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Q&A: Modernized Rules of Golf will ‘fit what your casual golfer does now anyway’

Si Woo Kim of South Korea takes a drop from a hazard during the Dell Technologies Match Play golf tournament last week at Austin (Texas) County Club. Under the new Rules of Golf proposed for 2019, he would have been able to drop the ball from an inch above the ground.
Si Woo Kim of South Korea takes a drop from a hazard during the Dell Technologies Match Play golf tournament last week at Austin (Texas) County Club. Under the new Rules of Golf proposed for 2019, he would have been able to drop the ball from an inch above the ground. The Associated Press

Genger Fahleson, the executive director of the Idaho Golf Association, previously served as the director of rules education for the USGA. She left that job at the end of 2010 — and even then the association was considering a modernization of the Rules of Golf. The USGA and R&A (Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews) unveiled the massive, proposed changes March 1. They will take input for six months, finalize the rules in 2018 and implement them Jan. 1, 2019. “This is going to be a lot easier to communicate to your typical golfer,” Fahleson said. “The new rules are going to fit what your casual golfer does now anyway.”

We spoke to Fahleson about her favorite and least-favorite changes, which changes might not survive the comment period and other facets of the new rules:

Q: What was your first reaction to the changes?

A: “Very positive. The one that hits me is, since the late 1990s, the USGA has been pushing for placing everything to put the ball back in play. If it was up to the USGA, you’d place everything (instead of having drops). The Brits are hanging onto this element of chance. Now you can hold it an inch from the ground. There can’t be a rules change unless both sides agree. They just won’t give up on the element of chance. The USGA got them down to an inch.”

Q: When you were teaching the rules, what was the biggest point of confusion?

A: “There were several. One of the big ones was when you drop it and when you place it. The concept of nearest point of relief ... that was the hardest concept to try to communicate.”

Q: What’s your favorite change?

A: “The ball deflected off the person who made the stroke or off of the flagstick. The flagstick can stay in the hole now (when putting). There’s no penalty in any of those situations. ... Another one I like is you can move loose impediments and stones from bunkers.”

Q: Which change didn’t you like?

A: “There’s no longer going to be water hazards or lateral hazards. There’s going to be penalty areas. It’s up to the course or the committee in charge of the tournament. You can mark a side hill and junky areas and whatever as a penalty area. Within those penalty areas, now they’ve changed it to where you can move loose impediments and tidy up. That’s one that I don’t know if it’s going to stick. You hit it in a penalty area for gosh sakes. Be careful. There’s a reason it’s marked that way. ... There might be some unintended consequences with it. Trying to make it more friendly, some courses might mark out of bounds as a penalty area. If it’s a penalty area, you can still play from it. If you mark what was out of bounds a penalty area are players going to get in somebody’s back yard and be whacking around? ... Another one that might not make it to the end is repairing any damage on the putting green. That’s going to slow things down on the tour ... and the same in non-tournament golf. Guys will be cleaning up stuff that’s not there.”

Q: What is missing that you wish was included?

A: “Placing everything.”

Q: For many of us, the stroke-and-distance penalties for out of bounds and lost balls seem like they could have been changed, too. Why do you think they weren’t?

A: “They couldn’t figure out how to do it. For out of bounds, there’s a reference point (where the ball went out). You could add a penalty stroke or two penalty strokes (and play from that spot). But with a lost ball, they just couldn’t figure out how to get around it’s lost so you don’t have a reference point. If you kind of knew where it was, you’d probably find it. ... They’ve always tied lost ball and out of bounds together. The rules guys, they just can’t separate those two things.”

Q: Have you received much feedback?

A: “Some of (the golfers), they want to start using them now. You’ve got to wait till 2019 because if you start playing by these now you’re not playing by the Rules of Golf in place, so you can’t post those scores (for handicap purposes).”

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