Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
The Rules of Golf, specifically the ‘new’ Rules, were in the spotlight again over the weekend as Adam Schenk was assessed a retroactive two-stroke penalty at the Honda Classic because his caddie apparently lined him up. This comes on top of Rickie Fowler’s illegal shoulder height drop the week before in Mexico. Justin Thomas has engaged a public battle with the USGA over the new Rules and some are suggesting the PGA Tour should just discard the Rules it doesn’t like and write their own. Are the players correct in criticizing the new Rules and should the USGA re-assess some of them?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): One is tempted to just say “oh suck it up, you spoiled brats”, but I do think they have some legitimate beefs. I don’t understand why these new rules are being enforced so arbitrarily, without a weaning-in period. Yes, I know we had 18 months’ warning, but no one knew how they’d be applied or enforced until January 1st. The knees-drop is ridiculous, in my view; if a player WANTS to drop from shoulder height, who cares? (Yes, the ball may roll to a better spot, but it may also roll to a worse one.) The lining-up rule is also stupid… who cares, the player still has to stroke the ball. That all said, I’d hate to see the players write their own rules. That would be bifurcation of a different colour.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: A lot of people spent a lot of time and expertise to come up with changes they think will make the game more appealing. So far, I haven’t seen mobs of people lining up for lessons or to buy their first set of clubs, but it is winter. Why hasn’t it occurred to the Law-makers to put a bunch of 4 and 5-year-olds in a park with one club each and one ball each. Let them play and observe how they solve the issues that arise then copy them. Do you really think they would drop the ball from their knee? No! They’d ‘flip’ it from about waist high.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Something needs to be done about a few of these rules. It seems like there’s a penalty for this nonsense every other week and not one of them has been intentional. The Masters is a little over a month away and it would be a real shame if this rule somehow affects the outcome of the tournament.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): This is getting ridiculous, having to talk about this every week because of a screw up with a ruling again! They were supposed to simplify the rules, weren’t they? I think it’s interesting that Rickie and Justin have gotten involved, and it’s good that they have. They are certainly two of the faces of the game right now, two guys who are liked by everyone and respected in the game, so perhaps their comments will have an impact on how the USGA handles the rules infractions moving forward. I totally get that they have to respect the rules and enforce them as they are written, but it seems there should be some clarification to the rules to avoid the situations they are currently running into. Why not change the drop to read “anywhere above the knee”? I can’t even imagine my father, with his two replaced hips and one replaced ankle, having to lean over to drop from his knee height.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: According to reports — but in this trumped up world who can you trust — the blazers at the USGA and the R&A spent five years coming up with their brilliant news rules, like the ever-popular knee drop and leaving the flag stick the heck alone. But, as is apparent by the serial infractions and social media blizzards, in all that head-scratching time the blazers didn’t think to consult the Tour pros. Stunning, but sadly, not surprising. Back when the Tour was formed, the boys decided not to make their own rules. That was a good call, then. But now it’s time for the blazers to listen to the pros and correct the massive flaws in the new rules.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The players are correct. The drop from knee height is absolutely ridiculous. Nobody gains an advantage if the drop is from waist or shoulder height. Re-write the Rule to make it “knee height or higher”. The same goes for the caddie alignment rule. These are arbitrary administrative rules, not anything that directly affects how a player plays or his score. I wouldn’t like to see the PGA Tour write their own rules, but I love the pushback against the USGA. The blue blazers bungled this and need to be held to account.
While we’re on the Rules, last week in Asia, Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn were accused of back-stopping (the process where one player purposely doesn’t mark her ball to give another player an advantage). Jutanugarn said she was trying to save time while Olson claimed she didn’t even know what back-stopping is. Ignorance of the Rules is no excuse, but it seems to describe a lot of players. Are we wrong to expect professional golfers to know the Rules?
Deeks: I watched the Olson-Jutanugarn video many times, and I don’t buy the “we were just trying to speed up” yarn. I think they both knew exactly what they were doing, and it was and is wrong. Maybe they didn’t know it was wrong, but they’re professional golfers, and they should know every single rule. I don’t mind players on any Tour asking for rulings or clarification of options, but Tour School graduation (or elevation from other sources) should come with mandatory rules knowledge. Including written exams.
Schurman: Athletes are renowned for not knowing the rules in any sport. The exceptions are the better players. To gain an advantage the better players learn the rules and then try to find ways to legally circumvent them through equipment innovation, determine their most beneficial translation/interpretation and/or otherwise apply a ruling in ways nobody else has thought of. The best players practice dropping the ball, hit shots from unusual places during practice rounds because they anticipate a rules decision and generally make themselves aware of rules violations that could prevent them from a high level of performance. The USGA and the PGA TOUR have made every attempt to present opportunities to the players to learn the new rules and how to apply them. Any player who mocks or mimics a rule without having studied them in detail is no different than a dentist who suggests wooden dentures. The PGA TOUR is the BIG LEAGUES! Act accordingly and be prepared!
