'Jury remains out on new rules of golf' - Ivan Morris

Ivan Morris

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Ivan Morris

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Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris

Ivan Morris - The voice of Limerick Golf

NO more than the new hand pass rules in Gaelic football, it's far too soon to be able to say for certain if the new rules of golf that came into play only one month ago will work as intended or not?

There has been a ‘bust up’ controversy on the European Tour already. Haotong Li was penalised two strokes when going about the ‘routine business’ of tapping in a short putt in Dubai because his caddie wasn't quick enough in walking away from behind his player's direct line to the hole (after helping to read the line of a putt that was hardly necessary)

The ruling was correct but the penalty severe - it cost the Chinese golfer €100,000 and Keith Pelley the European Tour's chief executive, is hopping mad and he has written to the R&A to complain in the strongest terms.

Pelley believes his Tour referees should have 'discretion' about applying rules. It has thrown the R&A into conflict with the European Tour.

Call me a cynic if you wish but I am tempted to consider it a diversionary tactic by the Tour to distract from their controversial decision to play in Saudi Arabia, which in my opinion is an example of professional golfers 'going anywhere' there is a pot of gold waiting for them.

Mr Pelley writes: “The fact there is no discretion available to our referees when implementing rulings such as this is wrong and should be addressed immediately.

In an era where we are striving to improve all aspects of golf, we need to find the proper balance between maintaining the integrity of the game and promoting its global appeal.”

R&A CEO, Martin Slumbers responded: “We have reviewed the Li Haotong ruling made by the European Tour referees and agree it was correct.

“There has been a misunderstanding of the new Rule and I would point out that it is designed to prevent any opportunity for the caddie to stand behind the player as he begins to take his stance.

“Whether the player intends to be lined up is not the issue. We appreciate it was an unfortunate situation and understand Keith Pelley's concerns when a Rules incident occurs at such a key stage of a Tour event but there is no discretionary element to the Rule precisely so that it is easier to understand and can be applied consistently.”

As I understand it, the European Tour was represented on the committee that recommended all of the new rules that were introduced on January 1. It doesn't matter if they are popular - they are the rules!

The golf season may be in competitive limbo, but one question keeps arising: Would you like the flagstick in our out? Of course, the 'big idea' behind the new flagstick rule is to help make golf go faster.

Everyone (almost) agrees that golf needs to be played faster, but I fear the new flagstick rule may lead to slower rounds of golf especially amongst fussier and better players who will want the flag in for one type of putt and out for another.

In a fourball the flagstick might be going in and out of the hole numerous times on every green.

Club golfers are the bulk of the game and prior to 2019 they might have asked the question once on every green: “Would you like the flag in or out?”

Now, this same question will be asked more often. Possibly very often. Before the flagstick was either attended or laid to rest on the green until everyone had holed out. This is now a thing of the past. Some will want the flag in, and some will want it out.

How should golfers handle the flag between putts? Will the ‘flag in’ golfers hole out before the ‘flag out’ golfers? Or will the flagstick be passed between the players the way tour caddies do?

It's unlikely because golfers of all standards are unpredictable. Some will prefer the flag in on certain putts and out on others. Giving people a choice is dangerous!

I'd recommend the matter be discussed and a clear decision be made on the first green of every round we play as to what protocols regarding the flagstick should be followed on that particular day?

There is a new competition format for medal play included in the new rules of golf that came into operation on January 1 that I find worthwhile.

It's called Maximum Score and, without ever trying it, I think I prefer it to Stableford already!

It's stroke-play except scores are ‘capped’ at a maximum number of strokes at each hole set in advance by 'the Committee', such as two times par, net double bogey or, any fixed number.

It means if a player is confronted by an obstacle or hazard that cannot be overcome and is unable to finish a particular hole he is not necessarily out of the competition.

Not only is it fair it makes sense and does away with 'technical disqualifications' and will have the added bonus of speeding up play. No more no returns!

Section 5A (A) in the new rules book explains the methodology in detail. Every golfer at one time or another has suffered a ‘disaster’ where he had to withdraw or 'give up'.

This new rule allows competitors to carry on as their ‘disaster’ will be capped.

Words of the Wise

The new rules are still new. Give them time to bed in and become properly understood.