Should tour players have different rules?
I recently posted a story on my Instagram account with a poll asking my followers whether they think PGA tour players should have different rules to other golfers. The poll was inspired by an article I had read from 5 March 2019 by Brian Wacker on Golfdigest.com titled “Some PGA Tour players think separate rules is an answer. It’s not that simple” The article can be found here:
Unsurprisingly, almost all of those that voted did not think PGA Tour players should have separate rules but one follower believed that they should. I, like most of my followers, agreed the rules should be the same and was shocked that such an idea had even been suggested. Why should a tour player on any tour have different rules to everyone else? Yes, it is their living and they are playing for different stakes but at the end of the day it is the same game of golf. However, the article sparked some very interesting discussion points and opinions that I had not considered before.
The new Rules of Golf that took effect from 1 January this year have come under a lot of scrutiny. Top tour players such as Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka have criticised the new rules publicly. Koepka said “I don’t know any other professional sport where the professional organisation running the event doesn’t have their own rules.” Although many tour players are unhappy about the rules, the USGA did announce a six-month feedback period in March 2017 where over 25,000 golfers gave feedback and the new rules were made public in March 2018 to give players time to understand the rules. The PGA Tour also put forward suggestions and recommendations that were incorporated into the new rules. As with any change, many have said that an adjustment period for the new rules should be expected whilst players familiarise themselves with the changes.
The Golf Digest article quotes Webb Simpson saying “When we’re dealing with a $10 million purse it’s a lot different than a country-club championship. We need to have our own rules” - he suggested tour players setting the rules and then the rules authorities adjusting them. This statement is bound to divide players. One of the great things about golf is that everyone can play the same course under the same rules with the handicap system putting everyone on a fair footing.
Some of the main reasons for the USGA and the R&A changing the rules were to modernise the game, eliminate some of the confusing rules and try to speed up play. One of the central questions is how would the rules differ for tour players. To date, most of the rule changes that have caused controversy are where players have been criticised or penalised for not following the specific new rule. For example, Rickie Fowler was penalised for dropping a ball from shoulder height rather than knee height; Haotong Li’s caddie stood behind him prior to his final putt at the Dubai Desert Classic and Adam Schenk was retrospectively penalised two strokes as his caddie was stood directly behind him during a putt. Fowler has said that he thinks the knee drop rule “looks terrible” and has been reported as thinking that it makes golf look bad. Other tour players have also echoed these thoughts and believe the new rules will put people off the game so they should not have been changed or needed more involvement from tour players. The article also refers to caddies having to do “the tango all around the hole” depending on whether a player wants the flagstick in or out which will slow down the game.
I believe there should be blanket rules for all golfers. The one follower who suggested different rules wanted rules to make golf more enjoyable for amateurs such as preferred lies all year round. I agree that such rules are beneficial for amateurs but these are definitely changes that you can make for certain club competitions or within your group during a game and not rules that need to be set for all amateurs. I agree with Ernie Els’ opinion that professional golfers need to adapt (“guys will get over it and get on with it”) and abide by the rules set by the rules authorities who “have been writing the rules for us for a long time.”
Overall, I don’t think tour players should have different rules as this would definitely affect the way people think about the game. I believe the USGA and R&A gave players enough time to consider and give their opinion on the changes. The rules have caused controversy and will continue to do so until players (professionals and amateurs alike) understand and get used to them.