Kaplan: You would think they would know every rule since not knowing them could end up affecting their paydays, but that’s almost implausible considering just how many rules there are. It’s getting a little ridiculous; there are probably enough rules in the sport right now to comprise the entire curriculum of a four-year college program. The last thing golf needs is a rules expert in the booth during broadcasts—a la football’s Dean Blandino and Mike Pereira—but that is where the game is currently headed.
Rule: Obviously in an ideal world, all professional golfers would know all the rules, but I think that’s unreasonable to expect, given the complexity of the rule book and more importantly the Decisions portion of the rule book. Of course, on tour, the caddie plays an important role, and therefore the player and caddie should have a collective knowledge of the rules.
Quinn: The vast majority of golfers — the non-Tour players — are of necessity multi-taskers. They do myriad other things besides play golf. Imagine, if you can, a life devoted purely to playing golf. Then try — this is the tough one — to imagine a life devoted to one thing and not knowing the rules that govern that one thing you do in your so-called life. In that light, yes, expecting a pro golfer to know the rules that govern his or her sole activity is expecting way too much.
Mumford: I think most players know the Rules pretty well. Not in the sense that they can cite specific Rule numbers and sub-categories; more that they know what’s legal and what’s not and what penalties and remedies apply. It would be almost impossible to play professionally and not know them after countless junior, college and mini-tour events with all kinds of rulings and discussions, not to mention that both the PGA Tour and LPGA post a fact sheet for every tournament that lists local rules and current rules issues. Apparently not all the players read them, as DJ proved in 2010 at Whistling Straits. There are obscure situations that require a ruling and calling for an official is OK. This back-stopping thing is more puzzling. If a player knows what it is and still does it, the big question is why would you give your opponent any advantage?
Fifty-six-year-old Vijay Singh was in contention at the Honda Classic until a bogey on the 71st hole ended his chances of breaking Sam Snead’s record for oldest player to win on the PGA Tour. Snead set the record in 1965 by winning the Greater Greensboro Open at age 52. Singh is one of more than a dozen Champions Tour players to periodically tee it up on the regular Tour. Who do you think might have the best chance to break Snead’s record?
Deeks: Fred Couples turns 60 this year, so the chances are REALLY slim, but boy, once he gets rolling, he’s still a force on any course… especially Augusta. Bernhard Langer amazes me with his ageless consistency, too — also at Augusta. But if I had to pick any over-50 player who could possibly win a regular Tour event, I’d put a couple of quid down on Darren Clarke to win the Open Championship… especially since it’s at his home course this year — Royal Portrush. But even if, Darren would only just be 51. Soooooo… I’d have to pick Vijay Singh as the Old Boy Most Likely to Succeed, Some Day.
Schurman: Breaking Snead’s record will get increasingly more difficult as purses grow. Careers are lasting fewer and fewer years as the players earn massive amounts of money in shorter and shorter time frames. Tiger is an anomaly we can’t get out of our minds. He became an instant multi-multi millionaire the second he became a professional leaving him two choices. Take the money and do well or take the money and re-write the record books. In short, he is driven by a different internal engine. From the point of view of who I might even consider there are only two Singh and Mickelson.
Kaplan: I’d be shocked if Phil Mickelson, who won just last month and is turning 49 in June, doesn’t snap that record. His short game is still as sharp as ever and I do not foresee his game dropping off considerably enough over the next three years that he won’t be in contention at least a dozen times or so. If we’re doing a Round Table pool, put a twenty on Lefty for me.
Rule: Like him or not (and I don’t), that was a very impressive performance by Fiji Swing. But in my mind, it would have been a shame to have his name knock off one of the all-time greats from this record. If it’s going to be anyone, it would be nice if Freddie did it, but he doesn’t play enough events, unless he wins the Masters of course! The best chance right now would have to be Bernhard Langer if he actually teed it up more than once a year with the young guys. Since he won’t be doing that, looks like we have to wait four years for Phil to take a crack at beating Snead’s mark.
Quinn: His swing is almost as long and fluid as it was decades ago and is the most Snead-like on Tour. So, if anyone is going to win after age 52 it’s going to be Phil.
Mumford: For the next couple of years I think Singh and Davis Love probably have the best shot. Not only have they kept their games sharp and not lost any distance, they both have 20+ victories on the regular Tour, which should mean they’re less fazed by being in contention than some of their Champions Tour peers who may only have a few wins on their resume. Phil Mickelson is the obvious choice to break Snead’s record eventually. He continues to contend at the highest level and is relatively fit and injury free but maybe more important than anything is that he continues to be laser-focused on winning.