Rule changes: Fairness + simplicity = common sense

By Rex HoggardOctober 28, 2015, 7:02 pm

Less than three weeks after Phil Mickelson committed one of the year’s most obscure and esoteric rule violations at the Presidents Cup, the R&A and USGA unveiled what sources characterized as a “simplified” edition of the Rules of Golf.

Monday’s announcement of the 2016 edition was a dramatically condensed version of what we’ve come to expect from the ruling bodies.

The entire release totaled five pages, featured just four “significant changes” explained in concise paragraph form and included a “fun facts” page with a single telling tidbit that at least partially explains the need for simplification – there are an average of 8,000 rules inquiries made to the USGA each year.

“When you increase subjectivity you also increase complexity,” explained Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of the Rules of Golf, when asked about the current simplification process. “The stated objective is to find a way to simplify the rules; that’s our primary focus moving forward.”

No one needs to explain to Mickelson that the Rules of Golf can be a minefield even for the most accomplished players after he violated the one-ball condition during his fourball match on Day 2 at the Presidents Cup earlier this month and was assessed a one-hole “match adjustment.”

Rules of Golf update: Anchoring ban, incorrect scorecard

“I had never even heard of a match adjustment. That one’s new,” said Mickelson, who added that he was confused by a rule that allows multiple types of golf balls to be played during foursome matches, but only a single model during fourball play.

Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competition, has a standing joke that the public only sees him when something goes wrong and a majority of the fires Russell puts out are a result of mostly innocent rules violations.

Example: the snafu Camilo Villegas endured at the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions when he misplayed a chip and as the ball rolled back down a hill toward him he flipped aside a divot.

Unaware of the violation and required penalty, Villegas signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified under Rule 6-6d, which was one of the changes announced Monday.

Under the new rule, Villegas would have been issued a two-stroke penalty for the scorecard violation, along with the penalty for moving the divot, but would have been allowed to play on; or as one Golf Channel colleague described it recently, you no longer are given the death penalty for jaywalking.

“I think a DQ is a little harsh,” Billy Horschel said. “There are certain rules where it is a little much. If I’m over a putt and I haven’t touched the ball and the wind gusts and blows the ball, how is that my fault?”

Under the change to Rule 18-2b it is no longer a player’s fault. In fact, in what has the underpinnings of a profound philosophical shift among the game’s rule makers, a player is no longer guilty until proven innocent when a golf ball moves at address.

“The player is not automatically deemed to have caused the ball to move ... only when the facts show that the player has caused the ball to move,” the new text read. Or, in other words, innocent until proven guilty.

While Monday’s changes fall well short of a “Golf for Dummies” rule book and the prohibition on anchoring that also begins on Jan. 1 is sure to produce additional confusion – for the record, both hovering and inadvertent brushing would not be considered anchoring (discuss) – but it is part of a larger narrative that has been ongoing within rule-making circles for some time.

Pagel conceded as much during a conference call announcing the changes. He added that the focus for the R&A and USGA rules committees will now turn to broader simplifications.

“There is a project underway with the R&A to see if there is a way to simplify the rules. Are there wholesale ways to help simplify it?” Pagel said.

Even after this most recent revision there seems to be plenty of room for improvement, either at the amateur level – as evidenced by the 8,000 or so rules questions each year – or at the top reaches of the game.

There is no shortage of opinions on the Rules of Golf.

“Hitting the fairway and being in a divot is the perfect definition of ground under repair,” Horschel said. “You’re rewarded for hitting the green; you’re allowed to fix ball marks on the green if it’s in your line. It would be similar if you were in the fairway and you land in a divot. How can I not get away from a divot?”

Although Horschel’s take is exactly what one would expect from a player who hits as many fairways as the 2014 FedEx Cup champion, it fits with a set of rules that gave us “match adjustment.”

“It’s a balancing act of inserting fairness, but also the ultimate goal of making it more simple,” Pagel said.

Perhaps the most encouraging change is that shift, however subtle, to insert common sense into a process that at times seems to be severely lacking in both fairness and simplicity.

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Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.