Tait: New Rules of Golf already called into question and rightfully so

Kamran Jebreili, AP

Tait: New Rules of Golf already called into question and rightfully so

Euro Tour

Tait: New Rules of Golf already called into question and rightfully so

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“We think these changes are good for the game,” R&A director of rules David Rickman told Golfweek about the new Rules of Golf introduced Jan 1.

It took just 27 days for that statement to be called into question.

Haotong Li’s two-shot penalty in the final round of the $3.25 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic has focused the golf world’s attention on new rules Rickman said would “make the game simpler.”

Many believe if that was truly the case, Li would have finished T3 in the Dubai Desert Classic instead of falling to T12 and losing $98,000, not to mention important world ranking points.

Cutting the rules from 34 to 24 and making them easier to read is all well and good, but the changes were meant to make the game fairer. That didn’t happen in Li’s case because the current rules are just as rigid in places as the old ones.

The Li ruling harks back to many cases under the old laws when players were harshly treated because the rules were cast in iron. Mark Roe’s disqualification from the 2003 Open Championship after he and Jesper Parnevik failed to swap scorecards was one example of a rule written so rigidly Roe was forced to miss the final round on a clerical error.

Dustin Johnson’s one-shot penalty in the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open for a moving ball is another. Johnson and playing companion Lee Westwood swore Johnson didn’t cause his ball to move, yet he was adjudged to have breached the rules. Time and space prohibit delving into many similar cases.

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is entirely within his rights to petition R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers to allow his referees more discretion in instances such as Li’s. It seems obvious from watching the Li incident that caddie Mike Burrow wasn’t lining his player up. In fact, if Li had waited a split second for his caddie to move away before he put his putter behind the ball, no penalty would have occurred.

It’s not surprising Slumbers has defended the new rule book: “There is no discretionary element to the Rule precisely so that it is easier to understand and can be applied consistently,” he said. He’s done what any CEO would do in defending his organization’s application of the letter of the law, despite the public outcry.

The Roe and Johnson rules were changed to allow referees more leeway after an outcry from players and fans alike. Will Li’s indiscretion lead to a softening of Rule 10.2b (4)?

Part of the reason for the biggest rules modernization process since the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers laid down the original 13 in 1744 was to avoid rules controversies. Yet here we are less than a month after the new rules were published and we have just that.

What was it The Who sang? “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

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