New rules aim to speed up the game

Philip Reid: page 8

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Golf Cor­re­spon­dent Philip Reid

If you’ve ever felt like you needed a law de­gree or a math­e­mat­i­cal qual­i­fi­ca­tion to play a sim­ple round of golf, one which in­volves hit­ting a small white sphere from point A to point B with the ul­ti­mate aim of get­ting the ball into the tin cup in as few strokes as pos­si­ble, then the gov­ern­ing bod­ies – ie the R&A and the USGA – of the sport hope they’ve (fi­nally) made life eas­ier.

Be­cause, from Jan­uary 1st, play­ers play­ing the game, re­gard­less of their lev­els and where they are play­ing, will have a new, re­vised, sim­pler set of golf rules to abide by.

Re­duced from 34 rules to 24, with a swathe of changes to bring com­mon sense onto the golf course but also to speed up the game, the re­vised rules have been seven years in the mak­ing, go­ing through a con­sul­ta­tion process and re­view that at­tracted re­views and opin­ions from golfers world­wide.

The re­view process teed-off in 2012 and was ini­ti­ated to en­sure eas­ier un­der­stand­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rules to make the game more at­trac­tive and ac­ces­si­ble for new­com­ers.

As David Rick­man, the R&A’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of gov­er­nance, put it, the new rules came about “af­ter a col­lab­o­ra­tive and wide-rang­ing re­view process which has em­braced the views of golfers, rules ex­perts and ad­min­is­tra­tors world­wide . . . the new rules are more in tune with what golfers would like and are eas­ier to un­der­stand and ap­ply.” Five of the key rule changes

1 The Knee Drop

If, like Pádraig Har­ring­ton, you ac­tu­ally went to the trou­ble of prac­tic­ing how to drop a ball from shoul­der height, the chances of a poor lie were prob­a­bly less likely.

In his case, he’d place a coin on the ground and try to hit the metal with his prac­tice drops. Most golf­ing mor­tals, though, wouldn’t be so dis­ci­plined and would of­ten curse their lie af­ter a drop from a height when it mat­tered.

The new rule change sim­pli­fies mat­ters hugely. Rather than drop­ping from shoul­der height, play­ers are re­quired to drop the ball from knee height in­stead when­ever a drop is spec­i­fied for re­lief.

In mak­ing the drop, the ball must stay within the des­ig­nated re­lief area, ei­ther one club-length or two club-lengths, de­pend­ing on the type of re­lief.

So, it is no longer re­quired to make a re­lief drop from shoul­der height. In fact, it is not al­lowed. In­stead, un­der Rule 14-3, play­ers must drop from knee height (which means, the height of your knee when in a stand­ing po­si­tion) – ei­ther by stand­ing, and bend­ing down un­til the ball is at knee height; or, al­ter­na­tively, by kneel­ing down on one knee and drop­ping from knee height of the other “stand­ing” leg.

2 The Dou­ble-Hit (is gone)

The dou­ble-hit change has come a lit­tle late – all of 34 years – for TC Chen, the Tai­wanese golfer who suf­fered just such a blip in the fi­nal round of the 1985 US Open.

Chen – who had to en­dure the moniker “Two Chip” for the rest of his ca­reer – led by four shots in the fi­nal round at Oak­land Hills be­fore his trans­gres­sion cost him a one-stroke penalty and he fin­ished a shot be­hind cham­pion Andy North.

Un­der the new rules, there is no longer a penalty for hit­ting a ball mul­ti­ple times on the same swing.

Up to now, a player in­curred a one-stroke penalty for hit­ting the ball more than once on the same swing (most likely to oc­cur on chips and putts), record­ing the orig­i­nal shot and the penalty stroke. Now, if a player un­in­ten­tion­ally hits the ball more than once, it counts as one stroke. The player only counts the in­tended shot and con­tin­ues to play the ball from where it came to rest (Rule 10-1a).

3 Take Three (min­utes’ search time)

Even the great­est of play­ers have found that five min­utes wasn’t al­ways suf­fi­cient time to find a ball af­ter an er­rant shot into thick rough or bushes. In the 1986 US Open at Shin­necock Hills, Jack Nick­laus’s way­ward shot on the 10th hole of his first round took five min­utes and 21 sec­onds be­fore it was found. The search limit had ex­pired, so the ball was deemed lost.

Un­der the new rules, the Golden Bear – and ev­ery­one else – will need to be even quicker in search­ing for their ball.

The time for a ball search has been re­duced from five min­utes to three min­utes, which the rule-mak­ers be­lieve is “more con­sis­tent with the un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ple that golf is to be played in a prompt and con­tin­u­ous way, with­out long pauses in play.”

One up­shot of the new pol­icy will likely re­sult in more “lost balls” dur­ing a round, but the more per­ti­nent im­pact is that the rule will speed up play. With search times re­duced to three min­utes (from the time of first get­ting to the area and com­menc­ing the search), the rule is also aimed at en­cour­ag­ing play­ers to play a pro­vi­sional ball where they be­lieve there is a chance their ball may not be found.

4 Leave the flag­stick in . . . or not

Putting is a science all of its own, but there could also be some­thing sci­en­tific in whether or not to leave the flag­stick in the hole when putting, which is now per­mis­si­ble un­der the new rules.

