Rules changes welcomed in 2012

Contributing Columnist

2012 will see a few rule changes, which have been agreed upon by the USGA and the R&A. Two significant changes are among those that will appear in the Rules book.

Rule 13-4, “Ball in Hazard: Prohibited Actions:” Exception 2 to the rule has been amended to permit a player to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, including before playing from that hazard. This assumes that such action is done solely to care for the course. The change will allow a player or caddie retrieving a rake to smooth footprints before the player makes a stroke from the bunker, thus saving time and encouraging good etiquette.

Rule 18-2b, “Ball Moving After Address:” An exception has been added to exonerate the player from penalty if “it is known or virtually certain that he did not cause the ball to move,” such as with a gust of wind. The ball must be played from its new position. In the past, a player was penalized one stroke and the ball had to be returned to its original position. There could be confusion, though. According to the USGA explanation, “if a player’s ball moves after address on a windless day, he will be subject to penalty under Rule 18-2b.”

Two real situations at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic preceded the changes. This spring at the New Orleans event, Webb Simpson was challenging for his first tour title. Standing on the 15th green Sunday, he held a one-stroke lead. As he prepared to tap in a one-foot par putt, his ball moved. Simpson was penalized one stroke and ultimately lost a sudden death playoff to Bubba Watson.

Simpson, pointing to wind and firm, crusty greens, said he had been victimized by a “bad rule.”

“I’m obviously happy that it is being changed,” Simpson said of Rule 18-2b. “It’s a rule that 100 percent of PGA Tour players would agree should be changed.

In the 2008 Zurich Classic, Stewart Cink was disqualified as a consequence of Rule 13-4. Cink, with his ball resting on grass, had to stand in a fairway bunker to hit the shot. The ball flew into a greenside bunker. Meanwhile his caddie raked the fairway bunker. Under the old rule, that should have been a two-stroke penalty — for testing the surface of one bunker while his ball was in another bunker — although Cink didn’t know it. He signed his scorecard without the penalty. Later he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. The outcry from players and fans was enormous.

Other rule changes are:

• “Searching for Ball:” A player can search for his ball anywhere on the course when it may be covered by sand and to clarify that there is no penalty if the ball is moved in these circumstances. However, if a ball in a hazard is moved when covered by loose impediments (leaves), there is a penalty of one stroke.

• Hole-in-one prizes for amateurs: The R&A has joined the USGA in exempting hole-in-one prizes from the limits for amateurs. This does not apply to long-drive or closest-to-the-pin prizes.

• Arriving late for a starting time: What was previously a local rule is now a fixed part of the rules. For a player staring late, but within five minutes of his starting time, the penalty will be reduced from disqualification to loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play.

• • •

The following question came to me last week:

Last week, I made the greatest putt of my life. Almost. My 80-footer was tracking towards the flagstick, which my friend was tending. It was about to fall when my pal dropped his ball, which bounced off his shoe and knocked my miracle putt off course. He was apologetic and gave me the putt, but I’m not sure I earned it.

Your friend jumped the gun in giving you the putt. Since his error was accidental, Decision 19-5/1.7 states that you had the option of playing your ball where it stopped or replaying your lengthy putt.


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1 Response for “Rules changes welcomed in 2012”

  1. PWF says:

    I had a question on yesterdays Master’s playoff. After Bubba hit his famous shot on number 10, he walked up and marked his ball and then tossed into the crowd. Then he putted another ball. Is he allowed to exchange his ball before he finishes the hole?

    Response from Hal Lenobel: In order to take a ball out of play, the player has to show his fellow competitor or tournament official that the ball is unplayable, or at least damaged. He then may replace it with a ball of the same make, only the number on the ball may be different. I can only assume Bubba Watson did just that.

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