How to fix the five dumbest rules in golf

Wednesday October 13th, 2010
Dustin Johnson was penalized two strokes at the PGA for grounding his club in a hazard.
Kohjiro Kinno/SI

Who was to blame for Dustin Johnson grounding his club in a bunker at the PGA Championship? Some people blame Dustin, others blame his caddie, the PGA rules officials or even Whistling Straits course designer Pete Dye, but for me it was the inevitable result of the needlessly complicated Rules of Golf, which are threatening the enjoyment and growth of the game. One of the coolest things about our game is that it's self-governed. However, if the rules don't make sense, then people will play the way they think is fair, regardless of what the USGA or R&A say. The only thing that gives the R&A and the USGA the right to govern the game is the consent to be governed by the worlds golfers. It's time for the rules to be updated and simplified. Here's where they can start:

1. Bunker Vs. Waste Areas
This distinction is what created the whole PGA Championship debacle. It adds a layer of unnecessary complexity to the game's already complicated rules. "Hmmm, is it a bunker where I can't ground my club or a waste bunker where I can?" The solution: Get rid of waste areas and call everything a bunker.

2. No Relief From Divots and Sand-filled Divots
This one is ridiculous. If a sand-filled divot isn't ground under repair, then I don't know what those words mean. Imagine if I'm playing in the group behind Gary McCord and McCord hits a good drive to the middle of the fairway and then hits a 7-iron to the green, creating a deep divot. If I hit the identical drive and land in the same spot, I'm denied the same playing conditions he had. If a cart tire created the rut, I would get relief, but because the hole in the ground was made by a golfer, then I can't. How does that make sense? Golfers get relief from unusual conditions and those conditions should include divots.

3. Out of Bounds
You are penalized less for whiffing your tee shot than you are for making contact and hitting it out of play. Out of bounds should be played as a lateral hazard rather than stroke-and-distance. The current penalty is too severe. Also, playing OB areas as lateral hazards would speed up play. Many recreational golfers already play OB areas as a lateral hazard for that reason. That, and the fact they are too embarrassed to walk back to the tee while another group is waiting there!

4. Dropping the Ball
Possibly the dumbest rule of all. If you're already taking a penalty, you should be allowed to place your ball on the ground. When you drop it, you need to make sure it doesn't land closer to the hole or roll too far — or whatever! Plus, you bring a bunch of other rules into play. Plus, if you drop two times and the ball still ends up closer to the hole, you get to place the ball anyhow. Enough already. Just the place the ball and get out of there.

5. Disqualification for Penalty Assessed After Round
A player who commits a penalty that only becomes apparent after he signed his scorecard is disqualified. Why? Not for the two-stroke penalty. Instead, his score has changed so he's disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Just give me the penalty, but don't DQ me under another rule.

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