I putted with the flagstick in and – guess what? – the world didn't endJanuary 10, 2019
Club golf editor Steve Carroll played his first competition under the new Rules of Golf at the weekend. Here's how it went down
I had to contort my body to take relief from GUR. Getting the correct knee position for the drop felt like playing a particularly strenuous game of Twister. There were elbows and ankles everywhere.
I should explain. The day before, I’d embarked on my first game of football for 16 months – at the age of 41. I was in no position to do anything that involved kneeling or bending.
Next to me, one of my playing partners was going through a similar rite of passage on the same patch of turf.
How was that for you?
How was what?
The knee-high drop.
Oh dear. Now I had to be the one to tell him. That deft little chip he’d just played onto the green was going to come with an extra shot attached.
We were barely half an hour into the opening competition of the year – a betterball Stableford at Sandburn Hall – and we already had our first ‘rules incident’.
If eavesdropping in the clubhouse afterwards was any guide, I reckon at a conservative estimate I could have DQ’d a chunk of the early starters.
Yes, the 2019 Rules of Golf have got off to a flying start.
That’s despite a nine-month run up that has rivalled Brexit for column inches. I, alone, produced no fewer than 11 pieces on the changes in the weeks before they came in.
Our golf manager even had a sheet of paper detailing all the big ones on the registration desk – those you just had to know to get through the competition intact. He looked forlorn when I went in.
No one looked at it.
Ignorance is one thing. What’s worse than no knowledge, though, is partial information.
You can ground your club in a bunker, can’t you?
You can ‘generally’ touch the sand. But not in front or behind the ball and you can’t test its condition.
That new out of bounds rule is something, isn’t it?
Well, it would have been if we’d implemented it. We haven’t brought in the alternative to stroke and distance local rule.
What’s a local rule?
Look, with any set of alterations to the rules, and these are the most substantial in a generation, there is going to be a bedding-in period.
But with 18 holes now under my belt, let’s have a peek at some of the major changes and how my group got on with them…
The three-minute ball search
We were all good boys and hit a provisional first – so let’s have extra marks for that.
It’s amazing how much more of a shift on you get when you realise you’ve only got around half the time you once had to look for a ball.
It was like a Benny Hill sketch.
Putting with the flagstick in
God this has caused a fuss, hasn’t it? I blame Bryson DeChambeau. The ‘Scientist’ drops a few putts in from 10 feet on the TV and now loads of us want to hear the sweet sound of flagstick and ball coming together as it drops into the hole.
This led to some amusing “after you” moments as we argued about who wanted the flag in and who wanted it out.
During one such discussion, when I ventured to my playing partner that he could keep the pole intact, he looked at me like I’d questioned his parentage.
Of all the changes, though, this was the one I most liked. I knew I’d keep the flag in from 60 feet but I also elected to do it from half that distance as well. I found it gave me a much bigger target to look at and, consequently, my lag putting was far better.
And I didn’t have to worry about it hitting the flag and bouncing out. This is because I play off 9. I’m not a tour pro. My make percentage from 30 feet is about one.
And if you’re yelling at each other about whether to keep it in or not, or “fannying about” as it was declared in the clubhouse, here’s another simple thing: If you’re on the green and some of your playing partners want the flag out, and you don’t, just putt first.
The knee-high drop
Did anyone see this coming? Of the myriad rule changes, this one seemed the simplest. Just drop it from knee height, right?
Then we actually had to do it. Lots of people, like my playing partners, simply forgot and tossed one down from shoulder height. I suppose it’s hard to suddenly do something new when you’ve been doing the same thing for 20 years.
And while we can cure disease and put a man on the moon, nobody seems to be able to locate the exact point where their knee starts.
My colleague smacked his tee shot on a par 3 to about two feet and then holed the putt (flagstick out) for a lovely birdie.
He looked at me a bit strangely as he arrived at the next to find me already going through my elaborate pre-shot routine.
It did feel a little weird to be robbing him of the first strike but, once we’d got used to Ready Golf, and playing when it was safe to do so, it was like a cavalry charge. We couldn’t hit fast enough.
And it did make a big difference. Our fourball went round in three hours and 45 minutes. That’s almost speed golf by our standards.
So how does it all stack up?
Well I’ve survived the first weekend, and lived to tell the tale. There was plenty of moaning – as you’d expect with anything of this sort – but there was also lots to like.
Having said that, I’ll be surprised if there aren’t further clarifications from the powers that be somewhere down the line.
The drop rule, for example, would be much easier if you simply had to release the ball in an area between the hip and the knee.
But once golfers remember to put them all into practice, I reckon they will find most of the changes will be beneficial to the game.
And I say that as someone who has yet to experience the sheer joy of being able to ground their club in a penalty area.