Mike Davis, the Executive Director of the USGA, has recently apologized to the PGA of America for the tedious and downright nonsensical rules of golf which make the game onerous for the masses of amateurs who are thinking of taking up the game or some the millions who already play the game but are baffled and frustrated by the rules they must play by. Some of the rules are so picayune that, for example, if a golfer approaches a putt and a strong wind blows the ball a fraction of an inch, it may be deemed a penalty with the golfer penalized a stroke. The wind? It gets off scott free. We saw some of this at this year’s U.S. Open when Dustin Johnson played the last few holes not knowing if he was to be charged a penalty for causing the ball to move on a putt before he put his putter down to address it. To his credit, he employed the very useful mindful concept of compartmentalization, putting it out of his mind, and finishing within the limits of wit’s end, and, thankfully, winning the tournament. The USGA, with its pants down, did not pursue the penalty, mainly because it wouldn’t have made a difference to the outcome. Their faces thoroughly caked with dried egg, they whimpered away like a guilt-ridden puppy. So for pros, the rules, such as those, need to be readjusted, reexamined, retooled, and revised.
For non-competitive, recreational amateurs the bloody rules need to be pulled apart, overhauled, and perhaps, for the most part, be done away with. Why? Because we’re losing golfers, which affects every facet of this sport from number of rounds played, to amount of equipment purchased, to TV ratings, to advertising, to internet growth, to charities funded, to business deals made. Sure, golf, itself, will survive. It’s been around for about 600 years. But all involved in the sport want to see it grow and thrive. The bottom line is that golf needs to be more relaxing and fun. Here are various options to make that happen.
- First, golf is a tough game. It’s a challenging game, which is appealing for many, but discouraging for those just starting out. One suggestion for recreational amateurs is to allow the playing of a second ball if the first ball is not hit to the satisfaction of the golfer. A second does not have to be played, but if it is it is automatically in play. The first ball can be picked up quickly if visible but no time should be spent looking for that ball. This keeps play moving along as looking for a lost ball is, I believe, the main reason for slow play. So if a second ball is played it must be chosen as the ball that is in play. If the first ball is satisfactory to the player, a second ball should not be played. This gives the player potentially two chances for each shot instead of the customary one try. This new golf game does not apply to putting, however. Only one putt per customer. Playing the game this way, of course, would preclude applying the score to an official handicap.
- Winter rules apply to fairways and rough year-round. This means you can improve your ball to a better lie within about a foot from where it landed. If there’s mud on it, you can pick it up and clean it.
- Don’t keep score. Obviously, this will speed up play since you can pick up your ball when your score becomes a burden to your particular ego. Touring pros do this during practice rounds, trying and practicing shots that might occur during competition. For non-competitive amateurs every round is essentially a practice round, and a chance to hone your golf skills. For those who are competitive, you can declare, at the first tee, a round to be practice and that you are not following the standard rules of the game. It’s your choice. Every sport has opportunities for practice where the usual rules are suspended.
- If a handicap is important to you, then, by all means, keep a legitimate score where every shot is counted. But how many of us need to have an official handicap? I have one but don’t really need it, because I don’t compete in sanctioned tournaments, and I suspect many don’t. You could also decide not to post a handicap score on occasion, allowing you to suspend the official rules.
- If you want some indication of your progress, count only birdies, pars, and/or bogeys. I do this for a beer with my buddy Steve, and it’s quite fun. Our target is birdies and pars. Otherwise, we don’t keep a total score, but do get an indication of our level of play. Play is much faster as well, which is good for the game, and gets us to our respective homes in time for dinner.
- Play something less than 18 holes. Your choice, whatever your body and mind dictate or whatever you have time for.
I know: The above suggestions are not golf as it was intended to be. And if you are an advanced amateur or a pro, you should probably disregard them. Even if you’re a mid or high handicapper, golf can be competitive, as in playing for a few bucks or a beer among your weekend foursome. And for those folks, stick to the official rules. But even the expert takes liberties when practicing. For most players, the game is more fun than competition. Most of us have such little time away from work and family and obligations. We want our free time to be satisfying, relaxing, and something to look forward to. Free time is precious to run-around, busy 21st century people. There are many benefits derived from occupying that free time by playing golf: time in nature away from the hustle and bustle of freeway living/shopping/traveling; finding respite from anxiety, stress, pressure, and obligations; slowing down from the typical fast pace most of us experience daily and even on weekends; playing a sport without any supervision other than our own judgement of our performance; having the camaraderie of friends and even total strangers in person other than Facebook, Twitter, email, and texting; trying to excel at a challenging sport, having a motivation to keep our bodies and minds in good shape; playing a sport that can continue into older and even old age; and having the opportunity to walk (or ride in a slow moving cart) under a fair or foul sky for a few hours each week, away from the noise and grind of daily life.
From my experience and observation, most golfers already follow some of the above suggestions, but do so surreptitiously. These new rules give you permission to play this game as you wish, as long as you’re not competing. It harms no one, and makes this the fun game it is and should be. And they foster game improvement, as much of your practice occurs on the course, under on-course conditions, instead of the range.
Congrats to Jordan Spieth, winner of this year’s Australian Open. Never putting out the white flag, Jordan endured a shaky start to chip and putt his way to victory in a three-way playoff. This could be a big year for the Texan.
Dr. Joe Parent, author of Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game, said this of my book, The Mindful Golfer: How to Lower Your Handicap While Raising Your Consciousness: “Entertaining and informative, The Mindful Golfer expresses ideas very much in synch with Zen Golf in a playful and engaging way.”
Please check it out, buy it for yourself, give it as a gift, and pass the word along if you’ve enjoyed it.
Published in June/2015, The Mindful Golfer continues to be on or near the Amazon.com bestseller list for golf books.