ST ANDREWS, Scotland – The R&A and USGA usually take a united stand on all things golf, but R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers has a different take to USGA head Mike Davis on the performance of the new Rules of Golf introduced on January 1.
Slumbers certainly didn’t try to gloss over the new laws with the same “they’ve been a huge success” line Davis trotted out at the State of the Association speech at the USGA Annual Meeting in San Antonio last Saturday.
The R&A boss admits that reducing the rules from 34 to 24 to try to simplify the laws that govern this game has not been an instant success.
“There’s been some unfortunate situations, no doubt about that,” Slumbers said. “It hasn’t gone as smoothly as I would have liked.”
One change didn’t exactly go smoothly in last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship.
Rickie Fowler suffered a one-shot penalty for an illegal drop during the second round. Fowler dropped the ball from shoulder height instead of the current knee-high requirement. Fowler called the new rule “a terrible change.”
While Slumbers admitted the situation was unfortunate, he appeared to put the blame firmly on Fowler’s shoulders: “As professionals, we all have to know the rules, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s golf or anything,” Slumbers said. “I think that it was very unfortunate, that situation, and a couple of the others, but the rules are an important part of our game.”
The R&A head defended the knee-drop change on the basis of its design.
“The intention for the knee drop rule is to be able to get the ball back in play quickly, in a prescribed area, and without having re‑drops.”
Slumbers says the most startling outcome of the revised rules is the number of players putting with the flagstick in the hole.
“I’ve been somewhat surprised how many players have left it in on the Tour for short putts,” Slumbers admitted.
“It wasn’t intended as a rule to improve performance. It was intended as a rule to improve pace of play, and it’s something we will watch and see. But these are early days. This is not the time to make knee‑jerk reactions.”
Code perhaps for “watch this space”?
The governing bodies have already amended Rule 10.2b (4) concerning caddies lining up players after incidents involving Haotong Li and Denny McCarthy. It was an embarrassing volte face so soon after the publication of the new rules.
Yet while Slumbers might not subscribe to Davis’s “huge success” line, he steadfastly defends the rules introduced this year.
“We’ve made the biggest change in a generation to the Rules of Golf. I’m not forgetting what the big picture is here, which was to modernise the rules, simplify some of the unexpected penalties … and to create something that we feel is modern and relevant to the game.”
Is it too early to call the new Rules of Golf a work in progress?
“I remain completely committed to believing this is the right thing for the game, and we will work through any further issues.”