 Key Changes Around the green:

  1. If you move your ball or ball marker by accident, simply put it back without penalty.
  2. If you’ve lifted and replaced your ball and it moves due to the wind or some other reason, put it back to where it originally was. Again, no penalty.
  3. Let’s just call these the Dustin Johnson rules. The U.S. champion was involved in a needless controversy during the final round at Oakmont after his ball moved ever so slightly (if it even did) on the 5th hole before he even addressed it. He was then left in limbo by the USGA for most of his round while the USGA debated whether to asses a penalty. The USGA looked bad, the game of golf looked bad, and to his credit, DJ shook it off and cruised to his first major title. The rule change is just basic common sense and it’s a pity it took such a public spectacle for the USGA to get this right, but better late than never. The USGA maintains it was looking into this rule change before Oakmont (color me skeptical), but you can bet the fiasco last summer made this rule change priority #1 for them.
  4. You may now repair spike marks and any artificial damage to the green. Not as big of an issue with metal spikes being almost obsolete but still a much needed update. No reason your birdie putt should be derailed because of a random spike mark in your line. Tap them down and any other others you see.
  5. Touching the line of your putt is allowed so long as you don’t improve the conditions of your putt. Previously this was a 2-stroke penalty or loss of hole in match play.
  6. You can leave the flagstick in while your ball is on the putting green and there is no penalty if your ball hits the flag.

Personally I never saw a need to touch the line of a putt or leave the flagstick in while on the green, but I think these changes will be well received by the masses. You could always place your putter head in front of the ball, as Dave Stockton and Nick

Price often did, without penalty provided you didn’t press down. Both of them were dominant with the flat stick in their day so it clearly worked for them.

3 Big Changes Around Hazards:

  1. Water hazards will now be called penalty areas and marked with red and yellow stakes. Not all penalty areas are necessarily water hazards. They could be a waste area, desert, lava, etc. One stroke penalty if you take a drop.
  2. Grounding your club, removing loose debris and touching the ground with your hand or club in a penalty area is now allowed without penalty
  3. Committees can mark a penalty area red (lateral relief allowed) or yellow (no lateral relief) if they desire. Marking hazards lateral hazards will clear up a lot of confusion and hopefully speed up the game as well. Nobody needs to see someone go all Tin Cup and drown ball after ball trying to clear the water. I have to admit it will be hard to retrain my brain I can ground my club in a hazard or bunker. It was always a fine line to see how close you could get to hovering your club without touching the sand. It never bothered me but I’m sure many amateurs will rejoice they can ground their club in the sand. Give me some time but for now I’ll still hover.

3 Adjustments for Pace of Play:

  1. You are now encouraged to play ready golf and take no more than 40 seconds to play a shot. Also, your time for looking for a lost ball has been reduced from five minutes to three.
  2. A maximum score is recognized for each hole (usually double par or triple bogey) and a player’s score will be capped for the hole. Look, whatever number you write on your scorecard is between you and your conscience. Just stop grinding over a 5-footer for a 9. Pick it up. If you take 4 shots to get out of a bunker I’m picking up your ball. We’ve all been there. This isn’t PGA Tour Q-School. Give yourself a triple and let’s move on to the next tee. My biggest pet peeve on the course is slow play and I applaud any rule to fix it. Golf doesn’t need to take five hours.
  3. Use of distance measuring devices will be permitted unless a local rule says otherwise. I was fortunate to play most of my rounds on a course with yardages on every sprinkler head. I didn’t have to pace off more than 10-15 yards to figure out my yardage. Some courses have a 150 pole in the fairway and nothing else. If you’ve shelled out the money for a yardage reader go ahead and use it. Again, this isn’t a major. I’m guessing your fancy yardage reading device isn’t going to help much anyway.

Conclusion:

All in all, I applaud the moves by the USGA and R&A for bringing the rule book if not into 2017 and beyond, at least the first number now begins with a 2. Personally, I would like to see two more changes made:

1. Eliminate stroke and distance penalty for an out of bounds ball.

If I drive/walk all the way to my ball and find it’s OB by a yard or two, there is no way I’m going back to the tee box to play another ball. I’m going to simply take my penalty stroke and play it from there. After all, we’re trying to speed up play right? Take your medicine and move on but don’t take that lonely walk back to the tee and hold up the group behind you.

2. Moving your ball from a divot.

This might be the dumbest rule in the book. I’m all for playing the ball as it lies but if I smoke a drive right down the middle and find it sitting in a divot I should be entitled to relief. How does a sand-filled divot not count as ground under repair? Even if it’s a fresh divot left by the group in front of me, I shouldn’t be penalized because they didn’t replace their divot.


I’m sure you have your own ideas about what these rule changes and others. Remember these wouldn’t take effect for almost two years so make your voice heard in the next six months. The USGA (and I) welcome your feedback!

Bradley W. Smith (60 Posts)

Bradley is an award-winning journalist who covered golf and other sports for CNN International for more than 15 years. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, he learned to play at Muirfield Village Golf Club. A graduate of Ohio University and the University of Memphis where he received bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism, Bradley now resides in the greater Atlanta area with his wife and daughter.


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