Spirit Of The Rules And Matt Kuchar Are Not Synonymous

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El Tucan technically was not entitled to a normal caddie payday after a big win in Mexico.

The pitch mark at the Memorial was his because someone said so, yet a replay said otherwise and a third opinion was asked for to get a better lie. It’s hard to watch.

And now coarse waste bunker sand is a loose impediment.

The newly revised rules opened the door for the latest questionable act of sportsmanship by Matt Kuchar. Players can now move a loose impediment in a bunker. As Kuchar demonstrated, it sand is course enough to be a pebble in the eyes of any official, then all of the tiny particles are loose impediments.

While using the rules of golf to your advantage is wise, it’s confounding to watch someone with a once solid reputation and plenty of cash in the bank to snub his upturned nose at the spirit of the rules. Again. In the same year. On television.

Kuchar takes well over the time allotted to play a shot while we are watching—television cut away after 40 seconds of Kuchar’s trench dig—and seems to improve his lie in the “waste area.”

Here is the video from last week’s European Tour event, the 2019 Porsche European Open where Kuchar missed the cut:

Technically, Kuchar did not violate the rules because this was not a bunker and a rules official determined the waste area to be made up of millions of loose impediments. (That this was the conclusion is another matter entirely.)

While players have pushed the spirit of the rules in many ways, this year’s revised language opened the door to an erosion of player values when it comes to how their ball rests. So far it hasn’t happened.

But there is no more important rule than play it as it lies. The fundamental rule of all rules. The one that started it all and the one good players take the most seriously. Especially when a camera is on them.

Kuchar may be an outlier when it comes to believing his is entitled to the lie he wants. Or this may have nothing to do with the new rules and all to do with Kuchar’s sense of entitlement. But if this is an attack on play it as it lies, then shoring up this waste bunker vs. sand and what’s a pebble, or what is not a pebble, needs addressing. The game is already slow enough with way too much touching of the ball (and ground around a ball).

We should not be surprised after this year’s introduction of spike-mark tapping and pebble picking that there could be a further erosion of etiquette. Still, no one else has been this brazen in pushing the boundaries of common sense and courtesy to the field. Let’s hope it stays that way.

We discussed on Morning Drive:



Did Phil Inadvertently Make The Case For The De-Skilling Role Of Green Reading Books?

After Bryson DeChambeau cited his green reading book’s confusing data as part of the reason he took forever to hit a six-footer, the episode reminded plenty just how silly it is that an already slow game where key skills are less necessary would get slower and easier.

That DeChambeau suggested it was his right to set up shop due to the book read being so very, very wrong, reminded me what a stain on the game these are and that they simply need to go.

Today on Twitter, as Bill Speros notes for Golfweek, Rickie Fowler’s green-reading assistant and bagman Joe Skovron made clear he didn’t have a stake in the green book debate, but suggested they do help speed up play.

Phil Mickelson, in a rare reply, probably wrote too much:

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Mercifully for the green reading book world, Mickelson’s terrible stats this year strongly contradict his statement.

Skill was a key element in the governing bodies questioning the role of these books and rules were changed in an attempt to reduce their efficacy. Thomas Pagel of the USGA when the books were kept legal, with restrictions:

“We have looked carefully at the use of these green-reading materials and the extremely detailed information they provide and our view is that they tip the balance too far away from the essential skill and judgment required to read subtle slopes on the greens. It is important to be clear, however, that we still regard the use of yardage books and handwritten notes to be an entirely appropriate part of the game.”

They probably will not use Mickelson’s remarks to consider a ban given his season stats in the areas where he claims they gain him time and strokes. But Mickelson seems to admit that the books allow him to spend less time studying a course to learn how to read the greens or tackle the design.

There was also this from Luke Donald, one of the best putters of his or any generation:

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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 ESPN.com 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.

Darren Clarke's Caddy Needs To Get Up To Snuff On How Birdhouses Work

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With Steve Stricker likely coasting to victory in a birdiefest at the Warren Course, Saturday’s incident with Darren Clarke’s penalty at least provides a teaching moment from the U.S. Senior Open.

Brentley Romine on the the effort to get relief, the decline and then the caddy attempt to move and immovable obstruction, causing a penalty.

According to Rule 15.2, free relief is allowed from movable obstructions but not from immovable obstructions, which is what bird feeders are considered at the Warren Golf Course. Also, Rule 16.1 allows free relief from immovable obstructions and other abnormal course conditions but only if it interferes with lie, stance or a ball on the putting surface.

Needless to say—or not—moving birdhouses would defeat the purpose of said house. Apparently Team Clarke did not get that memo.

