Remember when golf’s rules were as black and white as Gary Player’s wardrobe?
It was simple.
You either did something wrong, intentional or not, or you didn’t.
Evidently, the rules have gone gray.
That’s the prevailing fallout from the latest rules frenzy which involved the European Tour choosing not to penalize Jon Rahm on Sunday for incorrectly replacing his ball after marking it.
If you missed it, when Rahm marked his ball, he had to move it two clubhead lengths away from his playing partner’s mark and, upon replacing his ball, Rahm put it in a slightly different spot from where it had been.
Upon discovering the minor misdeed, a rules official determined there was no penalty because there had been no intent by Rahm to put his ball in a different place. He had originally marked his ball to the side because his mark would have been on top of Daniel Im’s mark and when it finally came time for Rahm to play, he replaced his ball in a slightly different spot from where it had been.
The key part of the ruling has to do with intent. Rahm didn’t do it to seek an advantage and the discussion that has surfaced surrounding the ruling should in no way detract from Rahm’s overwhelming performance. It’s not about Rahm. It’s about the rules.
Rules makers are trying to make the rules easier to understand and to use. That’s a noble thing. The rules are too complicated.
Most of the proposed changes make perfect sense and improve the game, though being allowed to drop out of a bunker for a two-stroke penalty seems to go too far.
This most recent case gets tricky because it invokes the notion of intention. Rahm was not penalized because he had no intent to replace his ball in the wrong spot. Fair enough. But it’s still a violation of the rules and Rahm said he should be penalized if what he did was a violation.
No one intends to hit it out of bounds but it carries a penalty anyway. No one intends to lose a ball but it happens. So do other violations.
This brings up the Lexi Thompson incident which led to the rules adjustment that allowed official Andy McFee to rule as he did in the Rahm matter.
It also brings into the discussion Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron and their oh-so-close to anchoring strokes. They’re doing what is allowed and in this case perhaps the rule should be stricter, as in no putter longer than, say, 36 inches long. That’s another topic, though.
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Rules officials have forever preached the message that the rules are there to help players though that’s sometimes hard to accept when the penalty strokes are adding up. That, of course, is not generally the fault of the rules but of the player.
In this case, it felt like there should have been a penalty. The ball was one place when he marked it and another place when he remarked it. Black and white.
Or just plain gray.