Tour Confidential Extra: The good, bad of the proposed Rules of Golf changes

February 28, 2017

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from the Sports Illustrated Golf Group, with the occasional special guest or two chiming in as well. But with the USGA and R&A making a major announcement regarding proposed changes to the Rules of Golf, we called an emergency roundtable with our experts. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. The USGA and the R&A proposed sweeping changes to the Rules of Golf today, covering everything from moving balls to spike marks to how to take a drop. The intent is to “modernize the Rules and make them easier to understand and apply.” Satisfied? And what change are you most excited about?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I wouldn’t call them sweeping. But they are smart and they will make things faster (marginally) and simpler (more significantly).

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): I’m excited about all of it because it signals a long-overdue recognition that the rules have gotten out of control and are utterly befuddling to the average golfer, to say nothing of most pros. Now the USGA needs to build on this and keep slashing away.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): The proposed changes far exceeded my expectations. The ball moving on the green obviously needed to be addressed, but there are many surprises that, if they are approved, are huge positive steps. At last, courses can paint white stakes red. At last, distance-measuring devices are acceptable. At last, a specific time — 40 seconds — has been recommended to complete a shot. And we can now sink a putt with the flagstick still in the cup without penalty. That news should have rule-abiding singles golfers dancing in the fairways.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): There’s a lot to like. Simplifying the drop. Eliminating what we’ve come to think of as the DJ rule. No penalty for grounding your club in a marked-off hazard area. If you’re in a hazard, odds are you’ve already got an awful lie, which is penalty enough. That’s one of many victories for common sense. Oh, and I also like the shorter sentences, and referring to readers directly as “you” in the player’s handbook. No more, “the player does this, the player does that” formality.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF (@joepassov): Love it, even if it didn’t go far enough. A great start, for sure. It simplifies matters, speeds up play, and comes much closer to passing the “common sense” test for most of the folks who make up my typical foursome. And as an Arizona golfer, I’m pleased to see that red- and yellow-marked “penalty areas” may now cover areas of desert — and jungle and lava rock, for when I travel. Drop and move on — no need to scuff a club and perhaps slash at a snake.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Good to see that the moving-ball issue will be put to rest. That never made any sense. Also, feel free to tap down those spike marks, tour pros. Which, of course, means no more tapping the green in disgust after a missed three-footer.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): I’m a big fan of all the changes across the board. I’ve always felt the wording of the rules sounded much more like a court document than a guideline for how to play a sport, and contributed in a small way to making the game appear more elitist than it should. I love the spike mark rules change most. The one that applies most to me as a caddie is the distance measuring device change. I would hope they would keep those out of the PGA Tour as a local rule, as well as major championships using a local rule. I think there is a skill in figuring out a yardage when your player has hit one off course … well off course. To be able to simply whip out your DMD and laser the flagstick would take out an important component of what the players and the caddies have to do. There should also be a penalty for someone like Fred Couples, whose caddie at the Australian Open one year couldn’t continue because of a knee injury and I filled in for a couple of days. On one of the par-3s, they had moved the tee markers, board signs and the car on the tee forward one tee box, and his caddie (me) failed to notice this fairly obvious ploy. I gave him a yardage from the original tee box and he hit the prettiest 7-iron you’ve ever seen right over the flagstick into the sand dunes/bushes. (He made an absurd par from there.) Fred should be penalized for being dumb enough to hire me, and if I had a DMD, he wouldn’t have been. I’d also be very interested in how the change in touching your intended line of play on the putting green will apply to reading greens with Aimpoint. Will those who use this method be able to take their reads standing on their line?

MORE RULES  |  Bamberger: Sensible start, but work to be done  |  The 36 main proposed changes and what they mean for you  |  9 essential things you need to know about the rules changes

2. You’ve been invited to sit in on a USGA rules committee meeting. What’s the next rule that needs to be addressed?

Bamberger: OB and lost ball. The time has come to paint the white stakes red and to drop your ball where you think it ought to be. Stroke, but not distance.

Shipnuck: That’s the obvious one. And paint the yellow stakes red, too. Most amateurs don’t know the difference anyway.

Ritter: The only new rule that feels a little off is how to drop a ball when taking relief. I like that we’re attempting to keep it simple, but allowing golfers to hold a ball as low as one inch above the grass before dropping creates this strange image of players crouching low to plunk their ball in little tufts of grass. How about a rule to drop a ball from a height above the player’s belt? But that’s a minor quibble. Overall these changes are a home run.

Godich: Taking that a step further, I’ve never understood why a player is allowed to clean his or her ball before taking a drop. Why should anyone be granted that opportunity after hitting a shot that clanks off a grandstand and into heavy rough? And for that matter, the same rule should apply in the fairway. Why should I be allowed to clean mud off of my ball because it came to rest on a sprinkler head, while my playing partner is afforded no such opportunity for a striped tee shot? No more preferred drops, USGA!  

Sens: Stroke and distance. They’ve taken steps to reduce the number of times we’ll have to see a player making that long, time-consuming walk of shame back to the tee to reload. But they still haven’t eliminated it entirely. There are some stubborn questions to resolve. But here’s a case where you could make an argument for bifurcation. That clock-eating walk is something that should never, ever have to happen in a round of weekend golf.

Passov: I agree with all of the above, and will add taking relief in the fairway from divots or sand-filled divots. For all of the relief we get from wet spots, freshly sodded areas, staked trees, cart paths — I could go on, and on — why should you get punished for hitting an excellent shot, and getting hosed with the result, simply because you played later in the day than the guy who had been there just before you? I’ve played enough links golf to know and appreciate the role that bad (or good) bounces play, but divots? That’s another matter.

Wood: Agree with all of the above, ESPECIALLY sand-filled divots. To me, they are, by definition, under repair. A replaced or sanded divot should be ground under repair (fairways only) and the player should be allowed a free drop.