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‘Want to stop slow play? Dish out shot penalties’

Continuing our series looking at the impact of the new Rules of Golf a year on, former Open champion Darren Clarke says slow play is something the rulemakers still need to challenge
 

He won’t putt with the flag in from inside 10 feet, and dropping from knee height took some getting used to, but Darren Clarke says he’s in favour of the new Rules of Golf.

The former Open champion was looking at the impact the biggest changes to the game’s laws in a generation have had since their introduction on January 1.

How has he coped with them, and what would he change if asked by the R&A and USGA?

It’s been a year with the new Rules of Golf. Thoughts?

There’s obviously been some controversy but there was always going to be until people got used to them.

Certainly, I feel rather strange taking a drop from my knee as opposed to arm length. It doesn’t feel quite natural.

Three minutes looking for a golf ball – three minutes will pass very quickly. So when I get to my ball these days, I say immediately to my caddie ‘has somebody got a watch on this?’

They are all there to help the game, help the sport and help everything become a little bit easier to understand and a little bit quicker. So I am all in favour of them.

I haven’t fallen foul of any as yet. But for most things I call a referee to make sure I don’t make a mistake.

Everyone asks for a referee

When you change something, there is always going to be (that) because guys are scared of getting something wrong.

Until you get used to it, you can’t expect them to change rules that have been in operation for all these guys and ladies – that they’ve grown up with all the way through their careers – and not everybody is going to be 100% comfortable until they get used to them. That is perfectly understandable.

It’s some pretty basic stuff…

You’ve got to make sure it’s right. You’ve got to understand the guys on the main tours, indeed all the tours around the world, are playing for their living and for a lot of money. They don’t want to make a mistake that’s going to get them an extra penalty or a disqualification.

This was always going to be this scenario when they changed the rules – people were going to double check and triple check. That’s just what you do when you don’t want to make a basic, stupid, mistake.

Have you seen any howlers?

We all self-policed. I had a few earlier this year that I was going to drop from shoulder height and my playing partner said ‘whoa, stop there. From your knee’. Dropping from the knee has become second nature now but, at the start of the year, I nearly did myself a couple of times.

Flag in, or flag out…

I’m still not smart enough to figure out what’s the right thing to do. I think it helps focus the target, when you’re on the green with a long putt – maybe 30 or 40 foot away. I don’t like putting out with the flag in when I’m inside 10 feet. That doesn’t quite feel right. For the longer away ones I tend to leave it in.

Is there anything you’d bring in immediately to the Rules of Golf?

The only thing I’d bring in immediately would be slow play and giving the guys a shot. As soon as you start giving them shots, that will soon negate all the slow play.

We have to do everything we can to try and tackle slow play. Shots have to be given out and that’s how you are going to stop it.

It’s a Catch-22 because guys are playing for their livelihood.

If you are consistent rule breaker, and going over your time, then shots are certainly a way that’s going to help you work on your pre-shot routine and speed up and play a little bit quicker.

Darren Clarke is an ambassador for Loch Lomond Whiskies, the official spirit of the Open. You can purchase the Loch Lomond Whiskies Open Special Edition single malt here.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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