The full report from Golf Central includes highlight footage:

Behaving Under Par: Nicklaus-Like Sportsmanship Values Fail To Show Up In Memorial Opening Round

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Where to begin?

Phil Mickelson said the USGA only gets setup right when it rains at the U.S. Open.

Matt Kuchar tries to claim multiple things in hoping to get relief from an old fairway pitch mark, asks for a second and third ruling, and in general, reminds you why it took El Tucan to get paid what he deserved.

Bryson DeChambeau whines about being put on the clock and seems to believe you are entitled to more time when deciding to go for a green in two, or not.

Most fascinating of all: the bratty behavior took place at the prestigious Memorial tournament, hosted by Jack Nicklaus.

Funny how players refrain from the nonsense one week at year at the Masters—no whining about lies, no backstopping, no rudeness to the field—and used to take their behavior up a notch or two when Jack and Arnold were on the grounds.

Not any more.

In Kuchar’s case, he appeared to walk back the long effort to get relief from a pitch mark that was not his, reports Golf.com’s Dylan Dethier.

Kuchar’s behavior was seen by many and called out by just as many, including European Tour player Eddie Pepperell. Mercifully, officials Robby Ware and Stephen Cox handled themselves well and with quiet confidence and authority.

The PGA Tour took down a video it posted on Twitter of the exchange. #liveunderpar

Mickelson, who made a fool of himself during Saturday’s third round of the 2018 U.S. Open, is back on the offensive and not exactly buttoning down the karma heading to Pebble Beach in two weeks. Alex Myers with Mickelson’s remarks and some of the backstory, including this:

“I’ve played, what, 29 U.S. Opens,” Mickelson told reporters at Muirfield Village. “One hundred percent of the time they have messed it up if it doesn’t rain. Rain is the governor. That’s the only governor they have. If they don’t have a governor, they don’t know how to control themselves.”

Says the guy who couldn’t put a governor on his emotions last year. Got it.

Not that it excuses bad course setup or the mistakes made, but you’d think someone who loves to pass on questions would have passed on this one.

As for Bryson DeChambeau, GolfChannel.com’s Will Gray spoke to him about being put on the clock. His rationale to official Brad Fabel for taking his sweet time was fascinating.

“He came up to me and told me I had a bad time. And I was like, do you realize I was deciding between laying up and going for it?” DeChambeau said. “And we’ve had struggles the past three holes in a row, hazards and making bogeys and all that. Was that not factored in? ‘Well, it’s just 40 seconds, it is what it is.’ Well, I don’t agree with that.”

Remember: the players largely believe they should break from the governing bodies and make their own rules. It’s almost tempting to encourage such a scenario just to watch that boondoggle unfold!

Latest Green Reading Book Silliness: NCAA Championship Official Book Deemed Non-Conforming On Event Eve

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Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols details the latest fiasco with non-banned-but-should-be green reading materials”: official yardage books from the NCAA Division I women’s championships are non-conforming. By 1/16th of an inch. On ten of the holes.

“We’re just going to go to Office Depot and get some sticker labels and cover up all 18 of them,” said Purdue coach Devon Brouse.

Officials didn’t specify which of the 10 holes were in violation.

The new interpretation for Rule 4.3a, which went into effect Jan. 1, stipulates that players may use a putting-green map during play, but it must be “limited to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards (1:480).”

The original green reading book ban discussions would have been more restrictive, but the USGA and R&A watered things down a bit, and now we have the same information, only smaller. Most of the time.

Just ban them and get it over with!

Moochgate 2 Never Hits Theaters: Sergio Takes The Blame For Raking Ball Before Kuchar Can Concede

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We were so close to having a fabulous squabble on our hands, but Sergio Garcia eventually came to his senses after some mid-round tension in the WGC Dell Match Play. Our dreams of Moochgate 2 were dashed when it went straight to video (long story, under 20 year olds).

Bob Harig of ESPN.com on the negotiation between the green vandal and the mooch.

It was after that hole where Garcia suggested to Kuchar that he concede a hole to make up for what happened on the seventh.

"I thought about it and said I don't like that idea, either," Kuchar said.

"Typically there's an acknowledgement," he added of a conceded putt. "I understand how the concession needs to be vocal and I try to do a really good job. I hate it when guys sort of mumble something. I always try to be very clear, very vocal. This is one where I was on the back of the green. It happened so fast. I knew I hadn't conceded it. But it was never a tactic or anything."

Despite the apparent tension within the match, Garcia backed away from any controversy after it.

"It's quite simple: I screwed it up, it's as simple as that," he said. "Obviously I missed my putt and I kind of tapped it with the back of my putter before he said anything. It's a loss of hole. I understand that.

