The introduction this year of various new elements to the Rules of Golf have not been painless, from issues with caddie alignment to putting with the flagstick in the hole, golf’s guardians have been busy in 2019.
“I think it's fair to say that it hasn't gone as smoothly as I would have liked, but this is a big change,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said on Tuesday. “It is a change to the game, and having spent most of my life working in change projects in various different parts of the world, it's not unexpected that we were going to have some difficulties.”
Slumbers’ take on the implementation of the new rules was in contrast to comments from USGA CEO Mike Davis over the weekend.
“From my perspective, I would say by and large they’ve been a huge success,” Davis said. “They did exactly what we wanted them to do, which was really simplify the understanding and make them easier to apply.”
Earlier this month, the USGA and R&A issued a “clarification” to the caddie-alignment rule (Rule 10.2b 4) following a series of high-profile infractions that prompted the PGA Tour to rescind a penalty given to Denny McCarthy at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Slumbers explained that the changes were designed to simplify the Rules of Golf and speed up play, but he acknowledged that perceived advantages while putting
with the flagstick in the hole have not gone unnoticed.
“It was predominantly for the amateur game, and the expectation was to be able to speed up play,” Slumbers said. “I have been surprised by the number of professionals who are leaving the flagstick in for short putts. On long putts, I think it helps pace of play, but I have been somewhat surprised by the number of players on short putts. If we see something that needs change very quickly, like the alignment issue, then we will act with our partners at the USGA and the tours.”
Slumbers said there have been no “scientific” studies to measure improved putting performances with the flagstick in the hole and that the R&A plans to “take our time” on the issue before considering any possible changes to the rule. He added that the rule “wasn't intended as a performance option.