The biggest rules changes in golf in 2019
15 Min Read
PGA TOUR rules officials guide you through the process of understanding the significant changes in 2019
Written by Staff @PGATOUR
In mid-December, roughly two weeks before significant changes in the Rules of Golf were to officially take effect, Jim Furyk – a 17-time PGA TOUR winner, a major champion, the only TOUR pro with two sub-60 rounds, and a long-time U.S. representative in both the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup – made an admission.
“I’m probably a little ashamed to say that if you asked me what the rule changes were, you’d probably surprise me by telling me about a couple of them,” Furyk said. “I need to be a little bit more well-versed in what’s going to happen.”
Not to worry, Jim. It’s understandable. Golfers at all levels are still trying to grasp the scope and breadth of the rules changes, which go into play today with the calendar flipping to 2019. Consider this: In an eight-page document that offers a summary chart of the changes, there are 37 new rules – and those are just the most significant changes as outlined by the USGA and the R&A.
Some of the new rules have already generated discussion (you may have heard that Bryson DeChambeau plans to leave the flagstick in for some putts). Some may generate controversy the first time a player accidentally violates one of them. And some are already head-scratchers.
While Furyk may not be well-versed in every rule, he already has one circled for the water cooler. “If I had to be skeptical of one rule, it’d be tapping down spike marks,” he said.
There will be, of course, a learning curve, as players get used to and understand the changes, which seemingly hit all areas – equipment, player behavior, pace of play, taking relief, balls in motion/at rest, to name a few. Change is always difficult but the rationale behind the changes is noble.
“They don’t change rules just because it’s going to make it difficult,” insisted World Golf Hall of Famer Vijay Singh, who became a force on PGA TOUR Champions in 2018. “I think it’s going to be easier. We just have to get used to it. It’s going to take time for us to learn it.”
Some players have more time – and perhaps a bit more incentive/patience – than others. The legendary Jack Nicklaus, long past the days of his competitive prime, has yet to really immerse himself in the rules changes. He may never do so.
As the Golden Bear said, “I’m not going to play golf. I don’t care about rules right now. My rules are about the same as when I finished. If I don’t like the shot, I hit another one. If I hit the first putt and it’s not very close, then I just pick it up. That’s the rules I play. It’s great.”
Sounds like fun. But at least in pro golf, it’s best to abide by whatever rules are in effect. To that end, PGA TOUR rules officials put together this easy-to-read tutorial along with accompanying videos from members of the TOUR's Rules Committee. It might be good to keep this link handy starting with this week's Sentry Tournament of Champions -- the first pro event utilizing the new rules. -- By Mike McAllister, with reporting from Andrew Tursky
DROPPING A BALL
The ball must be dropped straight down from knee height.
Knee height means the height of the player’s knee when in a standing position.
The ball must fall straight down, without the player throwing, spinning or rolling it.
The ball must not touch any part of the player’s body or equipment before it hits the ground. If it rolls against the player’s foot or equipment accidentally after striking the ground, the ball is in play.
Once dropped, the ball must land in and come to rest in the relief area.
If the ball rolls outside the relief area it must be dropped again, then if it rolls out a second time, the ball must be placed where it first struck the ground on the second drop just as we do today.
If the placed ball will not stay at rest on that spot, it must be placed on that spot a second time and if it still will not stay there, it must be placed on the nearest spot where it will stay at rest, no nearer the hole.
If a Drop Zone is being used, the ball when dropped must land and come to rest in the Drop Zone.
THE RELIEF AREA
The Relief Area is the area where a player must drop a ball when taking relief under a Rule.
The Relief Area is a defined area that is equal to the length of the longest club carried by a player, other than a putter.
No matter what club is used to measure, the ball must come to rest within the longest club, other than a putter. Using a putter or sand wedge will not provide a smaller relief area.
The one club-length Relief Area will be uniform for all procedures, except when a player is using the two club-length “Lateral Relief” option from a red penalty area or from an unplayable ball.
This change makes the Relief Area consistent.
No matter if a player is dropping a ball from an immovable obstruction, from an embedded ball, from a wrong putting green, when using “Back-On-The-Line Relief” under penalty, or when using the “Stroke-and-Distance Relief” option under penalty, the Relief Area is one club-length.
When taking free relief or penalty relief, the original ball or another ball must be dropped in the relief area.
ELIMINATION OF PENALTIES
There is now NO penalty for an accidental double hit.
All accidental deflections are treated the same way; NO penalty and the ball is played as it lies.
During a search for a ball, there is NO penalty if a ball is moved by the player or his caddie. In all cases, the ball will be replaced, it will never be dropped.