"There are many options that you can do if you don't want to take the hole, even though I've already lost that hole. But obviously he didn't like any of the options that were there. It's fine. At the end of the day, I'm the one who made the mistake."

Boo!

The mistake by Garcia that likely cost him his match in Saturday’s round of 8:

USGA Addresses Intent Question, Status Of Justin Thomas Peace Talks

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Andrew Both of Reuters talks to the USGA’s Thomas Pagel gives us an update on the broken club rule that inspired Justin Thomas’s Honda Classic outrage at 2019’s new rules. The spat spilled onto Twitter.

The new rule allows players to continue using a damaged club, even bending it back into shape if possible, but not to replace it during a round.

"You can just add that one to the list of rules that don't make any sense," Thomas told reporters.

"If you break or bend the club in play, I don't see where the harm is in replacing it."

Pagel disputes the new rule does not make sense.

"That rule used to be so complicated (determining) when a club was damaged, unfit," Pagel told Reuters in an interview.

"We said let's simplify it. You can start with up to 14 (clubs) and if one becomes damaged you’re not able to replace it.

"Justin and I have connected. I thought it was very positive conversation. I want to keep the nature of it private."

Michael Bamberger was also afforded phone time with Pagel for a Golf.com item on the new rules and notes this following Webb Simpson’s unfortunate freak Players penalty, prompting Pagel to remind why intent cannot drive the rules.

Pagel expressed sympathy for Simpson’s bad luck and then dutifully explained why the rulebook gives a player a one-shot penalty if you’re off the green and no penalty if you’re on it. The latter, the so-called Dustin Johnson Rule of 2016, allows for that fact that you might have already had your hand on a ball on the green, that greens are more closely mown, and that a random outside agency – most notably wind – can move a ball on a green more readily.

“As much as possible, the rulebook tries to keep the question of ‘intent’ out of the discussion, because intention is hard to define,” Pagel said.

One person, for instance, could claim an exemption from a penalty because of intention while another, in those same circumstances, might not. That’s not a level playing field.

Is Golf In Danger Because Intent Is Not Addressed In Every Rule?

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We have many rules where intent is now considered and many others that are not.

According to Webb Simpson, he was penalized because he moved the ball when it was off the green and only intent is considered on a ball accidentally moving on a green. The 2019 Players final round penalty cost him nearly $60,000.

“My ball’s on the fringe, and I was seeing if I was standing in the rough or if I was going to get both feet in the fringe or whatever and the end of my putter just got stuck on my shirt and it moved the ball about a quarter of an inch,” he said after the round. “I thought it might be a penalty, but we called anyways, and if it’s on the green it’s not a penalty. So this is where I’m going to be loud and clear, like we have to get intent into the rules. We have to. Because it’s killing our game when it comes to these kind of things.”

While I understand his point—seemingly arcane rule violations causing the game to look bad—I’m not sure this is one of them? Or close.

Post Quad: Could Tiger Have Dropped From The Island Green's Walkway?

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Just two back at the time, Tiger Woods made quadruple bogey at the par-3 17th and likely killed his chances of winning the 2019 Players.

ESPN’s Bob Harig on the first-ever two-water-ball day for Woods at 17 and the impact it made on Woods’ chances.

"Both shots I'm just trying to hit the ball into the slope [on the green] and just walk away with a 20-, 25-footer and move on about my business," Woods said after shooting 71 to finish at 141, 3 under par. "The second one I hit too flat and too hot. But the first one from the regular tee and was a good shot, it just flew a little bit too far."

But as the Live From crew noted last night, the yellow penalty area marking means there was an opportunity to possibly drop on the manicured walkway. The wording of the new rule also gives the player room to drop where a stance might be possible. Brandel Chamblee has since Tweeted suggesting his take was confirmed by a rules official.

Furyk Laughs Off Flagstick Putt Rejection, New Rule Appears Safer Than Ever

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The first big flagstick rejection of a putt has taken place, and as I write for Golfweek, Jim Furyk’s reaction suggests that players won’t be backing down off the dramatic change in how they do their (putting) business.

PGA Tour Is Not Going Into The Rulemaking Business Anytime Soon

While we had another bizarre rules moment Thursday at The Players, Harold Varner’s troubles had little to do with the new rules, just a complex and freakish run-in with an old rule related to club adjustability.

But it’s worth noting that even after a bizarre violation we are not seeing the usual outpouring of grief over the change. That’s a direct result of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan reiterating and expanding on a recent memo making clear the PGA Tour has no desire to make golf rules.

My Golfweek story on that, and the key kumbaya quote after a two hour five familes meeting.

