02 Jan 2019

Rafa Cabrera Bello: Rule changes are great for the game

With the new rules being implemented from 1st January, I believe that many of them will improve the pace of play and remove some of the confusion that often arises due to the complicated wording of some of the old rules.

It’s an interesting year ahead for golf with all of the new rule changes coming. It’s the first time they’ve overhauled the rules for a long time and I think they’re going to have a big impact for both professional and amateur golfers.

I’m not going to talk about all of the changes but I’d like to pick out a few that I think are the most interesting and share my thoughts on them. 

Being able to ground the club in a hazard is a really good one for amateurs as there are times when you go into a hazard and you need to stabilise yourself and use the equipment to do that. You’re also able to move loose impediments which is really good and will help pros as well as amateurs. It’s not fair to be penalised because something is in the way of you taking a solid shot that shouldn’t be there, so this is a very good change.

Being allowed to touch the line of a putt or the putting green in pointing out the target provided it doesn’t improve the condition is fairer all round, but the question is whether it will slow the game down. A lot of the new rules seem to be aimed at speeding up play so this one is slightly different but I think it’s a fair change. You used to get a two-stroke penalty for that, or lose the hole in match play, which was very harsh!

You will now be allowed to leave the flagstick in while putting. This will definitely improve the pace of play. Bryson DeChambeau has said that he plans on leaving the flag in for all of his putts while on Tour this year so that will be interesting to watch and see if it has an impact on his putting stats. I’m not sure if I will do that or not but I will see what the results are and if it gives an advantage I will for sure start doing it too!

Another one aimed at speeding up the game is that they are reducing the time for looking for a lost ball from five to three minutes which I think makes sense as it can really slow things up on a busy course if too many people are spending all of their times hunting through the rough for their balls!

Taking a drop from knee height instead of shoulder height. Again, this will speed up the pace of play, it will allow the ball to drop more consistently in the relief zone and enable players to get a better lie so it’s a good change.

Being hit by a moving ball is no longer a penalty. I think this is a good change as if a ball hits you or your equipment while it is in flight and it’s not your fault and there is nothing you can do about it, I don’t think it was fair that you used to get a penalty for this. There’s also no longer any penalty for a double hit which I think is just common sense.

When you lose a ball you are now allowed to drop a new ball in the vicinity where the ball was lost. This will become a local rule applied by the clubs which probably won’t be applied in the professional sphere. It makes sense and will speed up play as well as making golf more enjoyable.

These are pretty major changes and I think the R&A and USGA are trying to make the rules simpler and speed up the pace of play which is all about making the game more enjoyable. Overall I think the changes will be good for the game of golf.

Another area experiencing significant changes in 2019 is the Tour schedules. The PGA Tour’s changes are all about making sure the FedExCup play-off events take place before the NFL season in order to maximise TV audiences. The Tour will be finished by end of August and it has been structured to make sure that there is one big blockbuster event in each month between March and August – the PGA Championship had to move forward and so has the Players Championship.

So the schedule will now go: March, The Players Championship; April, The Masters, May the PGA Championship; June, the U.S. Open; July, The Open and August, the FedExCup play-offs. This has dramatically changed the landscape of world golf as all the other Tour schedules are dictated by the PGA Tour, so the European Tour schedule has also changed dramatically with a rescheduling of some the big Rolex Series events and the BMW PGA Championship being played in September. I think it’s a better schedule for golf fans and all the pros are on board.

Final of the FedExCup, the Tour Championship will also now see the leading player in the series starting the event with a score of 10-under-par with the scores going down the list so the 30th and final player in the field starts at level par. It’s another significant change and I’m excited to see how golf fans take to it.

I’d like to wish all the readers a great 2019 both on and off the golf course!

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