The Revamped Rules Of Golf Still Have An Intent Problem, Files: Rory Absolved, Webb Stuck With Cracked Driver

Hard not to scratch your head at the two episodes arising at The Northern Trust, each involving intent, long verboten in rules discussions (unless you knock a ball off the tee accidentally).

Andy Kostka on Webb Simpson playing with a cracked driver (featuring undesirable results) and why a crack is not enough to allow him to replace the wounded weapon. Under the old rules he could have. And if his driver shatters, breaks in half or explodes he could have sent for another mid-round.

David Dusek points out that since April 9th when the broken club rule was clarified, there still has been no clarity to explain why an unintended crack is deemed different than a club that shatters. Both are not usable.

On April 9, the USGA and the R&A released a clarification of Rule G-9 and a Local Rule, “allowing players to replace a broken or significantly damaged club, except in the case of abuse.”

Under the change, clubs are defined as being “broken or significantly damaged” if specific criteria are met, like if the shaft breaks into pieces or splinters, the face or clubhead deforms, the grip is loose or the clubhead detaches or loosens from the shaft.

After the series of bullet points that lists those circumstances, there is a sentence that makes absolutely no sense.

“However, a player is not allowed to replace his or her club solely because there is a crack in the club face or the clubhead.”

But alas, no further explanation why cracks do no measure up to the standards of other club breaks. If the player intentionally broke the club or intentionally swatted it against their bag, they should not be allowed to get a new one mid-round. But unintentional cracks do not get the same treatment even as the club is all but lost?

Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy thought he was moving a pebble, as he’s now allowed to do under the new rules. Turns out, it was a clump of sand. McIlroy reported it to officials and after it was determined he did not intend to improve his lie—even though the new rules allow for the moving of rocks to, uh, improve your lie—he was determined to not be deserving of a penalty.

From Bob Harig’s story:

"The reason I called someone over is I don't want anything on my conscience, either. I feel like I play the game with integrity and I'm comfortable saying that I didn't improve anything. I thought it was a rock; it wasn't. I moved my hand away and then I was like, I don't know if I've done anything wrong here.''

While McIlroy played the last four holes -- he birdied the 15th -- PGA Tour rules official Slugger White conferred with officials at the USGA and determined that there would be no penalty after all. They told McIlroy of the decision after consulting with him at the conclusion of his round.

His intent was considered and powerful enough to absolve him. Common sense.

Why that does not apply to a cracked driver head, remains unclear. And clarity is vital. The inconsistency of “intent” questions continues to undermine the stature and credibility of golf’s rules.