JOHN HUGGAN

Golf’s Rules have been sim­pli­fied... seem­ingly by grey-haired men on hal­lu­cino­genic drugs.

Golf World (UK) - - CONTENTS - John Huggan fol­lows the PGA and Eu­ro­pean Tours. He is the au­thor of seven books and has writ­ten for Golf World since 1992.

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.

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