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Experts Explain – Questions We’ve Gotten on Tour

By Rules Staff

| Feb 13, 2019

The new dropping procedure is one change to the Rules of Golf that has garnered much attention. (USGA/Chris McEniry)

Updates have been made constantly to the Rules of Golf over the years, but usually they are minor and limited in scope. The new Rules that took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, however, were much more significant. The entire code was updated, rewritten, and reorganized, with many changes to procedures and outcomes. Because of the scope of these changes, the USGA sent Rules of Golf staff representatives to various tournaments to support the professional tours as they conducted their first events under the new Rules.

Several Rule changes have garnered attention in the media, but what changes are professional golfers asking about the most behind the scenes? USGA Rules staff members who visited the various tours and talked with players provide insights below.

PGA Tour – Joe Foley

Several USGA Rules team members traveled to PGA Tour stops in early 2019 to discuss the major changes to the Rules with players and officials. At the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Sony Open, Desert Classic, Farmers Insurance Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open, players and caddies peppered USGA staff members with questions both in public and private forums, with a particular focus on the new dropping and relief procedures, caddie alignment prohibitions and changes to the flagstick rule. The open dialogues allowed for players to fully understand the “why” behind the changes, which led to more understanding and support for the initiative. These opportunities also enabled the USGA to directly engage with PGA Tour officials as the professional game worked through some complex rulings and situations. Discussions ultimately led to further clarifications to some of the new Rules – particularly around Rule 10.2b(4), the caddie alignment Rule – which reflects the extensive collaboration between the game’s top organizations today. Tour – John Van der Borght and Ben Schade

Players were excited to be playing golf in the beautiful Bahamas and, perhaps more importantly, they were excited to learn about the new Rules. In partnership with PGA Tour staff, we conducted player meetings at both Tour events in the Bahamas, with a total audience of about 180 players and caddies. The main questions were about the new dropping procedures, the new allowances on the putting green and concerns on whether their green-reading materials met the new limitations.

Once play commenced, it was mostly smooth sailing with players adopting the knee-height drop and recognizing how quick the relief process now is.

One interesting ruling at The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club involved a player whose ball was just off a wrong green, but he would have taken a divot out of the green during his follow through. Before 2019, he would not have been required to take relief. But with the new Rules, he was required to take relief under Rule 13.1f (covering wrong greens), which has been extended to cover interference to the player’s area of intended stance or swing.

LPGA Tour – Kathryn Belanger

The LPGA Tour season opened with a new event in Orlando last month. The Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions featured winners of LPGA Tour events from the previous year, along with celebrities competing in a separate Stableford competition. I assisted LPGA staff in conducting several open-house Rules seminars in advance of the year’s first competition. A frequent topic raised by players and caddies was the new Rules on the putting green, specifically the permission to repair damage caused by another person. Officials also clarified the relaxed restrictions in bunkers. Players can’t test the condition of the sand in the bunker or touch sand in a practice swing or in the backswing for the stroke. However, other touching of sand is now allowed – for example, leaning on a club or striking the sand in anger. Another common topic was the new procedure for dropping a ball. Officials clarified the requirement that players drop from knee height and that the ball must land in and come to rest in the relief area. This effort to assist players and caddies prior to competition allowed players to be more confident as they started playing competitive rounds under the new Rules. 

PGA Tour Champions– David Staebler

I conducted three talks on the new Rules at the practice area in the days leading up to the Oasis Championship in Boca Raton, Fla. In attendance were players, caddies and tournament volunteers. In discussing the new dropping procedure, which generated the most questions each day, I put a mesh net semi-circle on the ground to help attendees visualize the one club-length relief area used when dropping under most relief procedures.

Some of the other topics covered included the flagstick, fixing damage on the putting green, the changes to play from bunkers and penalty areas, options when a club is damaged during a round, and the new standards for use of green-reading materials.

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