Pros advice

Royal & Ancient publish new rules which eliminate several disqualifications

In a radical reworking of the rules, two of golf’s harshest rules have been changed by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, which comes into effect in January.

The professional game will no longer see players disqualified if an eagle-eyed television viewer calls in after spotting an infringement that leads to a penalty shot being applied after the player has signed for their scorecard.

Neither will there be an automatic one stroke penalty applied if the golf ball moves after a player has addressed it. Instead this will only happen if the facts show a player caused the ball to move.

Several high-profile incidents have occurred over the past few years involving these rules, including Columbian Camillo Villegas on the PGA Tour and Irishman Padraig Harrington in Abu Dhabi while playing the European Tour. Both has signed for their respective cards only to discover later that they had innocently fallen foul of the games’ overly complicated rulebook after television viewers phoned in to point out infringements. And when the respective penalties were duly applied, it meant they had signed for the wrong scorecard and both men were immediately disqualified.

Two classic examples of a player being deemed guilty of committing minor breaches and being harshly dealt with via the rules of the game. And those words were echoed by David Rickman, the R&A’s Head of Rules, who said: “They were classic examples where players had committed pretty innocent breaches and we didn't much like the answers.”

He added: “There still needs to be a deterrent, and so an additional two shot penalty will now be applied to a player's score over and above the penalties occurred for the breach. But they will no longer be disqualified and so at least it keeps them in the competition.”

The last review of the rules was undertaken in 201, with the most ridiculous rule of all, whereby a player is automatically penalised after addressing the ball, even when it is clear that, for example, a gust of wind has caused the movement, was thankfully changed so a penalty would no longer be applied if the offence took place on the greens. However, now the R&A has gone even further and this will be the case anywhere on the course going forward.

“It's something we've been wrestling with for some time,” admitted Rickman. 'We went some way to help last time but it was still complicated and nobody liked the outcome. Now each case can be judged on the facts. If the player is seen to cause the ball to move, say by the act of addressing it in the rough – that is still a penalty. But if the player addressed the ball and ten seconds later the ball moved, perhaps following a wind gust, there will now be a different and fairer outcome.”

DA Points, who was disqualified from the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last year after sticking a piece of foam under the arm while practicing his swing ahead of his playing his next shot. A new change to the rules now sees no disqualification bestowed upon the player for a first breach of using an artificial device during a round.

Perhaps the biggest change of all, however, is the one announced two years ago – an end to anchored putting strokes, which will almost certainly lead to the demise of long-handled putters. From January 2016, golfers of all abilities will no longer be able to anchor the club directly to the body, or by use of an anchor point in making a stroke.

“We took the unprecedented step of announcing it so far in advance to give players the chance to change but all the good reasons that were behind that decision remain the same,” said Rickman. “It's important to stress it doesn't mean clubs like long-handled putters are being banned, as there is still some confusion, but the method of anchoring will no longer be allowed.”

Almost five million copies of the Rules of Golf are being published in English, with further copies distributed in no fewer than 36 different languages. The review takes place every four years following solicitations from 150 affiliated unions in 138 different countries.

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