News & Opinion

Thomas vindicated by rules change

Somewhere Justin Thomas must be vindicated. Early last week, after the quarterly meeting of the Joint Rules Committee, the USGA and R&A introduced a clarification of the new Rules of Golf that restore a player’s ability to replace a broken or significantly damaged club during a round — except in cases of abuse.

Of course, in abuse cases, we suggest you start by calling the National Club Abuse Hotline.

The JRC announcement reverses a change that was implemented under the new Rules of Golf, aka Rule 4.1, which took effect on Jan. 1. That rule did not allow for such a replacement, but allowed players to use the damaged club for the rest of the round without any restrictions.

It was kind of like when your mom told you, “You made your bed, now sleep in it.”

If you recall, Thomas ran afoul of the rule during the Honda Classic in February. While hitting a shot from behind a tree at PGA National, he made contact with the tree and bent the shaft on his 9-iron. This isn’t hockey. In golf, a curved stick is not a good thing.

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Justin Thomas voiced his opinion about the new Rules of Golf that went into effect on Jan. 1, specifically Rule 4.1. [Photo: Fran Caffrey, Golffile]

Justin Thomas voiced his opinion about the new Rules of Golf that went into effect on Jan. 1, specifically Rule 4.1. [Photo: Fran Caffrey, Golffile]

Thomas couldn’t replace the damaged iron, and couldn’t take a chance on using it, so he essentially was 9-iron-less for the rest of the round. Afterward, he voiced 4.1 degrees of displeasure with the new rule.

“You can just add that one to the list of rules that don't make any sense,” he said. He also issued a tweet, suggesting the USGA might begin, “communicating with the current players to better the game and the sport.”

Communicate it did. Apparently, USGA officials considered feedback from Thomas and other players during the decision-making process that resulted in the new Local Rule.

See? Isn’t nice when everybody can just get along.

EYE DROPS
The over-the-top reaction to Tiger Woods’ stirring win at the Masters continued last week. On Monday, President Trump informed Woods he would be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his achievement. 

The PMF was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, to be awarded to one who has made ”an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”

Or, apparently, one who can overcome some issues to win $2.07 million at a golf tournament. Certainly, a Nobel Peace Prize is in the works. 

BREAKFAST CLUB
It’s not nice to fool mother nature, but it’s OK to work around her. The powers that be at Augusta National — and you better believe they be — moved up five hours for the final round of the Masters on Sunday to avoid the bad weather in the forecast. 

So it should come as no surprise, with Tiger Woods in contention, that an average of 10.8 million people watched as Woods won his first major in 11 years. According to a CBS release, it was the most-watched morning golf broadcast since 1987, or the earliest data the network maintains. The afternoon encore presentation averaged 4.5 million.

The previous high for a morning golf broadcast, according to Nielsen, was 8.56 million for ABC's telecast of the 2000 British Open, which Woods won at St. Andrews.

That said, Woods has nothing on cricket. When India played Pakistan in 2015 World Cup, the match attracted a global audience of more than 1 billion viewers. 

Blimey! Now that’s a bit of sticky wicket, ay mate?

SKIPPY 
It wasn’t to be at Augusta for Jordan Spieth, one of eight players to finish tied for 21st place. That’s not even close in hand grenades. 

But, while Spieth didn’t pick up another green jacket, he might have earned a new nickname. Spieth was called the “Golden Child” earlier in his career, when he won a 2013 PGA Tour event at the age of 19, the tour’s youngest winner in 82 years. The label gained traction when 21-year old Spieth won the 2015 Masters at age 21, the second youngest winner in championship history (behind Woods). 

But he never cared for the moniker.

“It’s not nice what I say to them when they say it to me,” Spieth once said.

Well, say goodbye to “Golden Child” and say hello to a new name. During the Par 3 Tournament at Augusta last week, Spieth demonstrated some astounding golf acrobatics to entertain the galleries. Going to water’s edge, he hit a shot that skipped seven times on the surface of the pond, jumped onto the green and settled closer to the hole than the shots of his playing partners. And after watching it, we have a new nickname for Spieth — “Skippy.”

Don’t think he’ll care much for that one either.

QUOTEWORTHY
“Yeah, I’m excited about show and tell at school.”

— Tiger Woods, on winning his fifth green jacket at Augusta National on Sunday.

POP QUIZ
Which U.S. President is known for playing the most rounds of golf?
A: Thomas Dewey
B: Woodrow Wilson
C: Barack Obama
D: Donald Trump

The correct answer is “B.” From 1913 to 1919, President Wilson played nearly 1,200 rounds of golf — which is more than any prez in history, a record that will be a challenge even for President Trump. 

Although he rarely broke 100, Wilson is said to have played daily and even ordered secret servicemen to paint the golf balls black, so that he could play in the snow. 

By the way, the most incorrect answer to the Pop Quiz is “A.” That Chicago Daily Tribune headline notwithstanding, Dewey was never president.


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