“We have two fantastic professional governing bodies of the game,” he said Wednesday. “We have always played by their rules and we will continue to play by their rules. And we are not going to be playing by our own rules. We think that the game is best served with everybody playing by the same rules and the same standards. We think it’s a source of inspiration for the game.”

JT Addresses The USGA Trolling Him On Twitter: “It is unfortunate. It just was — it really hurt me.”

Justin Thomas after the Honda Classic final round.

Justin Thomas after the Honda Classic final round.

By my math the two sides should be even. Justin Thomas isn’t so sure.

Even though JT has trolled the USGA on Twitter with a "growthegame” hashtag, the organization’s surprise call-out of the former Walker Cupper over his new rules comments appears to have taken him by surprise. And shock. And making a claim that the USGA Tweet was not accurate.

From Dan Kilbridge’s Golfweek report at the Honda:

“It was a little shocking. It was a little upsetting just because it was inaccurate,” Thomas said Sunday of the USGA’s claims. “I haven’t canceled anything, especially any meetings. But it is what it is, and all I want is the best for the game of golf and the best for the sport, and that’s what we’re going to continue to try to communicate with each other to get that.

“It is unfortunate. It just was — it really hurt me.”

The full video of Thomas’s post round comments.

The USGA’s John Bodenhammer talked to Morning Drive to clarify the organization’s concerns and unlike the Tweet, sounded more concerned about repairing damage and preventing a war of (social media) words.

“It’s very clear there is a certain level of discomfort with some Tour players, certainly not all, and we are working to address that with certain rules,” Bodenhamer said. “We know we have more work to do.

Players were buzzing about the USGA pushback, Randall Mell noted in quoting Jim Furyk:

On Golf Central, both Mark Rolfing and David Duval took issue with the USGA’s tactics though the outcome of more refined dialogue and maybe an end to some of the more excessive new rules commentary.

JT, USGA Take Rules Squabbling To DM, Planned Meeting

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I was hoping for a Vietnam summit but it’ll be more like Justin Thomas and Mike Davis having coffee in the Seminole clubhouse before Monday’s pro-member.

Saturday’s back and forth after Thomas took to social media to voice concern about the revamped rules of golf and the most recent penalty, this one a retroactive two-shotter for Adam Schenk.

Ahhhhhhhhh…

Rules Mess: PGA Tour Pros Making The Case For Bifurcation With Each Passing Day

There are two columns from the Honda Classic worth noting as they ultimately have players ripping the revamped Rules of Golf for both selfish reasons and also somewhat logical ones.

Randall Mell took the occasion of Rickie Fowler’s deuce drop to highlight Justin Thomas’ complaints about the change in replacing a broken club, a very first world PGA Tour problem that would not impact most golfers.

“I think they’re terrible,” Justin Thomas said.

That’s what he told media the day before the Honda Classic began. His opinions only hardened in the first round, when he bent the shaft of his 9-iron, hitting a tree with a shot at the 10th hole. The new rules wouldn’t allow him to replace the club, the way the old rules would have.

Unable to repair the club, as new rules allow, he played the final eight holes with 13 clubs.

Thomas said he probably couldn’t have replaced the 9-iron in a timely fashion anyway, with his backup at his Jupiter home down the road, but it’s the principle.

“You can just add that one to the list of rules that don't make any sense,” Thomas said.

Again, a first world one but understandably important to professional golfers who play a different game for a lot of money than the rest of us.

There was also this from Mell:

Player frustrations over the new rules were a topic of conversation in a mandatory players’ meeting at PGA National this week. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan presided. Players fear other controversies may be lying in wait.

While incidents of player ignorance are not the fault of the mostly-excellent and streamlined rule modifications, there is no getting around the optics. By starting the year with major changes in the heart of the season and without significant field testing, the result has been mockery.

From Brian Wacker’s Golf World column of a similar theme to Mell’s:

“Golf is trying to appeal to a younger audience, get people into the game, want it to look cool,” Fowler said. “Well, I was sitting at home first couple weeks of the year and me and some buddies were making fun of the new drop rule. It looks terrible.”

The precious M’s aren’t always right nor should their views supercede all others, but the notion that players are hearing from friends how ridiculous they look will ultimately undermine the rules if not addressed. Which strikes at the ultimate issue here as it’s been for all too long: the governing bodies have always struggled with the notion of someone making a living playing the game. And heaven forbid, people like them more than the amateurs.

Billy Horschel:

“My buddies at home are making fun of these rules,” he said. “People in the greater word of golf are making fun of them. Some of [the changes] are good, some of them are bad.

