Golfs two ruling bodies - the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient - sent out news releases a couple days ago detailing a few changes in the manner in which the game is legally supposed to be played. In so doing, the ruling bodies got a step closer to golf as it is played among the masses.
One of the more surprising changes is the one concerning use of distance-measuring devices, either the GPS-based systems now widely found on golf carts or the laser rangefinders.
Didnt know your cart was illegally helping you when the graphic revealed you were 132 yards from the pin? Yep, it is. But the governing bodies will now accept local rules permitting such devices. Of course, if a local rule is not made, the carts and rangefinders still are illegal. Boo, hiss!
Now, I would much rather see a guy fumble around with his measuring devise than to have some schmoe actually step off the distance to the 150-yard or 100-yard marker. And incidentally, arent these markers just as much a distance device as the range-finding gizmos?
Isnt the scorecard itself, which tells you the distance on a par-3 is 178 yards, a distance-measuring aid? To be truly consistent, you should either allow these devices ' 200-, 150- and 100-yard markers, plus distance on scorecards - or not have any measurements at all. Yeah, we would be taken back to the days of old when a scoreboard was just a piece of paper with 18 spaces for the scores. But ' if thats the way you want to play your golf, so be it.
The revised rules also will do away with the provision which caused the disqualification of Jesper Parnevik and Mark Roe at the 2003 British Open. Roe and Parnevik forgot to exchange scorecards and ended up keeping the scores on the wrong cards ' yeah, their own. Yes, they kept the numbers exactly as they should have been. But no, they didnt keep them on the correct cards. Ergo, they signed incorrect cards.
Consequently, both were given the heave-ho. Roe in particularly was hit hard ' he had just shot a 67 in the third round, good for third place going into the finale. But he was sent packing ' no excuses allowed.
Now, such an error may be forgiven by the committee. Its official now ' good ol rule 6-6d/4, allowing authorities to strike the wrong name from an otherwise correctly completed score card without a time limit.
Bravo, bravo. They didnt go far enough, of course. The whole thing about scorecards and disqualifications is patently silly. A DQ because a player inadvertently forgot to sign a scorecard is punishment far beyond the crime.
Maybe such action was necessary in the 1920s, but it certainly isnt today. With a scorer walking there beside you each step of the way, plus an opponent there to keep your score also, plus the electronic scoreboards ' plus in many instances television ' it is impossible to cheat by recording an illegal score.
Two more rules changes make the game imminently more sensible. One has to do with where a player may stand when making a putting stoke. Sometimes, in attempting not to step in an opponents line, a player inadvertently positions himself on an extension of the line of putt behind the ball. The rule was originally put in to prevent the croquet style of putting. However, a little sanity was placed back into the rulebook.
Also, a liberalized interpretation of what is considered to be the normal course of play will allow the repair or replacement of a damaged club in more circumstances, provided that the club was not abused. Again, makes perfectly good sense to me.
Now, for a couple of rules which are screaming to be changed ' but which never will be in my lifetime:
Will they ever change the rule which says players may not tamp down spike marks in their line to the cup? I know, I know, one player in 10,000 may spend an inordinate amount of time funnelling out a line completely to the hole. But does the USGA really think a ball could be favorably affected by doing this?
Bernhard Langer will forever remember the rule. A spike mark affected perhaps the most infamous putt in golf ' Langers crucial miss of a 6-footer at Kiawah in 1991. A spike mark was in his line, but he wasnt allowed to touch it. Too bad, Bernhard, and goodbye, Ryder Cup trophy.
And while were at it, how about changing that rule about out-of-bounds balls? A ball which goes out of bounds by one inch carries a much greater penalty than a whiff you go back to the spot where you hit the shot, add a penalty stroke, and hit again. However, if you swing and miss completely, you simply swipe at it again.
This must be the most widely ignored rule in golf: If you discover your ball has drifted out of bounds, do you go to the trouble of stopping the play of you and the group behind you, walk back to the area where you swung, and do it all over again? No, not if you are like 999 of a 1,000 players, who shrug, lay a ball down inside the out-of-bounds line, take a penalty stroke and play on.
In spite of these pet peeves, let us keep in mind the big picture ' these roles changes represent a quantum leap in the rules. The USGA and the R&A are indeed moving in the right direction.
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