Bravo the suits - but don't stop now
As I read through golf’s proposed rule changes – utterly taken aback by the daring suggestions of the suddenly-emboldened USGA and R&A – I was initially uncomfortable at the prospect of our game changing so drastically.
After all, certain rules are all I’ve ever known, and there was some trepidation as I considered a world without them. Or at least one in which they were barely recognisable.
But the stench of my own hypocrisy soon melted all that away. After all, having had it in for these two golfing bodies and their dinosaur-like approach to damn-near everything within their over-hyped remit for the last couple of decades, the time to eat humble pie and tip the cap to these guys was now.
Don’t get me wrong, not all these changes are winners. The prospect of a professional using a rangefinder just doesn’t sit well with me.
Also, I can’t really imagine a circumstance where a two-stroke penalty is preferable to playing a bunker shot. But this new-found vim and vigour from the custodians of golf towards speeding up play, and simplifying the rules across the board, should be profoundly lauded.
And the fact that the absurd rule preventing players from tapping down a spike mark looks set to fall on its sword is, in itself, worth breaking out the bubbly for.
But I hope this isn’t the end of the road either. There is more reform that is needed, even if it hasn’t made it onto the ballot paper for this particular consultation.
Here are five other rules I’d change to make our sport even greater.
1. The out of bounds rule
The late Simon Hobday was one of the many advocates for reducing the penalty of hitting a ball out of bounds. The double blow of having to replay a shot from the origin, whilst still adding an extra stroke to your score, has always seemed an injustice for such a commonly-committed crime.
The fix? Drop point of entry, and with just the solitary penalty stroke. It will have the added perk of speeding up play, not to mention simplifying things too.
2. Marking cards with a pencil
“What a stupid I am!” remarked the unfortunate Roberto De Vicenzo after being denied a playoff spot in the 1968 Masters courtesy of an error from playing partner and scribe Tommy Aaron at the 71st hole (the latter marked a 4 on the former’s scorecard instead of a 3, which the Argentinian failed to check).
True, De Vicenzo showed galling negligence. But in the digital age, it seems nothing short of bizarre that professionals should have to scribble onto a piece of card with a pencil when there is official scoring everywhere you look.
Maybe not often, but scorecard-related penalties do happen. Do away with such nonsense, and let them play the game!
3. Red and yellow stakes
I vaguely accept the reasoning behind yellow and red stakes, and that the surrounding terrain dictates the merits for each. But, for all the confusion they cause, is it really worth it?
Surely the variety of options after plunging your ball into red-staked hazards should be sufficient? Put the yellow paint away – yellow stakes are about as useful as wisdom teeth or male nipples.
4. Fairway divots
I’ve always been of the opinion that if you hit a poor shot that finds the rough, you have no right to complain if you draw a terrible lie, or are stuck behind a tree. That’s because if you hit it straight, such worries cease entirely. Or do they?
I don’t believe in luck, but I do believe that it’s grossly unfair that, after finding the short stuff off the tee (a black swan event for the likes of myself), you should be punished by ending up in a divot.
After all, your only crime is to have hit the ball into the same spot as someone else before you.
Fairways should be a safe haven, and a simple free drop from a fairway divot or embedded ball would make all such injustices drift away.
5. Two-stroke troubles
Asking a fellow competitor what club they hit? Striking another player’s ball when putting on the green? Failing to remark your ball correctly after moving it either side upon an opponent’s request? Playing the wrong ball? Playing from the incorrect tees?
Do you know what all of these have in common? They each incur a TWO-stroke penalty. Two!
All of the above are either accidental, incidental, or do nothing to establish an advantage, and yet the punishment is horrendously severe.
A rethink is needed. Two-shot penalties, or loss of hole in matchplay, should be reserved only for the most heinous of offences.
These infringements, quite simply, could not be described as such.