Golf’s Rules have been simplified... seemingly by grey-haired men on hallucinogenic drugs.
If you haven’t heard by now, our game is in even more trouble than I thought. I’m talking about the myriad rules changes that will come into force on January 1st, 2019. There are, indeed, quite a few. Some of them even make sense. But, inevitably, others appear to have been devised by grey-haired men locked in a darkened room while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. Of course, it just wouldn’t be golf if it all made sense now, would it?
Still, simplification is coming our way in that the number of rules is falling from 34 to 24. And, to be fair, many of the painstakingly-arrived-at brainwaves are clearly motivated by a desire to speed up play. As usual, though, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the United States Golf Association lack the courage to clamp down on your Bernhard Langers and Jason Days with a severity that might actually make a difference. Rather than applying an automatic penalty for the sort of mind-numbing tardiness that makes golf all but intolerable both to play and watch, the “authorities” are merely “recommending” that we take no more than 40 seconds to hit a small white ball around a field with a stick. I mean… really.
Then there is the oh-so complicated business of dropping a ball back into play after it – or its now absent sidekick – has veered off the straight and legal. Previously, we all dropped from shoulder height. Now, it is to be from knee height. Can anybody see what sort of significant difference this is going to make? For one thing, all knees are not the same height any more than shoulders are. And for another: Why can’t we just place the ball in a nice spot, rather than possibly dropping it into a less than favourable lie that may induce yet another poor shot and surely slow play even more? Just one more mystery to this observer.
Ah, but here comes the best one. The transatlantic blazers are again abrogating their supposedly ultimate responsibility – what a shock, eh? – by allowing your club and mine to make their own local rules when it comes to the depressing subject of out-of-bounds. So while the real golfers on the professional tours will still be ‘re-loading’ on the tee after blasting one over a distant fence, you and I might just have another option.
Instead, we may be given the chance to drop a ball opposite the point where the previous effort left the premises – under penalty of two shots. In other words, the next shot would be our fourth. Which sounds alright on paper. But in practice? A series of almighty rows will surely result from this obvious folly. I can hear one now.
“You’re having a laugh, mate, your ball crossed the boundary at least 20 yards further back.” “No it didn’t.” “Yes it did.” On and on it will go. Good luck sorting that one out. Of course, there are other giggles. You want to repair those spike marks? Go right ahead. If you can a) find anyone who has spikes on their shoes these days, and b) locate even one genuine spike mark. In fact, why don’t you smooth out a path from your ball to the hole? If you lean on your putter enough, you might even be able to make a small trench. Voila. A virtually unmissable putt.
One last caveat. Not mentioned in this brave new world is the marking of scorecards. So, instead of going with what actually happens out there on the links, we remain stuck with the nonsensical notion that an arithmetical error or, gasp, writing the wrong number in the wrong wee box can potentially lead to disqualification from a sporting contest.
Bottom line? Yes, we might be getting closer to sanity in the rule book. But we’ve got a ways to go yet. And one thing almost certainly won’t change. The vast majority of pros on any tour you care to mention still won’t have a scooby doo when something out of the ordinary occurs. They will be much too busy perusing their – now smaller – greenreading books.