USGA, R&A propose changes to rules

Thomas Pagel

Thomas Pagel

The recent announcement from the USGA and the R&A about 30 proposed rules changes certainly makes common sense and should make them easier to understand and be a lot fairer to golfers of all skill levels.

“It is important that the rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played, but we have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles and character,” said David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of rules and equipment standards.

“We are excited and encouraged by the potential this work brings, both through the proposed new Rules and the opportunities to use technology to deliver them,” said Thomas Pagel, senior director of Rules & Amateur Status for the USGA. “We look forward to an ongoing conversation with golfers during the feedback period in the months ahead.”

The changes, ranging from grounding a club in a penalty area, to determining if a ball moved, to repairing damage on greens, to relaxing dropping procedures should also help eliminate the need to use video replays to determine if an infraction occurred.

For example, a player’s reasonable judgement will not be second-guessed based on a video review when he is estimating or measuring a spot, point, line, area or distance under a rule if the player did all that could be reasonably expected.

When a player has good reason to mark and lift a ball to identify it, check for damage or to see if it lies in a condition where relief is allowed, the player would no longer have to announce to another player or his marker that he is doing so.

Unlike the case at last year’s U.S. Open involving Dustin Johnson, a player will be penalized only when it is known, or virtually certain (at least 95 percent), that he caused his ball to move. The current rule is he is penalized if the weight of evidence was more likely than not that he was the cause and that’s why Johnson was penalized.

The player will be allowed to replace the ball on its estimated original spot with no penalty under the new rule. The same will be true if a player accidentally causes his ball to move during a search. In the event, its exact location is not known, the player will place it on the estimated spot instead of dropping it.

When a ball has been moved by wind or moved for no clear reason currently, it is in play from the new location. That will change and the ball must be replaced on its original spot.

If a player’s ball in motion accidentally hits him, his caddie or the person attending the flagstick or the attended or removed flagstick, there will be no penalty. Under the new code, a player may leave the flagstick in the hole when putting.

Under current rules, a player must drop in a specific area, sometimes it is on or as near as possible to a spot or line. The new rule says it must come to rest in the relief area, or else the ball must be re-dropped. Instead of using one or two club-lengths, the relief area will be a fixed distance of 20 inches or 80 inches. Personally, I prefer using clubs as how many players will be able to determine distances in inches without a ruler. The ruling bodies suggest making markings on the shafts of clubs.

Under current rules, a player when dropping a ball must stand erect, hold the ball at shoulder height and arm’s length when making a drop. However, many do not seem to do this. Under the new rule, a player can drop from a little as one inch above the ground. He can also substitute a ball if he wants.

To speed up play, the rules makers will reduce from five to three minutes the time allowed to search for a ball. They also suggest golfers play “ready golf,” and even hit out of order except when playing the math play format and recommend that players make strokes in no more than 40 seconds.

In addition, committees will be allowed to use a “maximum score” form of stroke play where a player’s score is capped at double par or triple bogey.

The term “general area” will replace “through the green” when talking about getting relief from an embedded ball unless a local rule has been adopted restricting relief only to areas cut to fairway height or less. Of course, no relief is allowed from sand.

A player may repair almost any damage, including spike marks and animal damage on the putting greens under the new proposal and can even touch the line of the putt or the putting green in pointing out a target without penalty.

Committees will be able to mark areas of desert, jungle or lava rock in addition to water hazards as penalty areas going forward. A one-stroke penalty will be added. They can use red or yellow in doing the markings. However, a player would not be allowed to take relief on the opposite side as is allowed now.

No penalty would occur if a player moves loose impediments, touches the ground with a hand or club or grounds his club in a penalty area, including a bunker.

Under a penalty of two strokes, a player may take relief outside a bunker on a line from the hole through where the ball was at rest if he declares his ball unplayable.

While some LPGA professionals will no doubt not like it, a caddie will not be able to stand behind a player to assist with alignment issues prior to making a stroke.

A caddie may lift a player’s ball on the putting green without the player’s specific authorization.

A player will be allowed to use a rangefinder unless a local rule is used to not allow it.

Under the proposed rules changes, committees may adopt their own code of player conduct and set the penalties for violations.

The USGA and R&A will accept feedback on these proposed changes until the end of August. After incorporating feedback, they will release a final revised code next spring. Then any new rules will

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