TAMPA, FLORIDA | Here a rule, there a rule, everywhere there seems to be a golf rule that is misunderstood or unintentionally violated.
Based on early results, it appears that 2019 will be the Year of the Great Rulebook Debate. Will the new rules help the game? Are they really going to pay dividends for golf?
Here at the Gasparilla Invitational, which ended Feb. 23 at Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club, players grappled with these questions as they attempted to convey their honest feelings to GGP.
The Gasparilla invitational is divided into two divisions — mid-amateur (25 and over) and senior amateur (55 and over). It quickly became apparent that age had little or nothing to do with the answers provided by contestants.
For example, pace of play was a hot topic among virtually all of the golfers who were questioned. Mike Finster, who at 53 won the mid-amateur division, calmly talked about the necessity of penalty strokes for slow players.
“I believe,” he said, “that any golfer can learn to play faster. It isn’t nuclear science.”
On the other hand, super senior golfer Alan Fadel was unwavering and not particularly calm in his support for penalty strokes. “Golfers are spoiled,” he exclaimed. “It should be the responsibility of all players to learn the rules. I’m a golden rule guy: Play precisely by the rules. Period.
“In regard to the rules, I would tell all golfers that it’s not an intelligent move to disparage the association or the game of golf. Learn the rules. Don’t complain. Be smart. That’s the best way to deal with the USGA.”
Rob Addington, for 19 years the executive director of the Texas Golf Association and now vice president of the Amateur Golf Alliance, introduced a new sentence to be included on tournament entry forms: “Be prepared to play faster than what you are accustomed,” or something similar.
“I’m not sure they (the USGA) simplified the rules. Speeding up play was one of their goals, but perhaps they haven’t succeeded.” — Doug Hanzel, former U.S. Senior Amateur champion
“My advice: I think the USGA should take feedback from all players, not just tour players,” Addington said. “I think this situation is completely overblown because of the PGA Tour and all that attention. The USGA gave people plenty of information and time. They didn’t sneak up on anybody.”
The American Junior Golf Association received plenty of praise for its efforts to speed up play. Joe Hodge, director of golf at Palma Ceia, wondered why “junior golfers in the AJGA learn to play fast, then they slow down when they go to college, and then they really slow down if they are fortunate enough to become a touring pro.”
Doug Hanzel, a former U.S. Senior Amateur champion, said, “I’m not sure they (the USGA) simplified the rules. Speeding up play was one of their goals, but perhaps they haven’t succeeded. I’m not sure they clarified the rules to make them simple enough.”
Hanzel, too, focused on slow play. “I’ve gone from four hours (to finish a tournament round), to four and a half hours, to five hours, or even longer. When you get to the professional tours, the pace of play is abhorrent.
“One of the big problems as I see it is that slow players never believe they’re slow. If you don’t think there’s a problem, that’s hard to correct.”
Marc Dull, the 2018 Gasparilla Invitational champion, pronounced, “I think the method of dropping the ball is a little silly.” Dull, who is 6-foot-7, added “I don’t understand the knee-high language. I feel awkward when I drop it, and I have to worry about hitting my foot.”
Dull concluded, “I hate moving pebbles in a bunker. It just seems wrong.”
Senior Gene Elliott added an “Amen” to much of Dull’s sentiment.
“I don’t know where knee height is for me,” Elliott said. “I like leaving the pin in, although it seems a little sacrilegious to tap in a putt with the pin in the hole. Even moving leafs in a bunker feels weird to me.”
Elliott talked about golf clubs that enforce slow-play penalties. “There are always three or four slow guys. We know who they are. If the golf shop is on their butt, they will speed up.”
Several players looked into the future and predicted that it might take a full year to become accustomed to the new rules.
“Human beings are smart,” Fadel said. “Trust me, we’ll figure this out.”
After recent rules changes, the ball no longer needs to be dropped from shoulder height. Photo: Russell Kirk, Copyright USGA
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