USGA cracks down on couch potato watch dogs

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 guys are at it again with several new twists for the coming season. Most notably, the USGA and R&A have announced that they will no longer take call-ins from viewers about Rules violations. Do you like the new ruling or are you worried the Rules officials will miss something?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Since I’m a Charter Member of The Rules is An Ass Club, I loudly applaud this move.  Yes, I believe we all have to play by a set of Rules, but when a player is penalized a couple of strokes because a ball was placed a quarter of an inch from where it was marked, or a person is disqualified from a tournament because he/she protected their knees from wet ground while making a shot, or any pro was penalized because a TV viewer called it in, well then, in my view the Rules and their enforcement are just plain silly.  Golf is supposed to be played by honourable people, on their honour.  Let’s assume that, in a pro tournament, they’re doing just that and not worry if someone actually did get away with something.  The current situation (i.e., viewer call-ins) really only hurts the players who are on the leaderboard because that’s who the cameras are on; meanwhile on the holes ahead, who knows what infractions are being inadvertently missed?

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Hallelujah!  I’m so happy with this rule change.  I mean, how many other sports are impacted by fans watching from their couch at home?  Sure there may be a few rules that are breached occasionally, but that’s the same as any sport.  Let the players self-regulate, it works just fine.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Yes. It’s about time! It’s ridiculous that people watching from home can call in and affect the outcome of a professional tournament. Can you imagine what would happen if you were allowed to do that in any of the other major North American sports? There would be riots, I tell you! It’s also good that the PGA Tour will be tasking one of its rules officials every week with watching the tournament live during play and looking for infractions … just no more call-ins from arm-chair referees.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: As every sports fan knows — especially those of football [the world game] and football [the USA game] — the zebras often get it wrong, even with challenges and replays. But at least those sports, and Major League Baseball and tennis, are trying hard to get it right by utilizing the best available technology. Golf should do the same, particularly in the few events that matter, like the Majors and the Ryder Cup. Super slo-mo replays of any contentious or suspect play should be immediately and quickly reviewed by top rules officials in a warm control room somewhere, uninterrupted by calls from armchair amateurs and rules guy wannabes. Blocking the calls is the first good step in that direction.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I’m not really worried the Rules Officials are going to miss something – I know they’ll miss something. But it’s still not up to them or the couch potatoes watching at home to enforce the Rules. Primarily, it’s up to the players themselves. That means that players have to do a better job of protecting the field. When was the last time a player actually called a penalty on another? Or disallowed his opponent the opportunity of fixing a ball mark because it was actually a spike mark? Or didn’t bend over backward to give his opponent as much leeway as he could? It’s way past time the players learned the rules better and started enforcing them on each other.

They also announced that the 2-stroke penalty for filing an incorrect scorecard when the player was unaware of his or her violation would be eliminated. (This was the one that cost Lexi Thompson a retroactive 4-stroke penalty at last year’s ANA Inspiration.) The penalty for the initial Rules infraction still applies. Do you like this change?

Deeks: I think I kinda answered that one above.  But to address the question directly, yes, I like the change.  And call me a heretic if you wish, but I wouldn’t have assessed Lexi two strokes for misplacing her ball, either.

Rule: Another rule change that I love.  Sure the players should know the rules, but there are so many odd rules that it’s virtually impossible to know all of them.  If there wasn’t an intent to cheat the rules, it was just a situation where the player was oblivious, then he/she shouldn’t pay an extra penalty.  I’ve played in tournaments where the player was pressured into signing a scorecard because they had to post his score, and then he was penalized doubly when it was found out that there was a penalty for a situation we weren’t 100% clear on.  That was just unfair to me.  This is a good rule change.

Kaplan: I like this change because I’ve always HATED this rule. If you aren’t aware that you have made an infraction, why should you be penalized for signing your scorecard incorrectly? You should only get docked two strokes for signing your scorecard incorrectly on purpose!

Quinn: First of all, that violations occur (and keep occurring) at the top Tour levels is stunning. That top players — we’re talking the entire group — would be unaware an infraction had occurred that would result in an incorrect card is equally difficult to accept. Anyway, now we get into defining ‘unaware.’ Is it Michelle Wie-like, or Lexi-like? Haven’t read the ruling — too busy, you know, getting up the Christmas lights, checking my phone for QBE Shootout updates — but if it’s not a retroactive ruling assume the playing partner who is responsible for marking the scores also gets dinged for 2 strokes, confirmation that he or she was as blithely ‘unaware.’ This is either going to get ugly, or professionals will have to learn the rules governing what they do every day to make their livings.

Mumford: Yes, another good change. And my answer to the last question applies here too. If players were more careful to watch what their opponents are doing and sort out any infractions on the spot, there wouldn’t be any retroactive penalties.

There have been several calls from industry leaders lately to scrap Rule 14-1b, which made it illegal to use an anchored stroke. The ban on anchored putting was official two years ago but the impact seems to have been negligible at the pro level but devastating at the elite amateur level, especially amongst seniors. Is it a good rule or should they scrap it and allow anchoring again?

Deeks: Guess what I think?  Dumb rule, scrap it, let people use whatever techniques and clubs they wish to put the ball in the hole, short of walking it over and dropping it in.  Anchoring didn’t work for me, but I’d defend to the death anyone else who wished to anchor.  (And I would’ve allowed Sam Snead to continue putting croquet style!)

Rule: I’m torn on this one, but I think the rule should stay.  The only reason I think maybe it should change is for seniors or those with bad backs, because it makes it difficult for them to practice putting.  But ultimately it’s a good rule in my mind so it should remain as it is.

Kaplan: It should definitely be scrapped at the amateur level. The majority of amateurs who turn to anchoring putters do so as a last resort because they could not make a putt if their lives depended on it with every other style of putter. The anchored putter does not magically turn these people into incredible putters. It just makes them less awful and I’m all for that. Because playing golf with someone who four putts every single hole is a chore.

Quinn: As the rounders at this table know, I have been for bifurcation since golf writers first learned how to spell it. Let amateurs playing for fun, play for fun with whatever they want. Let every amateur body and every amateur /charity tournament decide how much fun participants can have, and make the pros play unanchored. Maybe Langer can give Scott a couple of lessons over the fortnight offseason and end this phony debate.

Mumford: The Rule was poorly written. They should have limited the length of the putter to the shortest club in the bag. Notwithstanding, players like Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron just moved the putter millimetres away from their bodies but still gain the effect of a pendulum style stroke. And apparently Adam Scott is going back to his broomstick too. It works. If it were up to me, I’d ban long putters. But if they’re going to allow a long putter, I’m OK if they anchor it.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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