News & Opinion

In golf, those are the breaks … or are they?

Bryson DeChambeau 2020 PGA Championship 1st round
Bryson DeChambeau takes advantage of a local rule at the PGA Championship that allowed him to replace a broken driver in the 1st round, but is it the right call for golf?

John Hawkins argues that a golfer should be able to replace a broken club, as a local rule allows at the PGA Championship, but Mike Purkey counters that a golfer should finish a round with the clubs with which he started

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

A local rule was enacted that allowed Bryson DeChambeau to replace his broken driver during play at this week’s PGA Championship. Is it a good rule or a bad one?

Hawk’s take: It’s a silly one because the USGA added the local rule itself. The PGA of America chose to use the provision as an accommodation to the game’s elite players, which is precisely why the USGA made the modification to Rule 4.1b(3) in the first place. Confusing? Of course, but some rules wouldn’t be rules if they were easy to understand.

Simply put, DeChambeau was able to replace his driver because he didn’t break it in anger. Under the strictest of interpretation, this wouldn’t have been permitted at a U.S. Open; a player can continue to use a damaged club but couldn’t send someone off to fetch a substitute. In that context, the local rule is a good idea. If a club breaks accidentally, it makes sense that a contestant shouldn’t suffer from a competitive disadvantage, although some hard-liners might insist otherwise.

No harm, no foul, as they say. DeChambeau might have gotten a bit lucky in this instance because the head of his driver fell off the shaft as he was picking up his tee. Television cameras were all over the incident, proving that the club wasn’t broken out of rage. The Brainiac might also want to thank the PGA Tour, which successfully lobbied for the modification after 4.1b(3) was unveiled in 2019.

A suggestion: if the local rule is a good one and the original is too harsh, why not just make the local rule the permanent one? Oh, never mind….

Purk’s take: The problem is, as usual, that nearly all modifications to the Rules of Golf are there to benefit the .001 percent of all golfers. Which, is to say, the elite players. Such as Bryson DeChambeau.

A 2019 change to Rule 4.1 dictates that a golfer can’t replace a damaged club during a round, except when it “is damaged during the round by an outside influence or natural forces or by any person other than the player or his or her caddie.”

Says the USGA: “Although there will be times when a damaged club is unusable and cannot be readily repaired on the course (such as when a driver head comes off), the practical ability to get a replacement club is seldom present other than at some elite levels of golf.

“This change is consistent with the overall philosophy that a player normally should play the entire round with only the clubs that he or she started with or added during the round to get to the 14-club limit.”

In other words, the Local Rule that gives a player the ability to replace a broken club – except in anger – doesn’t help you or me in our club championship. Then again, I don’t have an agent to go and fetch my backup club if my original breaks.

Play the ball as it lies, the course as you find it and finish the round with the 14 clubs with which you started. Simple as that.

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