How good are the possible changes to the Rules of Golf?

A couple weeks ago, according to this Golfweek article here, the R&A director of rules talked with European Tour players before their tournament in Abu Dhabi and mentioned the new rules that the R&A and USGA are talking together about changing for 2020. Now we’re not sure if these are exactly the rule changes, or what the specific wording in the rule books would be since the phrases aren’t concrete, but we definitely have enough information here to talk about if we think they should change the rules or not. Note that each of the heading sections of this article are the phrases copied directly from that article, not my words. Here we go!

Who is that? Paula Creamer?

Who is that? Paula Creamer?

Reducing the search time for lost balls from five minutes to three

The easiest way to explain this is by pasting the tweet by Kyle Nathan:

Like, are they trying to change this rule to make rounds quicker? If you’re playing in a tournament and have to look for a golf ball, that two minute difference isn’t going to make the pace of play that much shorter. The pace of play in tournament rounds is long either because people’s attitude change and they take too long before hitting a shot, or because the course is set up way more difficultly than normal and everyone has way harder shots and shoots a bunch a more.

If you’re just playing for fun, don’t spend an entire 5 minutes or more looking for your ball. Look quickly, and if you can’t find it, toss a different one on the ground and keep playing.

Verdict: Dumb

Allowing players to repair spike marks on greens

Ooh here’s an awesome change.  There’s no reason not to allow people to fix any random big bump they find on greens. Those could be new ball marks, ball marks that were crappily fixed by someone who created them, or bumps that came from someone who doesn’t know how to walk correctly.

I remember playing tournaments in the past where everyone in our group would have to look at a giant bump on someone’s putting path and figure out if the person is allowed to fix it. That’s just super annoying, and for the most part, we all just tell the person that they can fix it because who cares where the bump came from. If this rule does get implemented people should be able to fix any of the giant bumps they want to.

This also would help any tournament on Tour since the players mostly use super spiked golf shoes which create a bunch of bumps that the putts of the players with the latest tee times have to roll over. You know how you don’t step in the putting lines that the players in your group are putting through? Probably good odds that someone in the group behind you will putt through where you actually stepped.

That being said, I think there are two issues to consider. First, I can see this as being super annoying to play with people who would spend a ton of time trying to flatten every little bump on the green on the entire path of their putt. Second, imagine someone has a 3ish footer, and they take their putter, and pound the green so hard that you have like a ravine where the ball can’t move out of it on the way to the center of the hole. As long as the rule talks about how light you need to flatten the spike marks, or just how fixing the spike marks is to flatten the green rather than create that ravine, then we’ll be all good. Overall though, good rule change here for sure.

Verdict: Ooh awesome

Allowing players to drop a ball from any height when taking relief rather than the current stipulation of shoulder height

I’m a little confused about this one here, because this change could create a couple problems, and I’m not really sure why they wanted to change this rule. For example, when you’re in a hazard you’re not allowed to have the club touch the ground (which is also an odd rule), but you’re allowed to have the club touch the grass. So you can almost have the club touch the ground. If they change this rule then, and it doesn’t matter how high to drop the ball, would you be able almost have the ball touch the ground before you “drop” it? If that’s the case, than you can get the ball so close that you’re basically putting it on the ground where you want and having great lies no matter what.

I’m guessing this is a possible rule change since shoulder height is different for a bunch of players, and letting you decide how high to drop it from will make that equal for players. Though really, the difference from dropping it like 6 feet compared to 4 feet isn’t too different since the ball’ll be moving fast either time before it hits the ground. Since dropping it really close to the ground can make drops not act like drops, we really gotta wait for more info and description of the change to see if this could be a good idea.

Verdict: Meh

More of an emphasis on using red stakes for water hazards while still allowing yellow stakes in some cases

Excellent, excellent, excellent. Last night, my brother-in-law and I were trying to sit and explain to my mom the differences between the rules of red stakes and yellow stakes (and even red stakes with green tops) since she wasn’t exactly sure, even though she’s been watching golf for 25 years

Quick info here: yellow means you can replay the shot, or drop the ball on the line that the flag and the point where the ball first went into the hazard creates as far back as you want. Red staked hazards are the same, except also you can drop two club lengths in any direction from where the ball entered the hazard, or on the other side of the hazard, just no closer to the hole. If that doesn’t make sense, check out this article which also describes the difference.

This doesn’t seem exactly a rule change, but rather advice for golf course designers or greenskeepers too tell them to just make pretty much all their hazards red instead of yellow. Just make every water hazard have the same rules and be done with it.

There are so many rules in golf that knowing the rules and not messing up when playing in a big tournament is somewhat tough. I’m a big fan of simplifying the rules, and getting rid of the yellow stakes for most hazards is a great idea.

Now that I’ve said that, there still might be the case for allowing some yellow stakes on a course. For example, having red water hazard stakes on the 17th green at TPC Sawgrass would be a little weird, and probably not what I’d want. Like if you hit it in the water over the green, you’d be able to drop it on the green for the most part, assuming you can find a place on the green that isn’t closer to the pin than where it went into the hazard. Same if you had too much spin on the ball, and it landed on the green and spun back into the water. As of right now with the yellow stakes, that means that if you miss the green in the water, you’re dropping in the drop area. Much more standard and easy to know than if it had red stakes. But really, that’s the only case I can think of that means yellow stakes are better. Use red for the rest.

Extending this rule actually makes me want to talk about this other rule I thing they should change to make golf better, but I’ll hold off here and probably write an article about all the rules golf should change to make it better. Look for that next week.

Verdict: Excellent x 3

Eliminating the use of club lengths for taking relief

Hey! I think this rule change is similar to the reason for the possible change of how high you can drop a ball that I talked about above. They want to make it similar for people of different heights, and in this case, similar for people with different lengths of their longest clubs. Time for some math.

Looking at putter lengths here, a long putter can be up to 54 inches if you’re tall (not Bernhard though). So two of those putter lengths for a drop would be 108 inches. Now Jimmy Walker’s driver is currently 42 inches after he made it 3 inches shorter than everyone else’s driver, and two of those lengths for a drop would be 84 inches. The difference is 24 inches meaning two feet! Now that’s a big difference.

So how exactly would this new rule tell players how to figure out how long they can go for their reliefs? Would tell players exactly how long their drops could be? Would players need to walk around with measuring tapes? Maybe just say they have to use their drivers and not putters since drivers are pretty much the same length and a couple inches won’t make that big of a difference.

I’ll admit here, that the first time thinking about this rule change didn’t really seem like a good one. But after the math, and thinking about the difference between longest club lengths from guys on tour, it seems like a reasonable change.

Verdict: Decent

Last comment here overall — all these rules in golf are for tournaments. Remember, if you’re just playing with your friends for fun, you can do whatever you want. Drop balls after hitting it in a hazard wherever you want, look for your crappy shots for as long as you want, drop the ball from as high as you want, from how far away from the hazard as you want, and fix whatever you want on the greens. Play quick, and have fun.

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