The recent Patrick Reed incident brings the Rules of Golf back into the spotlight, writes
The first time I was given a book on the Rules of Golf, I was an enthusiastic teenager playing golf two to three times a week. The book was an inch and a half thick and contained 562 pages. Was I going to read it? Absolutely not. If I was going to get Repetitive Strain Injury it was going to be from swinging my clubs, not from turning hundreds of pages.
It is hardly the sort of introduction to the rules that fills one with joy and, compounded by the rules’ complexity, it may explain why so many golfers are a bit fuzzy on what to do — or not to do — on a golf course. How often has a playing partner turned to you and asked: “what am I supposed to do now?”
That’s all fine and well, but professional golfers need to know the rules a lot better than the average 16-handicap amateur.
Yes, they have rules officials on hand to sort out the more complicated issues, such as the famous ‘Driving Range’ drop by Jordan Spieth during the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale (although it was ultimately Spieth’s own knowledge that made the drop possible), but the basics should be — must be — deeply ingrained. Only then can pros avoid stupid penalties and potential accusations of cheating.
Patrick Reed proved this point at the weekend’s Hero World Challenge tournament at the Albany Golf Club, in the Bahamas. Leading the tournament halfway through the third round, he broke a rule so basic, that the resulting two-shot penalty is of no consequence.
He has already acquired a reputation of poor sportsmanship from his college days and he won’t now be escaping such claims for the rest of his career. This is not helped by his high levels of unpopularity and the golfing world’s unwillingness to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Even the most ill-informed golfer knows that you can’t improve your lie before playing your shot. Reed did exactly that in a waste bunker on the 11th hole. The rules specify players in sanded waste areas can ground their club before a shot but cannot improve their ability to hit the ball by ‘removing or pressing down sand or loose soil.’ If you watch the footage, that’s precisely what Reed does. Twice, in fact.
After he’d met the rules officials and his score had been adjusted with the penalty, he was questioned about the incident.
“After seeing the club go back and brush some sand,” Reed responded, “they (PGA Tour officials) thought that’s a breach of the rules.
After seeing the video it’s a two-stroke penalty. I accept that.
The cameras were behind Reed on the 11th hole and this, Reed claimed, did not show where the club and sand were in relation to the ball. “You only have one camera angle, that’s all you can go off of.”
He also added that he had grounded his club well behind the ball and that the sand he moved would not have made any difference to the shot.
Watch the footage and see what you think. Paul Azinger was covering the event for Golf Channel. “If that’s not improving your lie, I don’t know what is. He [Reed] knows better. I don’t know why that happened or what he was thinking.”
Rule 8.1 concerns Player’s Actions That Improve Conditions Affecting the Stroke, and the specific violation concerned 8.1a (4) is as follows: A player must not take any of these actions if they improve the conditions affecting the stroke: 4. Remove or press down sand or loose soil.
This is not the first time this type of rule breach has happened… and not even the first to involve Reed, who had similar allegations to contend with in 2015, at the same event. It is worth noting, however, that another golfer might not have been treated so harshly by the press and social media.
What if it had been Rory or Rickie? What if it had been Gary Player playing in the 1974 Open Championship at Royal Lytham St Anne’s, when he was required to putt left-handed from beside the clubhouse on the 72nd hole, and his practice swing removed a swathe of soil from behind the ball? He pulled off a miracle shot and won the tournament… but under the Rules of Golf, was he improving his lie?
There’s a video of it online.
That same accusation was made against Kenny Perry in 2009, during the FBR Open play-off when he appeared to be tamping down the grass behind his ball in rough beside the green. The rules officials said he had no case to answer but the cameras suggested otherwise, especially as Perry won.
Eamon Lynch, a columnist for Golf Week, tweeted the most apt response to Patrick Reed’s error and it is one all professionals should heed (right):
In recent years, the golf rules have been reviewed on more than one occasion.
In January 2016, the revised rules addressed such areas as anchoring,distance-measuring devices, filling in scorecards incorrectly and balls moving accidentally on the green at address. As is usually the case, such rule changes are reactive because some golfers are gaining an unfair advantage (eg anchoring) or because they were stupid rules to begin with (eg a ball moving on the green).
The most recent changes in January 2019 were a further attempt by the R&A to simplify the rules and speed up play. These changes included the new rule on dropping the ball from knee height, something which caused not only confusion among the amateurs and pros alike, but also some costly penalties.
Rickie Fowler was first to fall foul of it at the WGC in Mexico, in February.
Other ‘new’ rules have also come in for stick: the endless issues with pace of play were supposedly addressed. In the 2019 rules, it is recommended that you take no longer than 40 seconds to make a stroke… that memo obviously failed to reach JB Holmes who took four minutes and 10 seconds to play a shot on the 72nd hole at the Farmers Insurance Open, in December 2018.
The double-hit penalty is gone, the time to search for a ball has been reduced, and golfers can elect to leave the flagstick in when putting. There are other rule changes of course but these are the most noticeable and cause the most debate.
The Rules of Golf are hardly an enthralling read and they are still long and complicated. The current pocket-sized 2019 Rules of Golf book is 232 pages and requires the golfer to have excellent eyesight to read the tiny print. Can you imagine a 15-year old sitting down to study them? No, neither can I.
Abbreviated and Q&A-type books/web pages must do very well as they focus on the basics and the rules encountered most frequently.
It is a tough ask to expect golfers to know all the rules and the endless sub-rules, never mind a club’s ‘local rules’, but this is the nature of the sport. On many occasions, it is the golfer him/herself who must call the penalty on themselves so it is a game that demands honesty and integrity.