There is now NO penalty if a ball in motion accidentally hits the player, caddie, his equipment, or the flagstick whether removed or attended.
There is only a penalty if it is deliberate or if the player or caddie deliberately positions equipment to stop a ball in motion.
There is still NO penalty for a ball or ball-marker accidentally moved on the putting green.
There is now NO penalty for carrying a non-conforming club, penalty applies only for using it.
On the putting green a ball which strikes a moving leaf after a putt, is NO longer cancelled and replayed. The ball will be played as it lies.
If a ball has been moved by an Outside Influence, it must be replaced in all cases including when the spot is not known. It will NEVER be dropped.
Loose impediments in a bunker may now be removed or touched, provided the ball does not move. If the ball moves as a result, there is a one stroke penalty and the ball must be replaced. Hence, a Local Rule for Stones in Bunkers will no longer exist as the Rules will allow their removal.
The Rules will now allow the player to generally touch the sand in a bunker with a hand or a club, but there are limitations. For example:
-- You cannot touch the sand in a bunker when making a practice swing or in the backswing for the stroke.
-- You cannot deliberately touch the sand in the bunker with your hand, club, rake or other object to test the condition of the sand to learn information for the stroke.
-- You cannot touch the sand in a bunker with a club in the area right in front of or right behind the ball, except when searching or removing a loose impediment or movable obstruction.
There is NO longer a penalty for striking the sand in anger or frustration, or for leaning on a club in the sand away from the ball while waiting to play.
Penalty Area is the new name for Water Hazard.
Penalty Areas will still be marked either Yellow or Red.
In a Penalty Area the player can now ground the club lightly behind the ball, move a loose impediment, take a practice swing and touch the ground or the water.
Opposite Margin relief from a Red Penalty area is not available by the Rule. This option must be noted on the Local Rules sheet each week for each specific Red Penalty Area.
NOTE: As was the case previously, the player cannot take relief from Abnormal Ground Conditions including Immovable Obstructions or an Embedded Ball within a penalty area.
Important Note: Opposite Margin relief from a Red Penalty area is not available by the Rule. This option must be noted on the Local Rules sheet each week for each specific Red Penalty Area.
Damage to a putting green may be repaired.
Damage is described in the Rule and it means any damage caused by a person or outside influence and includes ball marks, old hole plugs, turf plugs, shoe damage (such as spike marks) and scrapes or indentations caused by equipment or the flagstick. Any repair must be done promptly.
It does NOT include natural surface imperfection, disease, aeration hole or natural wear of the hole.
The line of play on the putting green may now be touched, including when pointing out a line for putting, but the line must not be improved beyond what is now permitted when repairing damage, i.e.: the player may NOT create a pathway or channel to the hole.
If the player’s ball on the putting green moves after the player had already lifted and replaced the ball, the ball MUST be replaced on its original spot, which if not known must be estimated. This is the case no matter what caused the replaced ball to move, including natural forces (wind).
GREENS READING MATERIALS LIMITATIONS
There are new limitations on mapped Greens Books, including green diagrams in a traditional yardage book. ANY putting green image that is used during the round MUST be limited to a scale of 3/8 inch to 5 yards. A yardage or greens book must also meet a size limit of 7 inches x 4.25 inches.
Any hand-drawn or written information by the player or the caddie is allowed, but only if contained in a book or paper meeting this size limit (other than a hole placement sheet). Magnification of putting green information is not allowed, other than a players normal wearing of glasses.
The player can now putt leaving the flagstick in the hole, but the player must decide this before making the stroke.
There is NO penalty if the ball strikes a flagstick left in the hole prior to the stroke, or for a ball accidentally striking a flagstick that is attended or removed.
If the player elects to putt with the flagstick in the hole, it must NOT be moved after the stroke to affect where a ball in motion may come to rest. It may only be removed when there is no reasonable possibility that the ball will strike the flagstick.
If a ball rests against a flagstick in the hole and part of the ball is below the level of the lip, the ball will be considered holed, even if the entire ball is not below the surface. There is no longer a requirement to move the flagstick to see if the ball falls into the hole. The ball may be simply picked up.
The time to search for a ball is reduced from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. The time of search still starts when the player or caddie begin to search. If the original ball is found, the provisional ball must be abandoned.
Once the search time has begun, there is NO penalty if the ball is accidentally moved during the search by anyone including the player or caddie. Simply replace the ball in its estimated position.
The player can now go back to where the ball was last played and play a provisional ball at any time before the original ball is found.
The player must still announce that the ball about to be played is a provisional ball. The player must use the word “provisional” or otherwise clearly indicate that he or she is playing the ball provisionally.