“But I told the USGA you guys aren't the main influencer in the game of golf like you were 30, 40, 50 years ago. PGA Tour players are now the biggest influencer in the game of golf. What the golfer at home sees on TV, they're going to copy us.”

Which is why, ultimately, these rules needed more field testing and a gradual rollout to help educate all or work out kinks.

But given the difference in tournament golf today versus the everyday game, and the resulting taint which could offend new players to the sport, we are increasingly seeing why splitting the rules makes sense. Anyone for Golf Channel’s relaxed rules for the rest of us while the tournament golf world sorts all of this out?

State Of The Game 90: Old Course Rough And The New Rules Mess

Rod Morri, Mike Clayton and I convene for State of the Game 90 to discuss news out of St. Andrews—using rough to enhance strategy—and the various rules related fiascos of recent weeks.

Here is the John Huggan Golf World story referenced regarding new rough to enhance Old Course strategy.

And the Road hole during the 1984 Open referenced by Mike Clayton.

Cejka DQ'd For Using Old Green Reading Materials On New Greens

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The new rules reducing the scale of green reading book specs has done little to diminish their use except to increase eye strain and add to the growing sense of regulatory ineptitude.

Which made Alex Cejka’s DQ from the Honda for using 2018’s book slightly ridiculous at first blush. From Dan Kilbridge’s Golfweek story on the explanation for what was an easy call for PGA Tour referees.

Cejka finished the 14th hole and was on his way to the 15th when he was approached by rules official Robby Ware.

“It was brought to the committee’s attention that Alex might possibly be using some old greens reading materials, and so we were obligated to check that out,” Ware said. “Alex was basically using an old yardage book and old greens reading materials that did not fit the size to scale limit.”

Here’s where this episode moves to another comedic level: besides being an illegal book, the greens have been resurfaced at PGA National, likely making last year’s edition less accurate.

Golf World’s Brian Wacker also has more on how officials learned of the first green reading book violation: Cejka’s playing partner Cameron Tringale saw that Cejka was using the larger 2018-sized materials to read greens.

“I was perplexed,” Tringale said of noticing the book. “That doesn't look right. Did I really see that?

“When we finished the 14th hole, I went to use the bathroom and when I came out I saw [Cejka] riding off in a cart.”

Rickie Fowler Unleashes A Definitive Visual Statement On Golf's New Drop Rule

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In the age of the visual, I’m fairly certain Rickie Fowler has dropped the hammer on efforts to retain the silly looking new drop procedure. And if the visual from round one of the 2019 Honda Classic isn’t enough, the various puns now, uh, flowing, should seal the deal.

From Skratch, which noted how “Rickie shows us the proper way to take a drop.” Maybe someone can explain to the Committees holding emergency meetings to reimagine the drop procedure what they were going for with that one…

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Rickie shows us the proper way to take a drop.

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Could A Review Of Performance Enhancing Flagsticks Prove Fatal For The Governing Bodies?

To review: golfers can leave flagsticks in the hole without penalty, pro golfers have convinced themselves that they will make more putts, fans can see the hole easier, and unlike some of golf’s new rules, there is nearly unanimous support for this change before a majority of golfers have even tried it.

But with the R&A’s Martin Slumbers’ comments this week, combined with the USGA’s Thomas Pagel having said something similar to the WSJ’s Brian Costa, both organizations have suggested that should there be signs the new rule is enhancing performance and de-skilling the game, they might have to revisit the change.

From Alistair Tait’s Golfweek story:

“It wasn’t intended as a rule to improve performance. It was intended as a rule to improve pace of play, and it’s something we will watch and see. But these are early days. This is not the time to make knee‑jerk reactions.”

Slumbers is right, this is not the time. But even if this one does pan out to somehow allow a few more people to make more putts, rescinding this rule might just be the undoing of the governing bodies.

After all, might most wonder why the possibility of performance enhancement was not investigated before making the rule change?

I offered this video version of the above comments for Golfweek…

R&A Chief Counters USGA: “It hasn’t gone as smoothly as I would have liked.”

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While USGA CEO Mike Davis sees the revamped rules rollout as a “huge success”, his counterpart at the R&A offered a different view Tuesday.

From Alistair Tait’s report at the chief’s St. Andrews sitdown with writers.

“There’s been some unfortunate situations, no doubt about that,” Slumbers said. “It hasn’t gone as smoothly as I would have liked.”

That’s a rather stark difference from Davis’ position, but also a more credible one that will resonate with most golfers.

He also defended the knee-drop situation.

“The intention for the knee drop rule is to be able to get the ball back in play quickly, in a prescribed area, and without having re‑drops.”

Yes but…