Taking Relief: Eight USGA Rules of Golf we'd like to change

The ridiculously talented Dustin Johnson has certainly had his share of "major" disappointment. One of those instances, however, didn't come with a missed shot, but rather a misinterpretation of a Rules situation.

At the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits , Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker that he didn't think was a bunker. The 2-stroke penalty (Rule 13.4) kept him out of a playoff and possible major championship victory. It was one of golf's all-time hard-luck stories .

The result? A fifth-place finish.

It really isn't a bizarre rule, just perhaps a bizarre circumstance. If you think that one needs some clarification, though, I've got eight more Rules of Golf that just might be a little sillier, unreasonable or at least somewhat impractical.

1. Out of bounds rule is out of bounds

I hate white stakes (which are often there because homes are too close to the course) and don't understand why the penalty for white stakes is more severe than red stakes. You can hit a drive off the tee 275 yards, and if it's a millimeter out of bounds (Rule 27.1), the penalty is stroke and distance. In other words, you're re-teeing, essentially making it at least a 2-stroke penalty.

And if you didn't hit a provisional, is there anything worse than going all the way back to the tee to strike what is now your third shot? If the Rules of Golf treated white stakes like red stakes, pace of play might improve.

On a side note, lost balls fall under the same rule as out of bounds, and the penalty is also stroke and distance (replay from where you last hit). If you play a lot of desert golf, you know most of the golf courses in Arizona , for example, have a local rule in effect that treats the desert where those legless lizards reside as a lateral hazard. We should all treat them that way. (See above about the shame and humiliation about returning to the tee to re-hit.)

2. Ball at rest on green moved by wind

Thankfully, the USGA changed the rule that penalized golfers who addressed the ball on the green, then had the the wind blow the ball from its original position before making the stroke. I'd like to see that taken a step further.

Most recently, we saw what I'm alluding to come into play during a gale at 2015 Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews , when Louis Oosthuizen's ball came to rest inside of 2 feet from the hole, only to later blow even closer to the hole. Since the wind is not considered an "outside agency" (Rule 18.1), the new ball-position is where Oosthuizen should have putted from, except he was too slow. Another gust blew the ball another five feet from the hole, which now became the new position.

I'd like to see this Rule changed, so that when the ball has come to rest for a period of say, 30 seconds, that's the spot from which you get to play it.

3. Tapping down spike marks

With the advent of Soft Spikes and spikeless shoes, this isn't as much an issue as it used to be with metal spikes, but there are some heavy-footed golfers that like to drag their feet around the hole.

As luck would have it, they also seem to have the most aggressive cleats. Tapping down that carnage seems as reasonable as, say, fixing a ball mark (Rule 16.1). And, yes, I know the argument is that golfers will go overboard, tapping down their entire line. So add this: "No excessive tapping."

4. Signing an incorrect scorecard

Certainly if there's a mistake in your favor and you sign the scorecard and walk away, you should be DQ'd, but what happened to Roberto De Vincenzo at the 1968 Masters just wasn't right.

De Vincenzo had fired a 65 on Sunday that would have put him in an 18-hole playoff with Bob Goalby, except his fellow playing competitor, Tommy Aaron, wrote down a 4 instead of the birdie 3 that De Vincenzo actually made on the 17th hole. De Vincenzo signed the incorrect scorecard (Rule 6.6-e), and he wasn't even keeping his own score. Result: no playoff, no Masters title.

Sure, De Vincenzo should have checked more carefully, but -- especially in professional golf, where we've plenty of folks keeping everyone's score -- why is this even an issue? Can you imagine a football team losing the Super Bowl because the coach forgot to record the extra point on the score sheet, and it didn't coincide with the big scoreboard in the end zone? I say there should be a reasonable amount of time to review these scorecards, and if there's an unintentional error, and it can be corrected, correct it. Or, better yet, on the pro tours, don't even make them turn in scorecards.

5. Giving advice to fellow competitors

Who cares? Really. I ask what club you hit on the par-3 10th, and you can either answer me or not. Or if someone asks me, and I tell him I hit a 7 iron, I'm subject to a 2-stroke penalty because I gave advice (Rule 8.1), and I didn't even initiate this Rules violation. Seems like a trick.

In my groups, it's part of the fun. Go ahead, ask me what club I hit. The answer is almost always the same: 3 iron (which I haven't carried in years).

6. Touching a loose impediment in your backswing while playing out of a hazard

Again, if it's not intentional and not improving your lie, maybe there shouldn't be a 2-stroke penalty, but that's exactly what happened to Brian Davis at the 2010 Verizon Heritage in a playoff loss to Jim Furyk (Rule 13.4).

To his credit, Davis called the penalty on himself when he realized he had brushed a reed (which was not growing out of the ground or water, just stuck there) during his backswing while in the hazard near the 18th green at Harbor Town Golf links . It's hard enough to hit a ball out of water or wetlands, but to avoid everything sticking up every which way on the backswing is unreasonable.

7. Striking a competitors ball with your ball while putting

So your fellow competitor doesn't mark his ball, and you're so offline with your putt that your ball strikes his. You incur a 2-stroke penalty (Rule 19.5), even though his ball must be replaced to its original position.

Hmmm, just a thought, but not marking every ball on the green might speed up play. And why can't we just replace the struck ball just like you do when someone chips just off the green (where there is no penalty)? Is there really a difference?

And, yes, I understand that if you've hammered your putt, and the other ball is on the side of the hole, and it keeps your ball from going 20 feet past, it would work to your advantage, but that would be true with a chip as well. Silly rule.

8. Penalized for making the putt with the flagstick still planted

I certainly think the flagstick should come out when putting, but on those occasions when a fellow competitor is tending the flag on a long putt (let's face it, most of us don't get to play with caddies), and he or she fails to pull the flag in time, why should you be penalized? In fact, that player could conceivably penalize you.

Of course, in casual play, only a complete Rules fanatic would try to invoke the 2-stroke penalty (Rule 17.3). By the way, the same Rule also penalizes players whose putt strikes the flagstick when it's lying on the ground whether you put it there or not.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Taking Relief: Eight USGA Rules of Golf we'd like to change
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