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 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.
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 free-drop 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) 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 hazard-line, 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.