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How Have the New Rules of Golf Impacted the Game

Written by Chandler Withington on Apr 19, 2019 10:00:00 AM

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If you have been following professional golf in 2019, you may have noticed that some of the rules of golf have changed – and some players aren’t happy about it.

There are three main (and most noticeable) rule changes: Allowing players to putt with the flagstick in, allowing players to drop the golf ball from knee height as opposed to shoulder height, and keeping caddies out of the line of play.

I can only speculate on the discussions that led to some of the changes, but let’s take a deeper look into why the new rules of golf were made.

Putting With the Flagstick In

In the past, it was a penalty when a player’s ball struck the flagstick while putting from the green. This begged the question: Is putting with the flagstick in really an advantage or even a situation that should be penalized?

I feel the change to this rule was done primarily with pace of play in mind. Players no longer have to wait for the flagstick to be removed or even tended. The debate on whether putting with the flagstick in is an advantage or not will carry on. The only real outcry with this change so far is that it looks funny to see a player hitting a putt from five feet with the flagstick in.

Dropping the Golf Ball from Knee Height

When taking relief, players have been dropping the ball from shoulder height since 1838 when the Honourable Company of Golfers adopted the “over the shoulder method.” This practice continued until the reorganization of the Rules in 1984 when they changed it to dropping the ball in front of, rather than behind, the player (still at shoulder height).

Recently, the governing bodies might have felt a ball dropped from shoulder height creates too many situations where the ball will land with force and roll outside of the relief area, or even plug when dropped in a bunker. There may have been a debate to remove dropping the ball altogether and have players place the ball when taking relief.

The natural middle ground for such a conversation was to drop the ball from knee height. As it does with players putting with the flagstick in, dropping the ball from knee height might look silly in the early going, but ten years from now will be the new normal.

Caddies in the Line of Play

In golf, a player has to control two variables on each shot: distance and direction. In regards to direction, the rule makers eliminated the ability for a caddie to stand on the line of play while a player takes their stance.

Unfortunately, there has been some collateral damage in the early going as some caddies are used to standing on the line of play, but not always with the intention of helping their players aim. In these instances, the player has been penalized, drawing the angst of fellow Tour players. While the players and caddies may not love this change, I feel it is just a matter of time for caddies to adjust and no longer stand on the line.

Growing Pains with New Rules

In making changes to any policy or rule, there will be a period of growing pains and unintended consequences as the rule followers adjust their habits and behavior. While the USGA has been a dartboard for player frustration, I for one understand how difficult their task is.

The USGA and the R&A want to see golf played at the highest level with the fairest rules. This is no easy task. I for one applaud them for the efforts they have made to improve the game. It’s now up to us as golfers to follow the rules that have been set before us!

Chandler Withington - Pinterest - 735x735
Chandler Withington
Head Golf Professional

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Topics: Golf Tips