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  • Alistair Tait

Simple golf rules? Don't be simple

So much for the simplification of the Rules of Golf. They didn’t seem so simple in the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

Scotland’s Russell Knox certainly doesn’t think so.

The Scot was penalised one shot after being deemed to cause his ball to move on the first fairway, an infraction a rules official initially cleared him of. On further review, however, the original official was overruled, and Knox was assessed a one-shot penalty under rule 9-4b.

Under the supposedly simplified rules of golf introduced on 1 January 2019, if you accidentally move your ball on a putting green there is no penalty (Rule 13-1d), but if you do so on the fairway, and it moves even a fraction of an inch, you get penalised.

Simple right?

To be fair, the rules officials eventually made the right call at Pebble Beach, and Knox handled the situation well. However, the discrepancy between what happens on the green and on the fairway is another grey area in the game's laws that arguably shouldn’t be there.

Remember Dustin Johnson’s rules imbroglio in the 2016 US Open when he was assessed a one-shot penalty for allegedly causing his ball to move on a green, which Johnson and playing companion Lee Westwood refuted? The 2019 rules rewrite made sure that scenario won’t happen again. No penalty for accidentally causing your ball to move on a putting green “no matter how that happens,” according to Exception 3 of Rule 9.4b.

So why not apply the same rule for similar situations in the general area? It’s not as if that fraction of an inch movement gave Knox any advantage.

Knox being penalised for the ball moving slightly seems harsh when you consider if he’d kicked a ball accidentally while searching for it there would have been no infraction.

“It's just one of those horrible rules which every one of us is against,” Knox said. “At first, the ruling was that I didn't cause it to move, because it was such a grey area there, and, ultimately, we got it right and I did address the ball. I should have been penalised.
“Obviously it's a rule which I wish they would eliminate because obviously it happened to Maverick McNealy yesterday, no advantage, and me, obviously, no advantage today and we get penalised for it.”

The fact it took officials nearly an hour to come to the correct decision didn’t help. The ruling came four holes later, when it should have been dealt with on the spot. It didn’t do much for Knox’s chances of winning.

“It just kind of got me on edge all day, to be honest, starting that way. On No. 5 I got told they looked at it and I had to add a shot, and right after a full horseshoe and facing a downhill dead bunker shot. So it was like a triple whammy on No. 5.
“Sadly, it was like the worst timing ever. I really kind of went from 3-under to even in about 30 seconds, so that was tough. I mean, you got to take it on the chin. I battled away after that and proud of my finish.”

Trimming down the rules from the previous 34 to the current 24 was supposed to be a simplification exercise that would make the laws easier to understand and apply. Yet, as we’ve seen on many occasions over the last two years, that’s just not the case.

Simple golf rules? Don’t be simple.

#JustSaying: “The challenger was about to play his fourth shot towards the green when across his line of play casually wandered a cow and a calf. … He stopped and asked permission from his opponent to move the object, as laid down quite clearly by Rule 11. The reply came: ‘The cow alone but not her offspring – it is still growing.’” H. MacNeile Dixon

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17 feb 2021

Agree. If it's good on the green, why not in the fairway? Especially considering how tight pro tour fairways are cut these days.

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