Rulebook: Everyone Take A Deep Breath

w/ Rich McLean, Golf Canada Rules Official @lobwedge 

So, we’re a little under three months into the “New Rules” and, so far, things have been pretty quiet. Steady as we go…Okay, I almost got through that without rolling my eyes and smiling.

Thanks to the world’s professional golf tours, we’ve all had a front row seat to witness several, let’s say challenges, about the latest iteration of our rules. Right from January 3rd in Kapalua it’s been interesting to watch the pros navigate their way through these updates in real time, and at the same time, frustrating to see some of the reactions by everyday players and pros alike on social media. The fact that these scenes have been broadcast live around the world, and that for the first time ever in a new rules cycle, platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have also added an immediate means of discussing them, you had to know that things would escalate quickly, and sadly in many cases, not in a positive way. The irresistible force meets the immovable object.

Putting with the flagstick in, dropping issues, backstopping, pace of play, caddies lining up players, players damaging greens, incorrect scorecards… It’s been a fun few weeks. Let’s look at two of the more popular talking points that have come up so far, Rule 13.2 The Flagstick, and Rule 14.3 Dropping Ball in Relief Area.

Rule 13.2a allows a player whose ball is on the green to putt with the flagstick left in the hole, and if the ball strikes said flagstick, there is no penalty. This rule change was made to help with pace of play, but there are also a lot of folks commenting that by allowing this operation you’re also giving some players an advantage over others by providing a “backstop” of sorts to help gather the ball into the hole. I would argue that this is not an advantage because it is an option under the rule provided to all players, not just a few. There is no advantage gained if the rule applies equally to all.

Rule 14.3b provides guidance on the proper method of dropping a ball within a specific relief area (such as taking relief from a Penalty Area or for an Unplayable Ball). The rule requires the player to drop the ball from “knee height” with the reason being that the ball when dropped is now required to stay within the measured relief area when it comes to rest. Again, another rule change meant to help with speed of play, but also to help ensure that the ball is meant to stay where it’s dropped instead of allowing it to roll up to two club lengths as was allowed under the old rule, greatly increasing the possibility of an improvement, or even worsening, of a player’s lie. However, many of the comments I’ve seen online have been less than praiseworthy about this new method, especially as we’ve seen several pros resembling newborn deer in their efforts to execute the move.

Some Sober Reflection

I’m not trying to lay blame here, but on the other hand a bit of sober reflection would not go amiss before posting a “hot take” on a rules issue. It’s very easy to call out something new as “dumb” or “idiotic” when we don’t fully understand it. It’s also easy to cry out for changes. It’s in our nature. I get it. On the other hand, getting used to a new way of doing things requires some added patience. As I’ve said previously, we’re all in this together. Let’s step back and take some time to let these changes sink in and try to understand the logic behind them. Believe it or not, there is an intentional connectivity built in to the rules. A player’s action while seemingly simple on the surface, can have a ripple effect throughout the book where other rules may come in to play. The same consideration should be taken when calling out a rules situation at face value. Just like lining up a putt, you look at it from all sides before making your play. Let’s try and remember this when looking at the 2019 Rules and give them a chance to age a bit first.

/ 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.”

1 Comment on Rulebook: Everyone Take A Deep Breath

  1. Putting with the flagstick in can cause a ball to kick out just as easily as falling into the hole.
    The biggest issue this rule has caused is players leaving the flagstick in when retreiving their ball from the hole and the resulting damage this causes around the edges ie caved in.
    Pull the flag before you take your ball from the cup!!

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