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By Robert Bicknell
With every passing week, it seems that more and more PGA Tour players are coming forth to bash the new 2019 Golf Rules changes. Quite a few players have had penalties assessed for not following the new rules and it has them hopping mad.
From improper drops (above knee high), to caddies standing on the line behind the player during the alignment phase, to “conduct unbecoming a professional” (Hiya Sergio), players (especially Justin Thomas) are becoming more vocal and even talking about having a separate set of rules for the PGA Tour, instead of following USGA / R&A.
This actually isn’t anything new.
When Gardner Dickinson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer helped the PGA Tour branch off from the PGA of America in 1968, they discussed developing their own rule book.
However, Jack Nicklaus has a different opinion nowadays, probably because wisdom comes with age and understands better than most that, as good as the Tour professionals are, they are not “bigger than the game” and having a separate set of rules just for them would imply the opposite.
However, there are times when a separate set of rules (somewhat) do come into play, especially in The Masters tournament at Augusta National, who are a law unto themselves.
It has to be remembered that The Masters is an “invitational” and while there is a set formula of who can play, who can qualify and who cannot, in the end it’s the Lords of Augusta National who decides everything. Furthermore, The Masters is a “major” and on the Tour schedule, the event is not run by the PGA Tour, nor the USGA, although they do have some input.
If, for some reason, Augusta National decided they didn’t want Tiger or Sergio to play in the event, then believe me, you wouldn’t see them. They couldn’t even get past the gate.
When Tiger Woods took an improper drop in the 2013 Masters, the USGA officials and Augusta National’s tournament committee jumped through hoops not to disqualify him even though Woods’ breach of the rules appears to have been intentional, and was admitted by the player himself.
Tiger received a two-stroke penalty instead.
Former Open Champion, David Duval, commented that, “There is some leeway with the signing the incorrect card. Not with intentionally not dropping as near as possible... I think he should withdraw. He took a drop to gain an advantage.”
As you could imagine, there was a lot of speculation that Tiger received special care to ensure TV ratings for the tournament.
Fair or not, this is how the public felt, so you could imagine the outcry from the golfing public if there was a special set of rules just for Tour Professionals. Trust me, you would be able to hear the screams even on the moon.
The PGA Tour already gives the players “special consideration” simply by the way they set up the courses, which are geared towards allowing spectacular golf, amazing recovery shots and, funny enough, you almost never see a “fried egg” (buried lie) in the bunkers.
This is a far cry from the courses normal players have to deal with every day around the world, and why I enjoy the Open Championship so much. They set the course up to be a little more difficult than normal and let Mother Nature take care of the rest.
The Tour players see buried lies, waist high rough and other nightmares that normal players experience and they aren’t happy about it.
The USGA often takes things to an extreme when setting up their courses, which sometimes results in Tour players thinking they are playing on a Muni (municipal course, normally short of money and has minimal maintenance). One year the greens were so bad that caddies joked there were two blades of grass on the green and nowhere near each other.
If I had the power to change the rules of golf, I’d probably attack that “knee high drop” rule immediately. In my view, let them drop from shoulder height, waist height, knee height, over the shoulder, between the legs and up over the shoulder or any other way, except for placing the ball in a better lie.
Bottom line: Golf is a game for everyone and nobody deserves special rules just for them. VNS