USGA, R&A reveal proposed changes to Rules of Golf

By Ryan LavnerMarch 1, 2017, 12:10 pm

The Rules of Golf are undergoing a drastic makeover.

In what is the most significant modernization in generations, the USGA and R&A on Wednesday unveiled 30 proposed changes designed to make more consistent, fair and straightforward rules that are easier to understand and apply.

The changes span a wide range of issues – from grounding a club in a penalty area, to determining if a ball moved, to repairing damage on greens, to relaxing dropping procedures. It’s the culmination of a five-year process – well before the high-profile major drama last June – that should reduce the prevalence of penalty traps, armchair rules officials and slow-motion, high-def examinations.

The governing bodies usually revise the rules every four years, but this new edition will be implemented a year earlier, on Jan. 1, 2019. They alerted the major pro tours about the proposed changes at the beginning of this year.


Full list: Proposed changes to Rules of Golf

Rules of Golf modernization: Articles, explanations and videos


“We have looked at every rule to try to find ways of making them more intuitive and straightforward, and we believe we have identified a number of significant improvements,” said David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of rules and equipment standards. “It is important that the rules continue to evolve and remain in tune with the way the modern game is played, but we have been careful not to change the game’s longstanding principles and character.”

Determining whether a player caused his ball to move had been a hot topic before last year’s U.S. Open, but the issue received even more scrutiny when the USGA ruled that Dustin Johnson was “more likely than not,” or 51 percent certain, to have caused his ball to move slightly on Oakmont’s super-fast greens. The ensuing chaos (and one-shot penalty after the round) didn’t affect the outcome, but afterward players and fans blasted the USGA for issuing what was perceived as an unfair ruling. Now, under proposed Rule 9.2, there is a new standard: A player will be penalized only when it is known, or virtually certain (at least 95 percent), that he caused the ball to move, which should eliminate many of the questionable calls. Once cleared, a player will be allowed to replace the ball on its estimated original spot.

One of the most radical proposals is that a player will be allowed to ground his club everywhere except a bunker. By allowing a player to touch the ground with his club and move loose impediments in the penalty area, Proposed Rule 17 would eliminate the unintentional infraction that could be detected only after replay, such as when Carl Pettersson, standing in a lateral water hazard, brushed a leaf with his backswing at the 2012 PGA Championship. The next rulebook will feature the term “penalty area,” not “hazard.”

The rule change that could most significantly affect week-to-week competition is that players now will be allowed to repair any damage on the greens, including spike marks. Previously, players were allowed to fix only ball marks in their lines. In 2013, European Tour player Simon Dyson was embroiled in a cheating scandal after he tapped down a spike mark during an event. He claimed that he wasn’t trying to gain a competitive advantage, but he still was placed on probation. Now, under Rule 13.1b(1), players could try to create as smooth a surface as possible to roll their putts.

There will also be a new reasonable judgment standard, Rule 1.3a(2), in regard to estimating a line, drop or distance. With the new rule, a player would need only to do “all that could reasonably be expected under the circumstances” to accurately measure the spot. A recent example: Tiger Woods’ controversial drop en route to a victory at the 2013 Players. After finding the water off the 14th tee, Woods discussed where his ball crossed the hazard with his fellow playing competitor, Casey Wittenberg, and his caddie. The group agreed that the ball hooked into the water farther down the fairway, even though video replays suggested it was closer to the tee box. Woods was not penalized, but the PGA Tour felt compelled to issue a statement about the incident. Under the new rule, which relies on the integrity of the player, Woods would still be absolved.

Some of the other proposed changes:

• Instead of dropping a ball at shoulder height, players can release the ball at any height above one inch. The area in which players are allowed relief is also expanded; rather than one or two club-lengths, there is now a defined relief area of 20 inches (cart paths, ground under repair, etc.) to 80 inches (unplayable lie, penalty area drops).

• Caddies cannot stand behind a player and help with alignment while the player takes a stance – a move that is most common in the LPGA, including with world No. 1 Lydia Ko.

• A player won’t be penalized if his ball accidently deflects off him. That’s what happened to Jeff Maggert in the 2003 Masters. Leading by two entering the final round, he received a two-shot penalty after his shot hit the lip of the bunker and rebounded off his body. He made triple bogey and finished fifth. Five years later, the penalty for an accidental deflection was reduced from two shots to one. Now, it is eliminated altogether, a nod to the unpredictability of the act and the inherent disadvantage if it occurred.

• The search time for lost balls is three minutes, not five.

• Players can move loose impediments in a bunker. There still is a penalty if a player (a) touches the sand to test the surface, or (b) touches the sand when making a backswing – the penalty that cost Anna Nordqvist a chance to win last year’s U.S. Women’s Open.

• Damaged clubs can be used in competition, even if the equipment was damaged in a fit of rage. Previously, only those clubs that were damaged in the “normal course of play” could still be used, so if, for instance, a player slammed his putter in disgust and bent the shaft, he would have no choice but to putt with a wedge or fairway wood for the remainder of the round.

• Players are entitled to free relief from an embedded lie anywhere (save for the bunker), unless limited to the fairway by a local rule.

• Rangefinders can be used to measure distances, except when prohibited by a local rule. It was not immediately known whether the pro tours would enforce that local rule, with players and caddies still responsible for calculating their own yardages.  

• Committees are encouraged to mark more hazards with red stakes, not yellow, to allow lateral relief.

• In an attempt to improve pace of play at the recreational level, the governing bodies are encouraging ready golf; allowing putts to be holed with the flagstick in; and recommending an alternative form of stroke play with a double-par maximum score.

If all of the proposals are approved, the total number of rules would be reduced from 34 to 24.

Criticized in the past for having a rulebook that was complicated and full of legalese, the governing bodies instead have created a user-friendly, simply written “player’s edition” covering the most commonly used rules.

The USGA and R&A will accept feedback on these proposed changes for the next six months, until the end of August, before drafting a final rulebook next year. The new rules will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. Click here to voice your opinion to the USGA.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.