Recently the USGA and R&A revealed the results of their review of the feedback the public provided to the original proposals to modernize the Rules of Golf: The final text of the 2019 Rules is now available.
There’s a lot going on there, and the first thing you’ll note is the clear indication that the “new” Rules are in many ways “your” Rules. The two Ruling Bodies took the feedback of ordinary players to heart. Major changes between the original proposals and the final results include changing the dropping height from “any height” above the ground to “knee height,” changing relief measurement from the proposed 20/40/80 inches back to the traditional one or two club lengths (the club used to measure will need to be your longest club other than your putter), the elimination of the double-hit penalty, and perhaps most profoundly, moving from a long-standing resistance to change the Stroke and Distance penalty to providing an optional Local Rule that will permit you to drop at a location near your lost or OB ball rather than walk back to the spot from which your previous shot was made.
Those are just changes to the original proposals. The changes between the 2019 Rules and the current Rules are vast. For decades, the Rules have been presented in two publications: the Rules of Golf (which currently presents the 34 base Rules) and the Decisions on the Rules of Golf (which interprets the base Rules). Starting in 2019, and for the foreseeable future, we’ll instead be working with three publications:
- The revised Rules of Golf
- The Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf
- The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf.
The new Rules of Golf differs significantly from the previous book, and not only in that it obviously holds revised Rules. It’s now written in a more reader-friendly way, and will soon have supporting illustrations. The number of Rules presented has been decreased from today’s 34 to 24 (in part since some Rules addressing the Committee’s behavior have been moved elsewhere), the Definitions section (now at the end of the book instead of up front) has been expanded, and some of the information previously only available in the Decisions book has been worked into this main Rulebook.
In September, we will see the illustrations added to the new Rules of Golf, along with our first view of the other two new books. The Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf will be a user-friendly, abridged version of the main Rulebook intended for use by the average player, and the Official Guide to the Rules of Golf will be a replacement for today’s Decisions book and particularly useful to officials and Committees.
While you can get a head start by reading the text for the main 2019 Rulebook now, and while there is already a significant amount of information (including videos) on the USGA’s website contrasting the old and new Rules, the USGA says it doesn’t plan to officially start its “education” process until September.
Beyond the fact that players had a significant role in defining the new Rules, what else is in it for you? Well, following are some tantalizing new freedoms you’ll have come January 1, 2019. If you’re inspired to take a more detailed look at the new Rulebook available online, for your reference each comment below is followed by the new Rule number:
- Repair almost any damage on putting green, including spike marks. (R 13.1c)
- Accidentally move your ball on the green. (R 13.1d — no longer just a Local Rule)
- Touch what used to be called your “line of putt.” (Elimination of old R 16-1a)
- While on the green, allow your ball to strike the unattended flagstick left in the hole, or accidentally strike the flagstick randomly left on the ground. (R 13.2)
- Accidentally deflect your ball off any player or equipment (even off yourself or your own equipment). (R 11.1)
- Accidentally hit your ball more than once during a stroke. (R 10.1a)
- Accidentally move your ball during a search. (R 7.4)
- Move Loose Impediments in what are now called Hazards (and will be called either Penalty Areas or Bunkers). Just make sure you don’t accidentally move your ball while doing so. (R 15.1a)
- Ground your club in a Penalty Area or Bunker (though not right in front of or right behind your ball in a Bunker). (R 8.1b)
- Drop your ball from knee height instead of shoulder height (a big benefit in bunkers). (R 14.3b)
- Ignore the complicated list of requirements as to when to re-drop your ball detailed in old Rule 20-2c — just make sure your ball doesn’t hit you or your equipment before it hits the ground, and comes to rest within the margins of the relief area, and you’re good to go. (R 14.3c)
- If necessary, mark and lift your ball to see if it is damaged, to identify it, or to see if it is in a condition where relief is allowed without having to first alert others. (R 4.2c, 7.3, 16.4)
- Get a two club-length wide leeway (one CL either side/no closer) when dropping on a spot, an estimated spot, or on a line from the hole. (R 14.6b, 16.3b, 17.1d, 19.2b)
- Use “reasonable judgement” in estimating and measuring drop locations and that will be good enough. (R 1.3b)
- Generally be able to drop in the fairway (with a 2 stroke penalty) if a ball is lost or OB. (Optional new Local Rule)
So, a whole lot to ponder. Maybe take a peek now and make things a little easier to adjust to come January. In the meantime, take care and play well!
What’s going on with the decline in putting on the PGA Tour?
Watching the PGA Tour recently, I was struck by Frank Nobilo commenting on how professionals and their instructors work down to the smallest detail, a reflection on the intense competition on the PGA Tour and the fact that to be successful you cannot ignore anything. He made this comment with his thumb and forefinger barely not touching for emphasis.
That being the case, the numbers below should cause major introspection by every player and their coach. They are self-explanatory and have been verified by a third party expert who deals in putting data.
All figures are Shotlink data from the PGA Tour. To preclude undue influence by an anomaly years 2003-5 are averaged as are 2016-18
Average make percentage from 5 distances, 2003-2005 combined
- 6 FEET: 71.98 percent
- 8 FEET: 55.01 percent
- 10 FEET: 43.26 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 19.37 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.96 percent
Average make percentage from the same 5 distances, 2015-2018
- 6 FEET: 70.43 percent
- 8 FEET: 53.54 percent
- 10 FEET: 41.39 percent
- 15-20 FEET: 18.80 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: 5.33 percent
- 6 FEET: 1.55 percent
- 8 FEET: 1.67 percent
- 10 FEET: 1.87 percent
- 15-20 FEET: .57 percent
- 25 FEET AND BEYOND: .83 percent
One comment, green conditions have been vetted to the point where they are not considered a culprit. Faster, yes, but pristine surfaces, and very consistent week to week. There are some outliers like the U.S. Open greens but they are included in the data shown and caused no significant spike for that week.
