The rules of golf aren't simple–the only thing more complicated might be the U.S. Tax Code. That is obvious to everyone as even some of the game's top golf professionals have run afoul of the rules. It takes more than 800 pages to cover the decisions on the rules and sometimes even rules officials don't get it right.
Every four years, the USGA and the R&A, the governing bodies of the game, amend the rules, always saying they are trying to improve and change them to simplify matters. It certainly helps.
The USGA released a seven-page explanation of new rule 14-1b, which will prohibit the anchoring of a club when making a stroke. Reading it will definitely assist players, club officials and tournament administrators.
It makes clear that a player cannot use an anchor point, defined as holding a forearm in contact with with any part of the body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club. For an anchor point to exist, the player must do it intentionally, not accidently. The player must grip the club so that the hands are separated and work independently from one another.
The penalty for anchoring will be two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play.
According to former USGA staff member Frank Thomas, who has spent many years writing, interpreting and monitoring the equipment rules, this will mark the first time in 600 years that the rules have dictated how to hold the club.
Thomas felt strongly that the best way to rid the game of a "non-traditional" manner of holding the club would have been to simply modify the rules to say that the length of the putter shall be no longer than the shortest club in a player's bag.
He could eventually be proved right as I see the implementation of the rule creating some disagreements in the coming years.
Perhaps the most significant change besides the one on anchoring is the withdrawal of Rule 18-2b, ball moving after address. This means that a player will not automatically be considered guilty if a ball at rest moves after the player has addressed it. A one-stroke penalty will now apply only if the facts show the player has caused the ball to move. Considering the speed of the greens and high winds, this is a really good rule.
A "limited" exception was added to Rule 6-6d, the penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. A player will not be disqualified for returning a score lower for a hole as a result of failing to include penalty strokes that he was not aware of at the time he signed his scorecard.
The best example of this is where Camilo Villegas was DQed from the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua in Hawaii. He moved a loose impediment when he saw his chip shot rolling back to him. The violation was reported by a television viewer. I saw it happen myself and realized the error, but wasn't the one making the telephone call.
If this happens now, Villegas would have been accessed an additional two-stroke penalty, but could have continued playing.
In addition, the same penalty would apply the first time a player breached Rule 14-3, using an artificial device, unusual equipment or the abnormal use of it. He would be DQed for the second such mistake.
D.A. Points was disqualified from the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when he used a spongy green ball under his arm as a training aid to keep his arms connected while waiting on another group on the 18th tee.
My first look at the decisions did reveal a few other things that simplify things and makes common sense. I'm sure a closer look when the USGA sends me the entire book will reveal other interesting cases.
If you find you have a 15th club in your golf bag and realize it before you start, you can declare it out of play without any penalty, placing it on the floor of the golf cart or by turning it upside down in the bag.
If you drop a provisional ball, it can be picked up if the original ball is found in the five minutes allowed to search for the ball provided you have not made a stroke with it.
Animal hoof prints can be repaired on the putting green or treated as ground under repair provided a local rule has been added. I would think even the local rule would not be needed in any regular games.
One other thing I'd like to see along these lines: Golfers should get relief from divots in the fairway. Why should they be penalized in such a case?
Looking ahead to 2016, golfers will need to be aware of the ban on anchoring along with a few other changes recently announced by the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association.
While I never saw any evidence that anchoring affected the game by giving anyone an advantage, the ruling bodies did and now has offered a six-page, 2,500-word memo about the implementation of Rule 14-1b, which will prohibit. It's interesting and provides answers to many questions.
However, I have to agree with Frank Thomas, a former USGA staffer who has spent many years writing, interpreting and monitoring equipment rules and doing research on putting, that there are going to be disagreements whether a player was intentionally holding the club or gripping hand in contact with any part of his body except against a hand or forearm.
Writing in his weekly blog, Thomas suggested a better way to simply things would have been to just ban the long and belly putters. Amen!
The ruling bodies always say they are always trying to simply the rules--the only thing more complicated might be the U.S. Tax Code--when changes are made every four years and they did make other significant changes for 2016 that will help do this.
A player now is no longer automatically considered guilty if his ball moves after address, taking into consideration that wind does tend to move balls, especially on the fast greens used for professional and top amateur events. A one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 will be applied only when the facts show that the player has caused the ball to move.
A player will no longer be disqualified for returning a lower score for a hole as a result of failing to include penalty strokes that he was not aware of at the time of signing his scorecard. Instead, the player incurs the penalty under the Rule that was breached and must add an additional penalty of two strokes for the score card error. In all other cases in which a player returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, the penalty will continue to be disqualification.
The use of using an aritifical device or unusual equipment will no be grounds for automatic disqualification. Instead, the penalty will be two strokes in stroke play and loss of hole in match play for the first breach of Rule 14-3. An additional violation will result in DQ.