An early appraisal of golf’s new rules

By Dave Mangan
New Zealand Golf

On January 1 the rules of golf experienced their biggest upheaval for 40 years and we are more than a month into playing under these new rules.

While many things changed overnight, the planning and preparation by the Royal & Ancient, United States Golf Association and their international affiliates was many years in the making. The primary aim of the game’s governing bodies was to make the rules clearer and more easily understood as well speed up the time taken to play the game.

So one month into these major rule changes how are things looking for the professional and club golfer?

The major thing that we have seen, not only on the professional tours but also watching out the New Zealand Golf office window at the 18th green at the Remuera Golf Club, is leaving the flagstick in the hole.

The primary aim of changing the rule to allow the flagstick to be left in the hole while putting was to speed up the game. As a result though we have seen Bryson DeChambeau lead the charge of leaving the flagstick in the hole to gain an advantage.

After putting with the flagstick in during the season’s opening event in Hawaii, DeChambeau’s theory was backed up by putting guru Dave Pelz. Pelz tested the theory using a special putting device built to roll putts accurately, hitting different parts of the pin on flat, uphill and downhill sloping greens.

The Pelz test results were conclusive showing that you will hole a higher percentage of putts when you leave the flagstick in. The reason for this effect is that a significant amount of energy is lost from a putt’s speed when the ball hits a fibreglass flagstick. The speed loss enables gravity to pull the slower moving ball down into the hole more often.

While I still feel a little strange putting with the flagstick in, it will be interesting to see, when our elite amateur events and New Zealand Open rolls around how our players will approach this. Looking out the office window at the 18th green at the Remuera Golf Club it would seem that groups are around 50/50 in leaving the flagstick in or not. I have certainly received a lot of anecdotal evidence that this is speeding up club players rounds which is good to hear.

The other significant change has been changing the dropping procedure, which has seen a change from the old way of dropping from shoulder height to now dropping from knee height. Looking at the purpose behind this rule, it was to retain some randomness to the drop but also stop excessive bouncing and the requirement for complicated re-drops. The onus is now on the golfer to ensure that they end up dropping the ball in the right way and having it end up in the right place. There have been a few televised incidents of this new dropping procedure and each time I have seen this, while I must admit it looks a bit funny compared to what we are used to, I’m yet to see a re drop required, which was one of the main reasons for the rule change.

While these two new rules appear to be getting the most media coverage at the moment in professional and club golf there are a raft of other changes introduced to eliminate players getting stuck with silly penalties. Some of these include now being able to remove a stick, leaf or stone (a loose impediment) from a bunker or penalty hazard, being able to repair any damage on a putting green and no penalty for accidental movement of your ball on a putting green.

One change which has surprised me in going slightly under the radar has been the prohibition of your caddy or anyone standing behind you when you take your stance. This now means your caddy can’t line you up, something that our own Lydia Ko used to do on almost every shot without exception. Again this was another rule that was introduced to try to speed up play but also to return a basic skill to the game which was that players should be able to use their own skill to execute a shot. It was great to see this change barely effect Lydia in her first event of the season, starting strongly with a top 10 in a strong field featuring the 2018 event champions.

Over the next few months, I will be most interested to see how the new local rule for stroke and distance (a lost ball or out of bounds) goes. Clubs are encouraged to introduce this for casual club play to avoid players having to return back to the tee for a lost ball or ball out of bounds. Players can estimate where they think they might have lost there ball and drop at a spot between there and the edge of the nearest fairway (and two club lengths onto the fairway) for the cost of two penalty strokes. While this is currently a local rule and not a rule of golf, if it proves popular with the golfing world, it could one day become a rule of golf.

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