Further, on the subject of greens, today’s professional has booklets showing green patterns, high MOI putter heads, instruction from putting specialists, and caddies, expert green readers in their own right. Bottom line: if anything the greens help not hurt.
So your turn. Look at the data. Appoint yourself all-powerful guru to improve putting data. What would your plan, be? Oh and this little tidbit so you can earn a huge consulting fee: We took six players, three on either side of the halfway point, your solution resulted in a one-shot per TOURNAMENT improvement. Average INCREASE in earnings for the season: a smidge over $500K!
A merciful new local rule
This April, within a list of 2019 Rules Clarifications, the USGA and R&A quietly authorized a new Local Rule that you can expect to see enacted everywhere from the U.S. Open Championship to, if you’re lucky, your own club championship.
New Local Rule E-12 provides some protection from an unintended consequence of Rule 14.3c, which requires that your ball come to rest in the relief area for the drop you’re taking. When I first read about this option, I confess that I was a bit skeptical. But now that I’ve experienced the Local Rule in action, its value has become very clear.
My initial skepticism came from the fact that I like it that every time, we drop we now must drop in a relief area. I also like the simplicity of requiring the ball to come to rest in that relief area — no more awkward need to figure out if your ball stayed within two club lengths of the point where your drop first struck the course, as used to be the case. So right from the start, I was very comfortable with the new rules in this regard. But in some cases, particularly for those who haven’t carefully studied the revised rules, this simple approach has caused problems.
The freedom this new Local Rule provides applies exclusively to back-on-the-line relief drops, such as you might make from penalty areas or for unplayable balls. It’s a bit complicated, but let me take you through how it helps. We’ll use yellow-staked penalty areas as an example. Last year, for back-on-the-line drops such as these, you’d identify the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard and draw an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point, select a nice place to drop anywhere you chose back along that line, and then let it drop. If you picked a point sufficiently back, and your ball didn’t hit anything prohibited, and it didn’t stop more than two club lengths from where you dropped it, you were good to go.
This year, instead of dropping on that imaginary line, you drop in a relief area that surrounds that imaginary line. Just like before, you identify the edge of the penalty area where your ball last crossed, go back as far as you wish along an imaginary line from the flagstick through that point — but now you should identify a relief area around your selected drop location. To do so, you pick a point on the line, then define a relief area one club length from that point no closer to the hole. So you typically have a semicircle two club lengths in diameter in which to drop. If you drop a foot or two back from the front edge of the semicircle, there’s almost always no problem with the ball coming to rest outside the releif area and you’ll be ready to play. But if you drop right on the front edge of your defined relief area, or if you didn’t bother to identify a point/relief area along the imaginary line before you dropped, and your ball bounces and comes to rest even the slightest bit forward — it’s now outside the relief area and subject to a two-stroke or loss of hole penalty for playing from the wrong place if you end up hitting the ball before correcting your mistake.
That might seem kind of harsh — you take a back-on-the-line drop like you did last year, it bounces and stops an inch forward, you hit it — and you get severely penalized. If you had simply established the relief area an inch or two forward, things would have been perfectly legal! The 2019 rules, in their effort to simplify and make consistent the drop/relief procedure, created an unintended potential trap for players that weren’t careful enough managing their business. This seemed like it was going to be a big enough problem that the USGA and R&A decided to graciously do something about it: Introduce Model Local Rule E-12.
When this Local Rule is adopted, a player is given some additional freedom. If he or she applies the relief area/drop principles correctly, there is, of course, still no problem. But if he or she ends up with the ball somewhat outside the relief area, there still might be no penalty. As long as the ball originally struck the course within where the relief area should be, and as long as it didn’t come to rest more than one club length from where it first hit the course when dropped, you can still play it penalty-free (as long as it’s not nearer the hole than where the ball originally lay in the case of an unplayable ball drop, or nearer the hole than the edge of the penalty area where the ball last crossed for a penalty area drop).
While all that’s a bit complicated sounding, in practice it’s intuitive. And as an added bonus, it probably doesn’t matter if you don’t understand it or even know it’s in force — there are simply more occasions when you can blissfully, even ignorantly, play on penalty-free.
This new Local Rule provides another advantage as well. When it’s in effect, an opponent or ref (or a TV viewer) won’t have to concern themselves with whether or not the player making the drop actually followed the recommendation of first defining a relief area before making a back-on-the-line drop. If you’re at a distance, and you see a player taking a drop which bounces slightly forward, you can relax. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should rush up and confirm that the ball didn’t squeak out of the player’s intended relief area in an effort to prevent the player from incurring a penalty. One way or another, everything is more than likely just fine.
With all that in mind, maybe you’d like to see the specific wording of E-12:
“When taking Back-On-the-Line relief, there is no additional penalty if a player plays a ball that was dropped in the relief area required by the relevant Rule (Rule 16.1c(2), 17.1d(2), 19.2b or 19.3b) but came to rest outside the relief area, so long as the ball, when played, is within one club-length of where it first touched the ground when dropped.
“This exemption from penalty applies even if the ball is played from nearer the hole than the reference point (but not if played from nearer the hole than the spot of the original ball or the estimated point where the ball last crossed the edge of the penalty area).
“This Local Rule does not change the procedure for taking Back-On-the-Line relief under a relevant Rule. This means that the reference point and relief area are not changed by this Local Rule and that Rule 14.3c(2) can be applied by a player who drops a ball in the right way and it comes to rest outside the relief area, whether this occurs on the first or second drop.”
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