LIKE MOST peo­ple in golf, I’ve been watch­ing with in­ter­est as the up­com­ing “re­fresh­ing” of the rule book has evolved. Like just about ev­ery­one, I would agree that it is some­thing that has been needed for a long time. We started with 10 rules – which was prob­a­bly about right – but, as hu­mans tend to do, we then started ask­ing ques­tions. And for every an­swer we got two more ques­tions. Which is why the “de­ci­sions book” is now about three-feet thick.

One of the cra­zi­est as­pects of tour golf is that our of­fi­cials don’t make their on-course rul­ings out of the rule book. In­stead, they con­sult the de­ci­sions book, which is full of weird and won­der­ful things that have hap­pened in the past. It’s just like the le­gal sys­tem re­ally.

The bot­tom line is that things have be­come way too com­pli­cated. For me, the game should be “tee it up be­hind the mark­ers, count every shot and play the ball as it lies.” There’s not much more you need to know, as long as you run with the phi­los­o­phy that, if some­one is get­ting an un­fair ad­van­tage, they get a penalty. But if no ad­van­tage is ac­crued, there is no penalty. Then move on.

Yes, that might all be a lit­tle bit ide­al­is­tic. But if com­mon sense al­ways pre­vailed, that is pretty much how the game would be played. Ev­ery­thing would work out fine. Look at foot­ball. If the ball goes out of bounds, a player throws it back in some­where close to where it left the field. It’s not an ex­act sci­ence. Yes, he prob­a­bly sneaks a few yards, but does that re­ally mat­ter? Not re­ally.

Drops in golf should be sim­i­lar. Ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion and per­fect black-and-white fol­low­ing of the rules is folly. And a waste of time. How many times have you watched a pro take a drop away from, say, a cart path, all the while know­ing that he is go­ing to have to take an­other drop be­fore he can play on? Ev­ery­one knows where the ball is go­ing to end up. So why not just go straight to the sec­ond drop and get on with the game?

The idea that peo­ple can in­cur penal­ties when they are try­ing to fol­low the rules but get some­thing slightly wrong is an­other non­sense. It’s ridicu­lous. All we are do­ing is com­pli­cat­ing a process that doesn’t need to be com­pli­cated. All of the above con­fuses peo­ple and slows up play un­nec­es­sar­ily. Be­sides, is there any­one out there who knows all the rules? I know I don’t.

Every year, a cou­ple of things come up that I have never heard of be­fore. Granted, the layer of ex­tra lo­cal rules on tour are a lot dif­fer­ent from those at your lo­cal club. And prob­a­bly should be. There is so much more in­fra­struc­ture out on the course. And that cre­ates sit­u­a­tions.

What re­ally gets me go­ing is when there is a lack of con­sis­tency in the rules. Take plugged lies. At just about every course you get a free­drop if the ball is plugged in the fair­way. But only at some – not all – do you get a drop from a plugged lie in the rough. It’s con­fus­ing to peo­ple and leads to mis­takes. And then penal­ties. All be­cause of an ob­ses­sion with “fair­ness.” Iron­i­cally, when that is the aim, most times we ac­tu­ally get fur­ther away from eq­uity. In­stead, we need to em­brace com­mon sense.

The ul­ti­mate goal is to have the best player win in the spirit that golf is meant to be played. That is all the rules are there to do. But I’m not sure we have al­ways achieved that. Look at some of the stuff that has gone on over the years.

A re­cent ex­am­ple is what hap­pened to Dustin John­son en route to him win­ning the 2016 US Open at Oak­mont. Even if Dustin did ‘bump’ the ball with his put­ter on that green – which I’m sure he did not – what ad­van­tage did he get? None. The ball moved a dim­ple-length. Which made no dif­fer­ence to his next putt. So why pe­nalise him? If any of us bump our ball off the tee, we get to re­place it with no penalty. So what is the dif­fer­ence if it hap­pens on the green? If a ball has been moved un­in­ten­tion­ally, put it back and move on. No penalty.

Then there is the mark­ing of score­cards. Yes, they are im­por­tant when there are no live scorers keep­ing track of every shot. And yes, we need to keep track of what ev­ery­one does on the course. But the fact that you can gain or lose


shots be­cause of bad ac­count­ing is an­other non­sense. That has noth­ing to do with golf. If some­one does make a mis­take in the ad­di­tion, fix it and move on.

The idea that you can put in all the ef­fort re­quired to win an event, then have it all taken away be­cause you put the wrong num­ber in a lit­tle box on a card is crazy. That is not a mis­take worth pun­ish­ing. Look at what hap­pened in the 1968 Masters. Ev­ery­one in the world knows that Roberto de Vi­cenzo made a birdie on the 71st hole. It was shown on tele­vi­sion. So what dif­fer­ence does it make if, a few min­utes later, Tommy Aaron writes down ‘4’ in the box marked ’17?’ Change it to ‘3’ and go from there.

Yes, Roberto made a mis­take. But so did Tommy. Yet only one of them was pe­nalised. Just one more in­con­sis­tency when the aim is ‘fair­ness.’

I’ve had my mo­ments with (tour-spe­cific) Why would it have been nec­es­sary to take this drop on a cart path? rules too. Last year at the Cana­dian Open I drove into a bunker up the right side of the first fair­way. My next shot caught the left-to-right wind and fin­ished 20-yards to the right of the green. The ball was ac­tu­ally in­side a haz­ard­line, although I still had an un­re­stricted swing and a clear shot to the pin. No prob­lem.

Ah, but there was a cam­era tower be­tween me and the flag. I was en­ti­tled to a drop be­cause the tower was in my way, but I had to drop in­side the haz­ard. That would have meant me drop­ping in what can only be de­scribed as “gunge.” Which was im­pos­si­ble.

In other words, if the tour­na­ment had not been go­ing on, I would have had a clear shot only 20-yards from the green and a re­al­is­tic chance to get up-and-down for par. But be­cause the tour­na­ment was there, I was forced to chip around the cam­era tower. The whole point of the “tem­po­rary im­mov­able ob­struc­tion” and “line of sight” rules was to give me the equiv­a­lent shot if the thing in the way wasn’t there. But that didn’t hap­pen. I was at the mercy of the of­fi­cial who drew the haz­ard line. I got screwed. Which wasn’t ‘fair.’

The one rule I would ac­tu­ally change is out of bounds. “Stroke-and-dis­tance” is the most ridicu­lous penalty in the game, at least where the ba­sic, core rules are con­cerned. Imag­ine this. You drive the ball 300-yards, but one-inch OB and you are forced to play three off the tee. Then the next guy steps up and misses the ball. De­spite com­mit­ting the big­ger crime, his next shot is his sec­ond, not his third. Fair? I think not.

In­stead, the guy who hits OB, should have a choice. He can ei­ther play two off the tee, or treat the sit­u­a­tion as if he has hit into a haz­ard. In other words, he can drop an­other ball where his first crossed the OB line un­der penalty of one-shot. Sim­ple.

Which is ex­actly what the rules – all too of­ten – are not.

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