Martin Vousden on New Rules and Tiger’s Back

May 02 2017

Thought for the Day
Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them one day.

Sanity breaks out
It has, admittedly, taken a while but recently there has been clear, incontrovertible evidence that the R&A and USGA have finally started reacting to events at something other than a glacial pace. As the governing bodies for the rules of golf worldwide, they belatedly recognised that the rules were far too cumbersome, nit-picky and incomprehensible. As a consequence they have released a set of proposals, to be introduced in January 2019, which should be welcomed by golfers everywhere.

Not only that, whenever an event at a televised pro tournament causes a bit of a stir, they have started to respond almost immediately (well, within a few weeks or months, which is pretty rapid by their standards) to clarify existing rules or, more pertinently, introduce new interpretations and judgments.

Rules of Golf

The catalyst would appear to be Dustin Johnson’s win at last year’s US Open, when he was belatedly penalised one stroke because his ball moved on the 3rd green – having been told at the time by the walking official that there was no penalty, he was then given the bad news of the retrospective punishment seven holes later, as he was playing the 12th. Consequently, from January 1st this year, a golfer will only be penalised if he or she is known to have caused the ball to move (Rule 18-2b).

Following the debacle last month when Lexi Thompson missed out on winning the first women’s major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, another update has been made. Lexi replaced her ball on the green in the wrong place (by a fraction); a TV viewer called it in 24 hours after it happened and Lexi was slapped with a two stroke penalty for playing her ball from the wrong spot and a further two strokes for subsequently signing for an incorrect score.

A new Decision (34-3/10) says that if video evidence (such as super slow-mo) reveals a transgression that could not normally be seen with the naked eye, the player cannot be subsequently penalised. The example given is a clubhead barely touching a few grains of sand during the backswing in a bunker, but I’m pretty sure it will come to be known as the Lexi ruling.

There’s a second innovation that says, in essence if a player is placing or replacing a ball the player’s reasonable judgment about where to do that will be accepted and they will not be ‘held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology.’ Amen to that.

All this comes a few weeks after we learned of the significant simplification to be applied to the rules in just over 18 months from now. They will be reduced from 34 to 24, in many instances common sense now prevails – you will be able, for example, to repair both spike and pitch marks on the green, and leave the flagstick in the hole while putting, if you choose. In addition, the governing bodies now seem willing to accept that most rules infringements are through ignorance and genuine mistakes, rather than evidence of cheating, and penalties have been removed or amended accordingly. I will return for a more detailed analysis a bit nearer the time.

Tiger, the end
Mr Woods has revealed that he has had more back surgery, his 4th procedure since September 2014, and will not be playing competitive golf for at least six months, which kisses goodbye to this calendar year. As has been said before, most careers end with a whimper rather than a bang and whatever you may think of Tiger, between 1997 and 2008 he played golf of a sustained brilliance and dominance that has not been seen before or since.

Tigers back

But, great as he has been, when you were watching that tremendous Masters shootout between Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, did you miss Tiger, or even think about him? We’re seeing the old adage demonstrated yet again that no golfer is bigger than the game. Not even Tiger.

Spare a thought, though, for Bridgestone and TaylorMade, which signed Tiger to multi-year sponsorship deals for balls and clubs respectively, less than six months ago, when Nike decided to pull the plug on all its golf equipment except clothing. I wonder how many of the people who made the decision to sign those deals are now having a moment or two of doubt.

Quote of the Week
Watching Phil Mickelson play golf is like watching a drunk chasing a balloon near the edge of a cliff
The inimitable David Feherty

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