Rulebook: Accidents Can Happen… Exploring the Softer Side of Golf’s New Rules

by Rich McLean, Golf Canada Rules Official 

So far, we’ve looked at some of the rules changes, and some of the new terms that we’ll use starting in 2019. Now, let’s look at some of the “softer edges” on the rules for next year. Keep in mind though, the rules will still look harshly on purposeful acts that violate the rules.

Under current circumstances (Rule 18-2) a player must be very careful when searching for their ball. There are very limited instances in the rule that allow a ball to be accidentally moved by a player, their equipment or their caddie without penalty. Starting next year, Rule 7.4 will increase the “fudge factor” to allow for accidental movement of a ball during a search anywhere on the golf course. This is a change meant to more actively involve as many resources as possible in looking for a ball, including the player who’s ball it actually is. Players and caddies these days are more hesitant to search for fear that they accidentally move their ball and still get penalized. More eyes = less time = faster play.

This next one dovetails into the recent decision regarding accidental movement of a ball on the putting green. As we all remember, there were several high-profile incidents in 2016 where players claimed (and in some instances had support from fellow players) that their ball at rest had accidentally moved while they were in very close proximity to it. The rule as it was written was very unforgiving, and these players found themselves on the “wrong” side of the decision. A minor (or major, depending on how you feel about it) revolt ensued, and the powers-that-be cobbled together a local rule that would allow for the accidental movement of a ball on the putting green to go un-penalized. Rule 13.1d will now be the golden child of that local rule and accidental movement on the green will be forgiven forevermore. And the citizens rejoiced!

First it was two, then it was one, and now it will be ZERO. There’s almost nothing more embarrassing than getting hit by your own ball after you’ve made a stroke at it. And to add insult to injury, you’d even get “dinged” if your ball hit your equipment or caddie. It’s happened to me, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s happened to you too. And the only ones who get any entertainment from it are everyone else who saw it happen to you. Well next year you can laugh right along with them. Rule 11.1 will absolve a player of both the penalty and emotional pain of accidentally deflecting their ball in motion. However, depending on how hard the ball hits you, you may still experience some physical pain. Hey, we’re good, but we can’t get rid of everything.

Another one in the “insult to injury” category is the old double-hit. Anyone who’s either old enough to have witnessed it (my hand is up) or knows a bit about the history of the game, is familiar with the name T.C. Chen. T.C is from Taiwan, and he managed to win 16 times around the world as a pro, including once on the PGA Tour. He also made the first Double Eagle in US Open history, while tying the records for both the low 36 and 54-hole scores in that same tournament. This was in 1985. The problem is, it was at that same tournament where he made the infamous double-hit heard round the world. He went on to lose the tournament by one shot, and a legend was born… The current rule penalizes a player one additional stroke to go with the original stroke when they hit their ball twice accidentally. Not next year. You accidentally hit your ball twice, you play it again from where it comes to rest, and you move on. No harm, no foul. Isn’t life grand?

The rules makers know that golf is a tough game, but there should also be space for some wiggle room when we mess up. As Forrest Gump famously said, “’It’ happens.” And in 2019 when “it” happens in your golf game, it shouldn’t feel so “itty”.

/ Rich McLean
Rich McLean is Golf Canada Level 4 Referee from Kanata, Ontario. He calls himself “a lifelong player, and fan of this great game.” You can find him on Twitter, @LobWedge. “Golf has given me so much joy, and this is my small way of giving back.  Have fun. Play smart. Play well.”

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