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Rules, Rules & More Rules

It seems every week a new golf rules infraction is highlighted on our television screens.

Last year, we witnessed the USGA debacles at both the Men’s and Women’s U.S. Opens. When viewed on super slo-motion video replay, officials deemed Dustin Johnson’s ball moved a dimple on a slick green surface that was too fast for mere mortals to compete on and should ever have been allowed.

Anna Nordqvist was hit with a penalty for moving a couple grains of sand, again invisible to the naked eye, but when viewed by officials on video replay, a penalty was assessed that cost her a chance to win the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open.

This year started out in a similar fashion, Lexi Thompson’s did not replace her golf ball in exactly the right spot, which cost her a four-shot penalty and an LPGA major championship title at the ANA Inspiration.

Lexi Thompson’s 4-stroke penalty cost her the ANA Inspiration title.

A short couple of weeks later Jon Rahm playing in the Irish Open on the European Tour, clearly mis-marked his golf ball on the green, but was not assessed a penalty by European Tour officials, Rahm went on to win the event.

Rules officials said, he really didn’t mean to do it, there was no intent, so it was OK.

These rulings seem inconsistent at best and more than a bit confusing to the average golfer.

The rules issues continued last week at the U.S. Junior Girls Championship, when Elizabeth Moon playing a semi-final match versus Emily Shephard, failed to putt out, even though the putt had not been conceded, which resulted in her losing the hole and the match.

Shephard advanced to the finals and won the championship.

A similar problem arose in the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany. American, Alison Lee, failed to putt out a tap in, before it was conceded and Suzann Pettersen called her on it, which caused the loss of the hole. The American Team was losing badly to the Europeans at the time, but used this perceived slight by Pettersen to rally in the singles matches to win the cup by ½ point.

Perhaps the most bizarre rulings involved free drops from bunkers.

Branden Grace was allowed a free drop in a bunker, when he was not able to gain a proper stance along the edge of the bunker. New bunker construction uses concrete inside the edges of bunkers to prevent dirt from comingling with the sand. The concrete under the sand does not allow a player to dig his heels in for a stance, if his ball comes to rest too near the edge of the bunker.

The concrete is an unnatural obstruction, thus the player is given a free drop.

Charley Hoffman used this rule to earn a free drop from a fried-egg lie in a bunker, drew a better lie and saved his par. He tied for the lead in regulation at the RBC Canadian Open, but lost in a playoff with Jhonattan Vegas.

These rules issues illustrate the complexity of the Rules of Golf. If professionals have difficulty interpreting them and applying them in the right situation, how are average golfers going to use the rules correctly?

The short answer is, they are not.

For casual play, basic rules need to be followed for out of bounds, lost ball, as well as, balls hit into hazards. Rules can be determined among your group to speed up play and to make it fair, as well as, fun.

Professionals playing for millions of dollars in prize money need to understand the rules and how to apply them in any situation.

Jordan Spieth’s understanding of the drop rule from an unplayable lie, keeping the point between he and the green, saved him a chance for bogey at The Open Championship, which ultimately helped him win at Royal Birkdale.

The USGA and The R&A are working to simplify the Rules of Golf for casual play, but don’t hold your breath.

It seems every time someone tries to simplify something, it becomes for complicated.

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6062 Wood Dr.
Waterville, OH 43566
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About Fred Altvater:

I admit it – I am a golfaholic, as well as a teaching professional. I have enjoyed playing the grand game of golf for over 40 years. In addition to playing, I find teaching golf very rewarding – I love to see students when they finally hit that great shot, make the long put, chip in or kill that long drive. - See more at: Toledo Ohio Golf Lessons - About Fred