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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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”