Golf’s governing bodies, the USGA and R&A, announced Monday they had finally updated several obsolete rules of golf that were implemented in, like, 1931. Perhaps most significant is that golfers will no longer be penalized for their ball moving after it’s been addressed. In recent years this rule has come into intense scrutiny. Just ask Webb Simpson, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, among others.
So, at least something good came out of Simpson being robbed of a win earlier this year at the Zurich Classic when a gust of wind moved his ball after he had already addressed it, leading him to incur a one-stroke penalty. Same thing happened to U.S. Open champ McIlroy at the British Open in July.
Back in January at Abu Dhabi, Padraig Harrington inadvertently moved his ball three dimples and didn’t replace it because he thought he had only oscillated and then moved back in place. He signed for the wrong score before realizing he had committed an infraction and was disqualified.
Here are the three modifications, according to the USGA release:
- Ball Moving After Address (Rule 18-2b). A new exception is added which exonerates the player from penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move. For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position.
- Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions (Rule 13-4). Exception 2 to this Rule is amended to permit a player to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, including before playing from that hazard, provided it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and Rule 13-2 (improving lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play) is not breached.
- Time of Starting (Rule 6-3a). The rule is amended to provide that the penalty for starting late, but within five minutes of the starting time, is reduced from disqualification to loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play. Previously this penalty reduction could be introduced as a condition of competition.
For the “Ball in Hazard” amendment, that means you can rake a bunker before hitting your ball, which would have saved Ernie Els a two-stroke penalty at The Heritage in April. In the first round on the 8th hole, Els walked into the sand trap from the back and raked his footsteps as he walked toward his ball, which was near the front of the hazard.
And the “Time of Starting” modification will allow players to avoid disqualification if they are within five minutes late. Last year at The Barclays, Jim Furyk was disqualified from the tournament after he overslept and showed up two minutes late to his Wednesday pro-am starting time.
All three rules changes = duh!
Padraig Harrington, three-time major winner and R&A-Working for Golf Ambassador, said in the USGA statement: “I am delighted with the changes, in particular the ball moving after address. Every time the wind blows I am worried that my ball is going to move and I am worried about grounding my putter, distracting me from trying to hole my putt.
“This change will speed up play, there won’t be as many suspensions and players won’t be getting penalised or disqualified unfairly. It is definitely giving us players a little bit of a break.”
A new ruling (Rule 3-2b) excludes hole-in-one prizes from the general prize limit and allows high value prizes, including cash, to be awarded. This exception, which brings The R&A into line with the United States Golf Association (USGA) Rules of Amateur Status, is specific to prizes for holes-in-one achieved while playing a round of golf and neither separate events nor multiple-entry events qualify.
Another major modification applies to elite amateurs on the verge of turning pro:
Players will now be able to enter into an agreement with an agent or sponsor as long as they do not receive any financial gain while still an amateur. Rules have also been relaxed on subsistence payments paid through national golf unions.
Rickman explained: “The rules on contracts now reflect the modern game and adopt a much more realistic and common sense approach.
“Similarly, the rules on subsistence expenses should help the support of deserving talent wherever it may emerge across the golfing world.”
Tom Lewis, who recently turned professional after an amateur career that included winning the Silver medal at this year’s Open Championship as well as being part of the victorious 2011 Walker Cup team, welcomed the changes.
He said: “It is an important change because some players are forced into turning pro early just because of financial difficulties.
“It will make a real difference as they will now be able to turn professional for all the right reasons and also at the right time for them. It is probably the most important decision they will make in their career.
“All the experience I gained as amateur has helped prepare me for life as a professional and I am pleased that I made the decision to play in the Walker Cup before joining the professional ranks.”
Well, the ball moving after address and ball in hazard changes will seriously impede armchair rules officials for dialing that 1-800 hotline number that usually led to the disqualification of players since officials wouldn’t be reached before players have signed their scorecards.