Mickey Walker: Common sense and rules.
What a breath of fresh air the recent joint initiative from the R&A and USGA is to modernise the Rules of Golf and make them easier to understand and apply.
I can remember taking my written exam to get my PGA qualification. When it came to the test on the Rules of Golf, we were allowed to take a copy of the rule book in to the exam with us. I thought that was very strange, until I realised that the real skill in getting the correct answer to the question was the ability to know which rule you needed to look at.
After I was appointed head professional at The Warren, I came to dread the inevitable times when a member came into the shop with a query about the rules. No matter that I always had a rule book to hand, it was touch and go whether I could locate the specific rule needed to answer their questions.
As if negotiating my way through the rule book was hard enough, there is also a “Decisions on the Rules of Golf” book, that records decisions by the R&A on obscure rules that have arisen over the years, and which consequently grows bigger with each passing year.
Before becoming a club professional I was thoroughly spoilt while playing on tour as there were always qualified officials close at hand to make a decision or explain a rule.
Well, with the proposed changes to the Rules of Golf, my fear of being ignorant about the rules will be greatly reduced.
When these new changes are implemented in January 2019, there will only be 24 rather than the current 34 rules, and they will be written in a user-friendly style, with shorter sentences, commonly used phrases, bulleted lists and explanatory headings.
So many of what I shall refer to as “the new rules” look to be common sense to me. I can think of numerous times when the existing rules have penalised players which have ended up costing them money, and in some cases tournament wins.
Going back to the early days of the Ladies European Tour I can remember playing in one of our bigger tournaments in Madrid sponsored by Forte hotels. Beverly Huke had taken a local Spanish caddy who didn’t speak much English, and on improvising on how to show Beverly how much break there was on a putt, he put his hands on the green, drew a circle with the fingers on his left hand and then with his right hand drew a line from the edge of the circle to the right side to indicate how far right of the hole Beverly should aim to hit her putt.
Under the “old rules” Beverly incurred a two-shot penalty since her caddy, who is the player’s responsibility, was deemed to have tested the putting surface.
Those two shots cost Beverly the tournament. Under the new rules there is no penalty for touching the green.
I like all of the so-called new rules, but one that really makes sense to me is being able to putt without the flagstick being attended. I’ve witnessed holes being lost in Curtis Cup matches when a caddy hasn’t attended the pin when their player has putted from on the green and struck the flagstick.
This new rule should also help speed up play, and anything that helps in this regard must be a good thing.
Another rule change that I and everyone who I’ve spoken to approves of is that caddies will no longer be able to stand behind them in order to line their players up.
This is particularly prevalent in the women’s professional game and I feel has absolutely no place in golf.
Surely being able to aim and hit a ball where you intend is one of the fundamental skills of golf.
TV cameramen and women will be particularly pleased when this rule comes into force.