3:28 | Tour & News
USGA, R&A Announce Rules Changes for 2016
By Evan Rothman
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

When it comes to the Rules of Golf, most of us could use an Adjustment of Attitude. The Rules protect golf's integrity, yet we view them as a punishment instead of the game's foundation, a chore instead of a cornerstone.

Consider the four main 2016 Rules changes. Three are player-friendly -- reducing or eliminating penalties related to Rules 18-2b (Ball Moving After Address), 6-6d (Submission of Incorrect Score Card) and 14-3 (Single Impermissible Use of Artificial Devices or Equipment) -- yet all the headlines have focused on the fourth, Rule 14-1b, which prohibits anchoring the club while making a stroke (presumably a putting stroke, or you've really got issues).

So, remember, the Rules are there to help. Get your arms around them, and you might get a big hug in return. Here are some examples of not-so-crazy scenarios where knowing the score as it relates to the Rules can actually lower your score, win you matches and in general put you more in harmony with the golf gods -- never a bad thing.

Having neglected to read GOLF's Performance Center, you slice one toward the OB markers, leaving you unsure where it's come to rest. You grab another ball, angrily, wordlessly preparing to hit a provisional, just to be safe.

Here, silence is not golden. Announce to a competitor that you're hitting a provisional, and do it before searching for your first shot. Per Rule 27-2, if you fail to speak up, your second ball becomes your ball in play (with a stroke-and-distance penalty to boot), and your original is lost, even if it's sitting pretty.

Jason Raish

Your drive comes to rest next to an oak tree that has large roots visible, with more likely beneath the surface. Visions of Sergio at the '99 PGA dance in your head -- but so do scary thoughts of wrecking your wrist. You're confident you can hit the shot, but you know it's not the smart play.

Machismo aside, Rule 28 says you need not play a shot if you don't wish to. Any ball not in a water hazard can be deemed unplayable by taking a penalty stroke. Your best option here? Take said stroke, go back from the ball in line with the flagstick until you're safely clear of potential root-related injury, and drop.

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You're playing a match against your buddy Sketch in the County Amateur. He puts some English on his drop, presumably to make the ball land softer. This strikes you as -- oh, what's the word? -- illegal. Meanwhile, he holes out for a halve and makes a beeline for the next tee.

You must put in your claim before anyone in the match tees off on the next hole. Tell Sketch where you think he's gone afoul and that you want a ruling. Keep playing; an official can later resolve things. If you or he tee off before you question him, it's case closed. (And his drop was illegal -- it's a one-stroke penalty, per Rule 20-2a.)

You reach the island-green 17th at TPC Sawgrass, but you're between clubs. You retreat directly back from the tee markers, determined to give yourself a full 9-iron instead of a three-quarter 8-iron.

Whoa, don't retreat too far. The Rules allow you to play a ball from up to two club-lengths behind the front of the markers. Any more backpedaling and it's a two-stroke penalty in stroke play, plus you must replay your shot from within the teeing ground. And you don't have to use that 9-iron to measure the two club lengths. Decision 20/2 lets you take the longest club that you have to add maximum distance. So feel free to use your driver to help dial in your ideal yardage.

In a match against your chief rival, your tee shot trickles into dense, six-inch-tall rough, just inches off the fairway. Even worse, a sprinkler control box is two feet ahead of you, obstructing your follow-through and path to the green. Your opponent smirks a Bruce Willis-y smirk. For you, a card-wrecking number is calling...or is it?

Rule 24-2b gives you relief from that obstruction, and one club-length from your nearest point of relief puts you back in the fairway. Yes, moving to the short grass in this scenario is completely within the Rules! The look on your opponent's mug is a happy bonus.

Ever the minimalist, you always play a Titleist Pro V1 with a black "1" and no markings. Midway through your round, you push your tee shot into heavy rough. Soon enough, you find your ball -- and then, a foot away, another Titleist Pro V1 with a black "1" and no markings.

Thanks to your time-traveling DeLorean, you can go back to the first tee and, before play starts, mark your ball with a smiley face or some other sort of personalized marking. Otherwise, you'll make a frowny face, thanks to Decision 27/10: If you find two indistinguishable balls, yours is considered lost and you must return to the tee, under penalty of stroke and distance.

You've pored over the Rules (okay, you took a quick glance). Then, in a stroke-play competition, it happens: A truly head-scratching situation leaves you as bewildered as Boo Weekley at a quantum physics lecture. When you're not sure what to do, what the heck do you do?

To paraphrase the late, great, golf-loving Ernie Banks, "Let's play two -- per Rule 3-3, stroke play only." That's right. You may play two balls. Just make sure that before you take any further action (e.g., play a stroke with the original ball), you tell a fellow competitor what you're up to and with which ball you'd like to score. Then finish the hole with both balls and ask a tournament official for a ruling before you turn in your scorecard.


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