In fact, Bryson DeCham­beau – a physics nerd – has stated he’ll more likely leave the flag­sticks in the cup, even on short putts, and an old re­search ar­ti­cle by for­mer NASA sci­en­tist (and short game guru) Dave Pelz would sug­gest there is merit in the the­ory. “Leave the flag­stick in when­ever the rules al­low,” he sug­gested.

Up to now, you couldn’t leave the flag­stick in the hole when putting on the green. Now, you can. Play­ers will be per­mit­ted to leave the flag­stick in the hole while play­ing a shot from the green, and there is no penalty if the ball strikes the flag­stick. In the past, play­ers had to pull the flag­stick from the hole or have a cad­die or fel­low com­peti­tor tend it be­fore the ball struck.

Note, how­ever, that it is still against the rules to po­si­tion the flag­stick in such a way as to cre­ate a ben­e­fit. You can’t in­ten­tion­ally lean the flag­stick for­ward, for ex­am­ple. The flag must be placed up­right in the cen­tre of the hole un­less a player finds that it is lean­ing in a cer­tain di­rec­tion when ar­riv­ing at the green. In such a case, the player could leave the flag­stick as they find it or cen­tre it in the hole.

5 Gar­den­ing leave

The rules on re­pair­ing im­per­fec­tions – such as spike marks – on greens have been re­laxed, with play­ers al­lowed to fix a wide range of dam­age to the putting sur­face.

While the more un­der­stand­ing na­ture of the rule should help with player frus­tra­tion, es­pe­cially among late-starters in a com­pe­ti­tion who must putt on greens dam­aged by other play­ers, there is a con­cern that more per­nick­ety golfers will spend so much time gar­den­ing that it could slow down the pace of play.

The new rule al­lows play­ers to re­pair ball marks; shoe dam­age, in­clud­ing spike marks, scrapes and in­den­ta­tions caused by equip­ment or a flag­pole; old hole plugs; turf plugs; seams of cut turf; scrapes or in­den­ta­tions from main­te­nance tools or ve­hi­cles; an­i­mal tracks; or em­bed­ded ob­jects such as stones, acorns or tees.

Ba­si­cally, any un­in­tended dam­age made by an­other player or out­side agency. Play­ers can also re­move loose sand or soil on the green’s sur­face or on the tee­ing ground, but not any­where else on the course.

How­ever, play­ers should also note that some old codes of hon­our re­main in­tact.

For in­stance, play­ers are still not al­lowed to re­pair im­per­fec­tions caused by nor­mal main­te­nance prac­tice such as aer­a­tion holes or ver­ti­cal mow­ing; ir­ri­ga­tion; rain or other nat­u­ral forces; weeds; bare ar­eas; or ar­eas of un­even growth of grass.

One for the hacker

Golf’s gov­ern­ing bod­ies have in­tro­duced a new lo­cal rule to speed up play, for use in club and so­cial golf but not in tour­na­ments or high-level com­pe­ti­tions. If a player hits a ball out-of-bounds or loses a ball, the gen­eral rules still re­quire a player to re­turn to the spot of the pre­vi­ous stroke and take a one-stroke penalty (the tra­di­tional stroke-and-dis­tance re­quire­ment).

Where the lo­cal rule is in play, there is the op­tion which pro­vides time-sav­ing re­lief, where the player can take a drop in the near­est spot of the fair­way (within two club lengths of the edge of the fair­way), no nearer the hole than where the ball is deemed to have crossed the out-of-bounds line, with a two-stroke penalty. The same lo­cal rule ap­plies to a lost ball.

One for the hot-head

Ben Cren­shaw broke his put­ter in a Ry­der Cup. Shane Lowry did it dur­ing an Ir­ish Open. They weren’t alone and, up to now, those hot-headed acts meant they had to ditch the dam­aged club. Cren­shaw used a 2-iron, Lowry a sand wedge.

But the rules have changed to al­low a player to keep us­ing a dam­aged club, or re­pair that club, dur­ing a round. How­ever, the dam­aged club can­not be re­placed by an­other club un­less it was dam­aged mid-round by an out­side in­flu­ence, a nat­u­ral force or by some­one other than the player, his part­ner or cad­die.

So, hot-headed play­ers who bend their put­ter over their knee and change its play­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics can con­tinue to use it.

No change (un­for­tu­nately)

We’ve all done it, at some stage. You hit what you think is the ideal tee-shot down the mid­dle of the fair­way and ar­rive up to your ball only to dis­cover it has found a com­fort­able rest­ing spot . . . in a divot.

And any play­ers hop­ing that the gov­ern­ing bod­ies would pro­vide a bit of lat­i­tude to play­ers pun­ished for find­ing the fair­way will have to shrug their shoul­ders and get on with it. Tough luck! There is no change to the old rule, which deems that you must play the ball as it lies – even in a divot, or maybe es­pe­cially in a divot. Play it as it lies. Same as it al­ways was.

‘‘ Up to now, you couldn’t leave the flag­stick in the hole when putting on the green. Now, you can.

Pádraig Har­ring­ton takes a penalty drop dur­ing the 2009 US Mas­ters; (right) cad­die Mark Fulcher holds the flag for Justin Rose but from now on you can leave the flag­stick in the hole when putting; Charl Schwartzel af­ter break­ing an iron. A player can keep us­ing or try to re­pair a dam­aged club dur­ing a round

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