News & Opinion

Maybe golf needs a rule against whining

Rules, rules, everywhere a rule, blockin’ out the scenery, breaking my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the rules.

If today Five Man Electrical Band were recording its rebellious hit song of 1971, “Signs,” the boys might change the name to “Rules. And the sign said PGA Tour players need not apply.

As golf heads toward the first major championship of the season, nothing has been more consistently in the news than rules. New rules instituted by the USGA have been in effect for, oh, a little more than five minutes, or since Jan. 1. But some of the changes have gone over like a pay cut, at least in some corners.

They have made a household name of Adam Schenk. They have added “followers” galore to Justin Thomas’ social-media accounts. They have inspired some, such as Andrew Landry, a grizzled veteran of 58 PGA Tour events, to tweet that PGA Tour players should “fight to have our own rules and only follow the USGA and R&A once a year at our US Open and the Open.”

Attica! Attica!

And it’s not restricted to the new rules. Webb Simpson took a penalty for accidentally making his ball move at the Players Championship, and he didn’t take it kindly. “This is where I’m going to be loud and clear,” Simpson said after his final-round 68. “We have to get intent into the rules. We have to. Because it’s killing our game when it comes to these kind of things.”

Others wonder whether the whining hasn’t been a bit much. After all, where rule changes are concerned, assimilation and acceptance aren’t always immediate. The research report on the 1989 pilot of a new NBC sitcom called “Seinfeld” concluded, “No viewer was eager to watch the show again.” They’re still watching, 30 years later.

Another point of view might ask: Seriously, how tough is it? Player to caddie: “Please don’t stand behind me now. I’m going to take a stance.” Or caddie to player: “Please let me know when you are ready to hit the shot, and I will stand off to the side.”

And “intent”? Really? So, if you didn’t mean to over-slide second base, you should not be out. If you didn’t mean to get your stick up and put six stitches in that guy’s lip, you should not be in the penalty box. And if you didn’t mean for that chip to roll into the hole, let’s pull it out of there and put it where you were aiming.

That said, let’s keep an open mind. Where laws and rules are concerned, debate is a good thing. You can’t help but be intrigued by Landry’s proposal, the idea that players chisel their own stone tablets. For instance …

You might have a new rule of thumb that states caddies can be compensated in Jujubes and reward points. Call it the “Matt Kuchar Rule.”

Under Rule 16, players are allowed relief from “an abnormal course condition or a dangerous animal condition” and/or embedded balls. Players might approve an amendment to include annoying golf writers – by unanimous vote, no doubt.

With Augusta greens approaching, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth – owners of 31 three-putts this season – might champion the adaptation of the “two-putt limit,” a popular scramble rule. You wanna speed up the game? Let’s get crazy and speed up the game!

Rule 5 states that one must “play continuously and at a prompt pace.” Some players would amend the rule to provide considerable leniency. It would be known as the "Shizo Kanakuri Rule,” after the man holds the world record for the slowest time in the Olympic marathon. He finished the race after 54 years, eight months, six days, 5 hours and 32 minutes.

Phil Mickelson might like a change to Rule 11-2 and have it state that a ball in motion should stay in motion. It would be known as “Newton’s Rule,” and John Daly would second the proposal.

Again, by unanimous vote, a new rule would immediately eject anyone in the galleries heard to scream, “mashed potatoes,” “get in the hole,” “you da man,” “light the candle,” “Yahtzee” or “Johnny Fontaine will never get that movie, I don’t care how many dago, guinea, wop, greaseball, goombahs come out of the woodwork!” Of course, this rule is not necessary at Augusta National; it’s understood.

A new “catch and release” rule would put a keeper size limit on any bass or trout Ho-Sung Choi catches with that crazy swing of his.

Rocco Mediate would propose a rule stating that any player who has to limp on one leg to continue must disqualify himself. Mediate would like that rule to be retroactive to June 2008.

At the same time, Bubba Watson and David Feherty would be considered “loose impediments.” And Pat Perez would be right there, as well.

And while the current Rules of Golf allow 14 clubs in the bag, Sergio Garcia and Bryson DeChambeau might propose language that allows 14 clubs and a pickaxe, for when you lose it and want to do some real damage to the grounds.

All joking aside, the players might have some terrific ideas where rules are concerned. The recommendations some express would be well considered, if we can assume they are not. But rule changes have been discussed and proposed for some time now, and those that have been implemented deserve a chance to breathe.

Hopefully, they don’t become an issue at Augusta. Rules should be in the directive background of the game, not in the headlines.

Dan O’Neill, who covered golf for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1989 to 2017, is an editorial consultant on golf for Fox Sports. His articles have appeared in publications such as Golfweek, Golf World, Golf.com and The Memorial magazine. Email: dan13153@gmail.com; Twitter: @WWDOD