Monday, November 26, 2012

Rules of Golf Year in Review

The year isn't quite over but I'd like to to start off with my own Year in Review and highlight some of the major topics in golf for 2012 and some predictions for lucky '13.

Even after the player friendly changes for 2012 the Rules came to the forefront once again in 2012, with one controversy yet to be determined.  Let's start with the Rule that didn't change...

Early in the year players had difficulty with the new exception to Rule 18-2b that was supposed to exempt players from an unfair stroke penalty when their ball moved after address.  Ryan Moore found out the hard way that the new exception was designed to avoid penalties in situations like Webb Simpson at New Orleans and Padraig Harrington at the Masters, where balls were obviously moved by wind.  Decision 18-2b/11 specifically states that gravity is not a force to be considered when applying the new exception and Ryan Moore could not say with certainty that something other than gravity or himself caused his ball to move.

Then you had the Sybase Match Play incident with Morgan Pressel and Azahara Munoz.  Munoz had been the clear culprit of slow play for several holes but once on the clock, it was Pressel who took too much time and was penalized a loss of hole penalty.  It was a two-hole swing as Pressel had initially won the hole in question.  She went on to lose the match and stir up the massive pace of play debate that followed.  (Let's overlook the fact that the whole situation turned ugly when Pressel made a claim against Munoz later in the match).  One could argue that for a match play event the penalty should have been an adjustment to the state of the match (meaning Pressel would've lost only one "up" rather than losing a hole she had actually won).  One could also argue that the application of the penalty should have been withheld given so much evidence that it was Munoz who had slowed the group in the first place.  Just like Dustin Johnson in 2010, the Rules are for everyone and you can't make an exception in that case.  Frankly, I'm just happy that one of the major Tours is actually penalizing players for pace of play.

The incident was followed shortly thereafter to having the final group in the U.S. Open on Sunday put on the clock at the 16th hole.  Jim Furyk proceeded to collapse with a snap hook into the trees.  Did the application of the Rules get in the way of a major championship?  The USGA was absolutely right in their handling of the situation, but the debate didn't stop there.  The governing body for the Rules of Golf were in the spotlight.

Then the slowly growing mumble became a loud roar as Ernie, Adam Scott and their long putters stole the stage at the British Open.  Hopefully we'll soon find out what the ruling bodies have decided.  If you want my input, I seem to recall Adam Scott doing a pretty good job of yipping a short putt or two with his broomstick...

If that wasn't enough the question of "advantage" came into play with a two-stroke penalty to Carl Pettersson in the final round of the PGA Championship.  His backswing made one tiny little leaf that had no bearing on his stroke to flutter out of the way.  Because his ball laid in a hazard, it was a violation of Rule 13-4, just like Brian Davis at Harbour Town.  He took it well, and proceeded to birdie a decent chunk of the front nine but two-strokes can mean some serious dough at that level.  The ruling was correct, but plenty of angry golfers took sides against the Rules for such a harsh penalty.  Pettersson's ruling later in the round, which to outsiders seemed laughable, took the cake as my favorite ruling of the year.  A small boy had picked up and moved Pettersson's ball.  When he realized his mistake he put it down and ran off.  Another spectator replaced the ball in the correct spot.  Brad Gregory, the Rules Official with the group handled the situation perfectly and as a last minute question he asked the spectator who had moved the ball and who had put it back.  Rule 20-3 states that the person who lifted the ball, the player or his partner (not applicable here) must replace the ball.  The spectator that had put the ball back was not any of those.  Gregory had Pettersson briefly pick up and replace the ball in the exact same spot so that it was the player who replaced the ball.  It's an awesome ruling for an official/Rules junkie like myself, but really hard to explain to the casual observer.

All in all, it's been another crazy year for the USGA and R & A.  Regardless of how the "anchoring" debate ends, it will be a hot topic for some time.  I just hope we keep it in perspective: you still have to get the ball in the hole.

In 2013, if anchoring is banned the debate the entire year will be about players who continue to anchor putters until the ban goes into effect.  Every win, every belly stroke will be contested and asterisked.  I understand the argument against anchoring is more about junior golf than the pros.  If that's the case then let's attack it from a different angle.  How about educating and working with PGA Professionals like myself so that juniors aren't taught to switch to the broomstick?  There are too many legitimate reasons to allow anchoring and long putters to continue, and I'd hate to see a knee-jerk reaction divide the game at a time when we're bringing it back together.

If someone doesn't try to take a serious look at pace of play next year the game will continue only a very slow recovery.  A major issue blocking new golfers is the time it takes to play the game.  And as slow as a Saturday round at your local muni is, how slow is it to watch on TV?  I can barely watch a PGA Tour round until they get to groups of two.  I recently read an article suggesting stroke penalties on the PGA Tour and I agree.  It's time.  And it will work.

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