January 30, 2004
Right about now, PGA Tour star Jesper Parnevik is probably saying to himself, “What took them so long?”
That’s because the USGA and the Royal & Ancient have adopted new changes to the Rules of Golf, and one of the amendments was probably inspired by a nationally-televised incident involving the popular Swedish golfer.
Parnevik was playing well in the 1999 Heritage Golf Classic at Hilton Head, South Carolina. While on a green, Parnevik believed there was too much sand lying on the turf between his ball and the hole.
He therefore took off his golf glove and used it as a miniature broom to sweep away the loose stuff before he putted.
Sharp-eyed viewers (some might call them “Rules Freaks” if they were so inclined) peppered the television broadcasters with complaints that Parnevik violated Rule 16-1a. At the time, that Rule only permitted players to use their hands to clean up the line of putting, and prohibited use of any other tools.
Parnevik was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. After all, he failed to penalize himself for his mistake, and so his reported score for the day was wrong.
This and similar incidents caused the powers that be in the kingdom of golf to amend the rule to address the real problem, which is that in cleaning up the path the player might also make the playing surface more advantageous than fair.
Here’s how the rule now reads, effective January 1, 2004:
The line of putt must not be touched except … the player may remove loose impediments, provided he does not press anything down….
That’s a good common sense fix to the Rules, for which the USGA and the R&A should be commended.
Several other changes should also reduce the sense that the Rules of Golf are needlessly cruel, while still helping to maintain the conditions for fair play. After all, few other games take place on such a large landscape, and primarily rely on the players to enforce the rules themselves.
The other major change to the loose impediment rules should help reduce the risk of injury. Under the prior Rules editions, which are amended every two years, a player incurred an automatic penalty stroke if a ball moved after he or she touched a loose impediment within one-club length of the ball. Players seeking to avoid the penalty might have taken swings with small obstructions remaining near the ball, thus risking injury from flying bits of wood or stone.
The removal of the automatic penalty stroke should encourage golfers to protect themselves without unduly improving their ball’s lie.
Another rule change should help clear up a situation I’ve seen while playing golf courses that feature parallel holes, and in covering high school golf matches, where a player’s ball lands on the wrong green.
In a match at Rehoboth Beach CC last spring, for example, a Caesar Rodney High School golf team player hit off the 8th tee and his ball landed in the cup on the second hole. Rule 25-3b. was re-written, and the new draft is much easier to understand and apply:
If a player’s ball lies on a wrong putting green he must not play the ball as it lies. He must take relief, without penalty, as follows:
The player must lift the ball and drop it within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief must not be in a hazard or on a putting green. When dropping the ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, the ball must first strike a part of the course at a spot that avoids interference by the wrong putting green and is not in a hazard and not on a putting green. The ball may be cleaned when lifted under this Rule.
In an upcoming column I’ll discuss some of the other new Rules changes that will definitely affect regular golfers.