The relief procedure has changed for an embedded ball.
The relief area starts at the spot right behind where the ball is embedded. A ball must be dropped in the one club-length relief area, not nearer the hole than this spot, and in the General Area.
There is NO longer a requirement to announce to your marker or another player your intention to mark and lift the ball to check if it is embedded, but it is still good practice to do so.
A ball is NOT embedded if it is below the level of the ground as a result of anything other than the player’s previous stroke, such as when the ball was dropped in taking relief under a Rule.
As with other relief procedures, a ball may be substituted and dropped when taking relief. The original ball may be used, but it is not necessary.
DROPPING OPTIONS FROM AN UNPLAYABLE BALL
When using the “Stroke-and-Distance Relief” option (No. 1 option above), the player must now estimate where the previous stroke was played and drop a ball within one club-length of that spot not nearer the hole.
When using the “Back-on-the-Line Relief” option (No. 2 option) or keeping the place where the ball lies between you and the hole, the player can now drop in a one club-length relief area rather than exactly on the line itself as was done previously.
The player can go back on the line as far as he wants, select a point on the line and drop within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole. (The player should indicate the point on the line by using an object such as a coin or tee.) The ball when dropped cannot go forward of this point.
Using the 2 club-length “Lateral Relief” option (No. 3 option) when a ball is unplayable, the ball must stay in the 2 club-length relief area when dropped.
It can no longer roll 2 club-lengths from where it strikes the ground.
No one can help the player with his alignment for the stroke. This is an essential skill which the player must do for himself.
A caddie is NO longer allowed to stand behind the player to help with alignment. At the moment the player begins to take his stance, the caddie must not deliberately stand directly behind the player. The penalty is two strokes in stroke play.
There is one exception which applies only on the Putting Green. The penalty can be avoided if the player backs away and starts again without the caddie directly behind him. Provided the player backs away and starts again on the Putting Green, there is no penalty.
The player cannot set something down (such as a club) to help with alignment for a stroke. Once this is done the penalty is two strokes in stroke play.
CLUBS AND BALLS
No matter how a club is damaged, even by abusing it, the player can continue to use the club in its damaged state for the rest of the round, but he will NOT be allowed to replace it.
There will be NO replacement of a club unfit for play (such as a cracked driver face), unless the damage is caused by an outside influence or natural forces. No matter what the nature or cause of the damage, the damaged club is treated as conforming for the rest of that round only.
The player will be allowed to have the damaged club repaired but the repair is limited to the original components of the club - the same grip, shaft and clubhead. Damage that existed prior to the round must not be repaired.
A club MUST still conform when starting a new round or when starting a play-off in stroke play, if it is to be used. There is NO penalty for carrying a non-conforming club, only for using it.
The player is NO longer required to announce that he is lifting the ball to determine if it is cut or cracked or for identification. Simply mark the ball and lift it.
Cut or Cracked replaces the term Ball Unfit for Play. Hence a ball out of shape may not be replaced. A ball can only be replaced if it is cut or cracked and that damage happened on the same hole.
A caddie will now be able to mark, lift and replace the player’s ball (if he lifted it) on the putting green ONLY, without needing authorization. The player is still responsible for any related breach of the Rules.
A caddie will NO longer be able to align the player while he is taking his stance for any stroke. There are strict Rules about where the caddie may deliberately stand when the player begins to take his stance. Other than on the putting green, there is no way out of a penalty if the caddie is deliberately standing directly behind the player when he starts to take his stance.
DISTANCE MEASURING DEVICES
Although in 2019 the Rules of Golf will allow the everyday use of Distance Measuring Devices (DMD’s) without measuring elevation changes; the PGA TOUR will be adopting a Local Rule on our Hard Card which will prevent the use of DMD’s during any tournament rounds.
Penalty for first breach of this Local Rule during a tournament round is two strokes in stroke play; second breach during the same round Disqualification.
DMD’s without elevation change, will still be permitted in PGA TOUR pre-tournament Pro-Ams, Open Qualifying rounds and stages of Q school, except the Q school finals.
TEMPORARY IMMOVABLE OBSTRUCTIONS
The TIO Local Rule was recrafted to enable a player to treat a TIO as an Immovable Obstruction when any physical interference exists, if the player so chooses. This should simplify the process for players when taking relief.
When a player has both Physical Interference and Line of Sight Interference, he has a choice of either procedure. However, once this choice is made, the other option may not be used.
The position of the ball may be marked before being lifted, but it is not required. Simply lift the ball and place a ball once within one club length of the original spot, but not nearer the hole. As with other relief procedures, a ball may be substituted when a ball is lifted under this Local Rule.