The new Rules of Golf will take some getting used to – as the PGA Tour stars proved

Rules of Golf

It's early days and things will become more normal over time but the early impressions of the new Rules of Golf are mixed, writes Mark Townsend

At one end the spectrum you have Dustin Johnson, at the other Bryson DeChambeau. Just two places separate the pair of them on the world rankings but they couldn’t be further apart in their outlook to the finer points of the game.

One has used a compass to double check pin positions, the other has misread a putt in a Ryder Cup match by having his green-reading book upside down.

Golf doesn’t move the quickest at the best of times so when new rules and regulations come in, as they did on January 1 of this year just ahead of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, we can all, players and fans alike, begin to go to pieces.

Take this from Hawaii for example, the first sighting of a grown man and professional sportsman, Andrew Landry, who is taking a drop from – brace yourself – knee height.

To paraphrase, the new ruling means you no longer drop the ball from shoulder height, which always seemed hard enough given plenty of people’s propensity to slowly lower their arm just before the point of delivery.

From now on, whether you bend over or kneel down, the ball has to leave your hand at knee height. The original amended ruling was that you could pretty much place it before that was changed on the grounds that it was even more ridiculous than this one.

Of all the rules that we’ve bleated about for years the drop from shoulder height never seemed to be one of them.

The new procedure has been introduced to increase the chance that it stays within the relief area – I know, I could do this better too – and to keep things quite random but also limit the damage when dropping in a wet bunker.

What it has managed thus far is reduce the current Texas Open champ to the look of a quivering, giggly teenager removing his trousers for the first time in front of a member of the opposite sex.

DeChambeau, a man who makes playing the same-length club look easy, managed to look equally as awkward two days later.

“That you have to drop it from knee height is a bit absurd, unfortunately,” he said. “I think that you should be able to go from knee height to shoulder height. There should be no issue with that, whatever you want to do, honestly.”

It has though upped the banter ante in the locker room though. Rory McIlroy (5-foot-9) said this of Brian Harman (5-foot-7): “We’re saying that [he] has got a big advantage, he can basically place it.”

You might think in this day and age the big move to knee height would be a seamless one but change takes time and these boys have been taking shoulder-high relief since time immemorial or, in some of our cases, 1984 when the over-shoulder move left the game.

DeChambeau was also amused by the new rule that now allows players to repair damage and spike marks on putting surfaces.

“I can see a lot of guys, when nobody’s really looking, tapping down some things and making a little depression so they can putt it through that area a little bit better,” DeChambeau said.

Ooh, spiky indeed.

Moving on to the big one – to putt with the flag in or to have it out. In my head this only comes up when you’ve somehow chipped one up stone dead and you want to quickly put an end to the hole.

Otherwise there is, generally speaking, someone else there to tend the pin or you take it out yourself.

Now the golfing world has been gently rocked with the ability to – are you sitting down? – leave the flag in.

This was already a head-muncher as, whatever happens when your ball hits the back of the hole with the flag out and invariably doesn’t pop up in the air before dropping, you content yourself that you could be 10 feet further away or even off the green.

Now we seem to think that by having the flag in it is going to widen the circumference of the hole by about three feet. All I can visualise is my ball jamming against the pin and staying above ground.

Of more interest are the thoughts of DeChambeau and Johnson. Let’s start with the man who has probably given this more thinking time than anybody else on the planet – and young Bryson reckons he will more often than not leave it in, however weird that looks.

“I feel like I maximised my potential on that, especially on 16, where it’s kind of blowing downwind, 5% slope, straight down hill you want that pin to help. So that’s what I kind of did and utilised it to my advantage. So I felt like for the most part I needed the pin to be in and it went in and it was a very nice help,” he said after the first day when he led the field for Strokes Gained: Putting.

“I don’t know when it’s actually going to hurt me, if it is going to hurt me. So that’s why I got to understand that, when it does hurt me I’ll know and that I won’t do it any more. But as of right now it seems like it’s a pretty nice benefit every once in a while.”

For the record his preparation for such matters didn’t involve a laboratory, hundreds of balls, various slopes and different fibreglass flagsticks but rather 20 putts hit with the flag in.

“People make it too complicated,” he added, probably for the first time in his life.

Dustin Johnson

Speaking of which Johnson and his first dalliances with the 2019 rule book. Well, unsurprisingly, he was the first player to be hit with a two-shot penalty but this had nothing to do the new regulations as he played the wrong ball from a hazard.

“That won’t ever happen again. I can promise you that,” he said afterwards.

The chances are, given who we’re talking about here, is that it won’t be the last time, particularly when you read his pre-tournament observations of the new rules.

When asked if he had “paid any attention to the rules changes or how much effort have you put into looking at what the changes will be”, he replied: “I actually just looked at it for like a minute upstairs before I came down. They’ve got a big poster in the locker room.”

And what about brother and caddie Austin? Has he had instruction? “I had one of the tour officials do a printout that I’m going to give to him to study later on,” DJ added, who was then asked how that was going to go.

“Probably not very well,” he joked. But I’m going to have to look at it a little bit. The biggest thing I think is being able to leave the flag in and then the drop heights. But which, yeah, I’m sure there’s going to be a few guys getting penalties. I don’t know if it’s a penalty if it’s on the first drop or if like if you play it. I need to ask somebody. No, if you dropped it like normal.”

The first known written set of rules, first drafted in 1744, for golf consisted of 13 rules. What a time to be alive it must have been back then.

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