News & Opinion

Want even simpler Rules of Golf? Try these fixes

Recent efforts to streamline game's principles don't go far enough

The Rules of Golf can be complicated, confusing, arcane and sometimes downright silly. Nearly everyone in golf wants to play by the rules, but only a select few have a comprehensive knowledge of them. Those people usually are rules officials.

The Northern Trust
It’s time to give the knee-high drop the boot.

The USGA and the R&A tried their darnedest to simplify the rules in 2019. That effort was met with mixed reviews. But there’s still some cleanup necessary. Some rules, we just don’t need any longer.

For instance, the “advice rule,” or Rule 10.2a, which prohibits players from:

“Any verbal comment or action (such as showing what club was just used to make a stroke) that is intended to influence a player in:

* Choosing a club,

* Making a stroke, or

* Deciding how to play during a hole or round.”

But you can tell other players the distance from one point to the other – such as to the flagstick – and where features are positioned, such as fairways, greens and penalty areas.

Which do you believe is more useful: Getting the correct yardage or knowing what club the other player hit?

This is the most violated rule on the professional tours, especially in those groups that are on TV. And here’s why: caddies for players in televised groups give hand signals to TV course reporters to indicate which club the player is hitting. It’s done in plain view where everyone, including other players and caddies, easily can see.

Two players at the LPGA Q-Series were penalized for violating this rule when they were called out by fellow competitor Christina Kim, who saw their caddies giving hand signals (“Don’t blame LPGA’s Kim for playing by rules,” Nov. 4).

Knowing what club the other players use is not a detriment to the game. It’s not information that gives a player an advantage over any other player, and it doesn’t make the game easier to play. The player still has to execute the shot, no matter how much or little information he or she has. It’s simply an archaic rule and should be wiped off the books.

Speaking of Rule 10, it’s time to allow amateurs to return to anchored putting strokes. Rule 10.1b prohibits anchored strokes, but it’s the most hypocritical rule in the book. You can’t hold the club or the grip end against your body, but you can hold it against your forearm, similar to what Matt Kuchar and others do. You even can clamp your hand around the grip and forearm.

How in the world is that not anchoring? And even the term “anchoring” is nebulous in the rules. “If the player’s club, gripping hand or forearm merely touches his or her body or clothing during the stroke, without being held against the body, there is no breach of this Rule,” it reads.

Just what does that mean? What’s the difference between “touching” and “held against the body”? Isn’t that an open invitation to violate the spirit of the rule, if not the letter of it?

If you think anchoring or advice makes the game easier, how about Rules 12.2a and 12.2b, which allow golfers to remove loose impediments from a bunker. It’s a hazard and should stay that way.

If you think that’s too hard-core, it’s nothing compared with Rule 18’s stroke-and-distance, which remains the most penal of all the rules and finally should be chucked. Hit a ball into a penalty area, and it’s a one-shot penalty. With a ball out of bounds or a lost ball, the effective penalty is two shots.

And this new local rule for stroke and distance in which a player can drop the ball in the fairway nearest where it went OB or was lost – with a two-stroke penalty – is just plain silly, and no one should pay attention.

Just treat OB and lost balls like penalty areas and drop at the nearest reasonable point with a one-shot penalty and play on. That’s what most of us do anyway.

The business of dropping from knee height instead of shoulder height just makes the case for eliminating drops altogether. If, when you take a drop, the ball ends up outside the drop area twice, you get to place it. Why not cut to the chase and just place it from the beginning?

Finally, this is not one of the Rules of Golf but a stipulation of the committee that applies to the professional tours and elite amateur events, commonly known as the “one-ball rule.” It requires players to play with only one brand and model of ball throughout the round.

It was adopted ostensibly to prevent players from using different balls for different conditions, such as a hard ball for a distance hole and a soft, spinny ball for a short hole. The time has passed for the need for such a rule.

Tour-caliber balls are so close these days that it’s even hard for the players to tell the difference. Russell Henley was penalized eight shots recently in the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Golf Classic for playing four holes with an ever-so-marginally different model of the same brand, which on its face is downright ludicrous. Please show me where he benefitted from playing the different ball.

At the highest levels, the Rules of Golf are designed to prevent anyone from gaining an advantage over the rest of the field. Why not leave that to the ability and execution of the players and simply take those rules that hinder out of the way?