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.

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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."

Getty Images

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.