USGA officials were on site at three West Coast events to brief players on the proposal, which include 30 possible changes to the rules, the R&A had representatives at the European Tour stop in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, and USGA executive director Mike Davis even had lunch with Rory McIlroy in south Florida last week to go over the proposed changes.
“I think it’s great, I said it to him, I think golf’s focus on the rules can sometimes turn people away a little bit, so to modernize and make them a little more simple is a good thing,” McIlroy said.
More then anything McIlroy said the proposed changes, which would go into effect in 2019, would help change the perception of the game for those who don’t play golf. Incidents like last year’s rules snafu at the U.S. Open when Dustin Johnson’s golf ball moved on the fifth green during the final round at Oakmont would be simplified and mitigated under the proposed changes.
“What’s happened over the last couple of years with some rulings and high-profile things that have happened at crucial stages in tournaments, people look at that who might want to get into the game and are like, you know the rules are too complicated. I don’t really want to get into that,” McIlroy said. “Simplifying them, trying to make them a little more modern and try to move with the times. It’s a good thing.”
Most players who had been briefed on the possible changes didn’t need six months to formulate an opinion, instead they pointed out that anything that makes the game easier to understand is a step in the right direction.
“I think as long as it simplifies things for everyone and makes the rules easier to understand across the board it can't be bad,” Lucas Glover said.
Although most players embraced the possible changes, there were a few exceptions, like the proposal to allow distance-measuring devices during tournament rounds.
“I personally hope not,” Glover said when asked if he could imagine Tour players using DMDs during rounds. “I don't think it will speed up play, people will be getting cover numbers with their laser all over the place, plus it takes away the advantage of a good caddie.”
Even if the USGA and R&A allow the use of DMDs, the Tour could enact a local rule that would continue to prohibit the use of them during tournament rounds. The Tour did not specifically address the use of DMDs.
Russell Knox concurred with Glover that allowing DMDs to be used during tournament rounds could be counterproductive.
“College golf has proven it doesn’t speed up play,” Knox said. “Guys are always going to want numbers to the front [of the green], numbers to the back of the ridge, numbers to back. It really wouldn’t make much of a difference.”
But Brandt Snedeker, one of the circuit’s fastest players, had a different take.
“It’s certainly not going to slow things down,” Snedeker said. “Anything to help speed up the game a little bit. Guys will still use yardage books and still do their work, but when you get those weird numbers when you hit one off the planet and it’s hard to find a number, it [DMDs] could make a huge difference speeding stuff up.”
For some players there’s also an unknown element to some of the proposed changes that need to be addressed, like the adjustment that would allow for accidentally touching the sand in a bunker while preparing to hit a shot out of the hazard.
“It’s still a little bit unclear where you can ground your club in a bunker but you can’t ground it for testing. So if I lean on it is that considered testing?” asked William McGirt. “I think they are on a good track here. But there is a lot of discussion to be done in the next two years to get some more clarity.”
Still, most players who had been briefed generally found the proposed changes encouraging as an effort to simplify the rules and speed up play.
“Anything that makes the game faster, more fun and less difficult I’m all for,” Kevin Kisner said. “That’s the problem with the game. That’s what I tell people all the time, the game is going to die because it’s too slow, too difficult and there’s too many rules. It’s an easy fix to make it more fun, faster and easier.”