Ask the Rules Guy: Score One for Common Sense

Ask the Rules Guy: Score One for Common Sense

All Hail the USGA!

Much has been made about the latest changes to the Rules of Golf by the USGA and R&A, but something’s been missing: Giving credit where credit is due. Much like the IRS and Congress, the governing bodies of golf often take heat for the arcane, confusing Rules that have evolved in two centuries of the game, but they rarely receive praise when they make the right call. And these changes definitely deserve some (qualified) praise.

The most talked about change in this year’s edition is to Rule 18-2b, which covers balls at rest being moved by players, partners, caddies or equipment. By simply stipulating that it must be “known or virtually certain” that the player did not cause his ball to move, players and fans will no longer have to hold their collective breaths on blustery days, when a sudden gust of wind can cause the ball to take off without warning. While the USGA is loathe to make changes in between the scheduled rerelease of the Rules every four years, it is surprising that this modification in particular has gone so long unaltered, especially after high profile cases like those of Padraig Harrington at the 2008 Masters and Rory McIlroy at this year’s British Open.  This was a no-brainer of a decision, and while it certainly could have arrived on the scene long ago, this is a case of "better late than never" rather than "too little too late." This is a great step in the right direction. The next step? Allowing players to take a drop out of a fairway divot. But that’s a complaint for another day…

Speaking of good decisions, one that is getting less attention is the governing bodies’ change to Rule 13-4, which deals with prohibited actions in sand traps. A new exception to the Rule will now allow players to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time (before or after playing your ball). Not only is this change completely sensible (especially if you have ever found your ball on one end of a 50-foot Myrtle Beach bunker with a rake on the complete opposite side), but it is also likely a sign of things to come. The USGA made strong steps towards cracking down on slow play with its "Tee it Forward" campaign this year, and golf’s governing body really wants to get us back to a four hour round, trimming back some of the less important Rules is a great way to start. Kudos and excelsior!

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