JERSEY CITY, N.J. – We can’t blame the messengers who informed Webb Simpson on Friday afternoon that he would not be allowed to replace his cracked driver. They interpreted the Rules of Golf correctly and fairly. We can, however, blame the USGA and the R&A for writing about precisely this scenario in a rules clarification in April and creating this ridiculous situation in the first place.
Simpson hit a drive that flew oddly on the third hole during the second round of The Northern Trust. After looking at his driver, he saw that there was a crack in the face. Like most players, Simpson brings a back-up driver with him to tournaments, but the rules prohibited him from switching it out, forcing Simpson, the winner of the 2012 U.S. Open, to either use the cracked driver or play a 3-wood on several holes.
On April 9, the USGA and the R&A released a clarification of Rule G-9 and a Local Rule, “allowing players to replace a broken or significantly damaged club, except in the case of abuse.”
Under the change, clubs are defined as being “broken or significantly damaged” if specific criteria are met, like if the shaft breaks into pieces or splinters, the face or clubhead deforms, the grip is loose or the clubhead detaches or loosens from the shaft.
After the series of bullet points that lists those circumstances, there is a sentence that makes absolutely no sense.
“However, a player is not allowed to replace his or her club solely because there is a crack in the club face or the clubhead.”
When I read that in April, I immediately emailed the USGA to be sure I understood it correctly.
If a player’s driver face cracks after he hits a shot, he cannot replace it before the end of his round, but if the driver face visibly deforms, Local Rule G-9 would go into effect and the driver could be replaced?
The response from the USGA was, “Correct.”
So, there’s the proof that the officials at Liberty National made the proper call on Friday, but not allowing golfers to replace a club that cracks during the normal course of play is absurd.
If Simpson’s driver had performed erratically during his warm-up, he would have replaced it. If there was a crack that was so imperceptibly small that he didn’t see it, or did not notice that it was altering the performance of his driver during his warm-up, how could he have known it would be an issue on the course an hour later?
According to the PGA Tour’s media guide, Simpson was a Religion major while he attended Wake Forest University, not metallurgy or industrial mechanics.
Assuming Simpson’s back-up driver was on the property at Liberty National, having someone go from the third hole to get it and bring it to him would have only taken about 20 minutes. Tops. While that was happening, he could have finished the third hole and started the fourth, swapped out the driver and not unduly slowed play. The incident should have ended exactly like that.
Had Simpson’s driver deformed somehow, he could have replaced it. If the shaft had broken and the head flew down the third fairway, he could have replaced it. But instead, the face cracked and he was out of luck. He didn’t throw the club in anger. He did not bang it on the ground. The titanium cracked, seemingly through no fault of Simpson, and he was out of luck.
“Nobody is going to agree with the rule on the driver that they have changed,” Simpson said on Friday after signing for his 2-over 73. He will start Saturday’s play at 2 under. “The consensus among me and the other guys I was with, and the other players in the rain delay, was if it’s cracked in the driver, it’s cracked. What harm is done by letting me switch?”
There’s no harm at all, and that’s the point.