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Golf’s new rule changes are a masterstroke

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Golf – it’s just old fogies swinging clubs around on a foggy Thursday morning, right? Well that’s not quite the case, of course, but the sport of golf has never been truly void of pretentiousness and rules swamped with an unprecedented focus on etiquette. While this mask is less the case in the professional game, all these preconceptions have gone to great lengths to degrade the appeal of the game. However, things have finally changed.

This week has seen a joint announcement by the R&A and USGA proposing changes to the laws of golf that David Rickman has labelled “the biggest in a generation.” It proves a comprehensive revision of the very make-up of the game; a bold move that has been met with a roaring sense of approval. Never before have such revolutionary changes to a sport been so unanimously approved – it’s almost as if the alterations were long overdue.

The main focus is to increase the appeal of the sport and the responsible authorities deserve great credit for that. Supporters of golf consist of either a devote group that will tune-in no matter what and the leisurely patron that sticks their neck in whenever a major or Ryder Cup crops up. With the nitpicky clauses of the old rule book set to be torn up, golf is poised to entice a whole new market and the broader sports fan.

Ok, so what actually are the changes? First and foremost, the R&A and USGA have trimmed the rules from 34 to 24 and they will be phrased in a far more lucid manner. The sickeningly petty terminology will be substituted for crystal-clear prose. It may see the sticklers for tradition reach for their pitch fork, but then again, these are the type of people that don’t want women as members at their club. Enough said.

One of the biggest amendments regards spike-marks and the fact players will now be able to repair them, themselves, on the green. For European supporters, this rule may have come 26 years too late, however. At the 1991 Ryder Cup, Bernhard Langer missed a six-footer to claim victory for Team Europe after having to avoid a rogue spike-mark in his line. That small divert was enough to force the German into a wider approach and see the lead and the trophy switch hands.

It’s bad news for any bulrushes out there though as legislation regarding water hazards are set to be relaxed as well. This change will address incidents such as that seen in the 2010 Heritage during a play-off between Brian Davis and Jim Furyk. Davis was handed a hearty two-shot penalty when his chip-on to the green from a water hazard saw his club brush a reed. Any unintentional bunker or vegetation abuse will be given more leeway now.

There are more silly cases of obscurity that have been axed from the rule book, too. Jeff Maggert was infamously docked two shots when his effort from a fairway bunker deflected off the lip and back onto his chest at the 2003 Masters. Under the new rules, were a reoccurrence to emerge, no penalty would be handed out. Therefore, players won’t have their scorecards penalised at the hands of freak accidents and chance.

World number one Dustin Johnson will certainly be breathing a sigh of relief after the incident he became embroiled in during last year’s US Open. Upon addressing a shot on the fifth green, there was confusion over whether 32-year-old had accidentally nudged his ball. While his gargantuan lead meant that any penalty was effectively irrelevant, it caused such confusion and controversy that many viewers were left utterly disenchanted. It proves a shenanigan that will be averted under the new rules.

It makes a lot of sense let’s be honest here. Supporters don’t want to have a huge sporting occasion ruined by an outrageously protected smidge of mud, random ricochets nor the intimacy of a cactus or fern tree. It’s a cull on pettiness and it’s long overdue.

Rory McIlory and Tigers Woods, after all, have met the news with rapturous applause with the former being told over lunch and the latter throwing confetti via social media. Furthermore, McIlroy later released a statement and explained: “I think it’s great and I told Mike [Davis] that. People look at those who might want to get into the game and are like, ‘you know the rules are too complicated, I don’t want to get into all of that’. Making them more modern to move with the times is good.”

Perhaps one of the smallest of the changes is the most significant and beautifully appropriate, however. The time allowed for searching for a lost ball has been reduced from five minutes to three minutes. So unfortunately for those over sixties on that Thursday morning, they might have to pick up the pace if they want a call-up to the Ryder Cup team.

Kobe Tong, YJA Senior Correspondent

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