PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The modern rules of golf included some welcome changes. It’s no longer unusual to see players putting with the flagstick in, for example.
It just seems like the goal of simplification has fallen flat since the new rules were implemented at the start of the year.
There have been multiple on-course discussions and penalties assessed and rescinded over the past two months, a new debacle popping up seemingly every week.
It’s safe to say things have escalated at this week’s Honda Classic, where at least one player openly mocked the new rules in the middle of his round.
“To me, we all want to grow the game,” Rickie Fowler said. “You’re not going to grow the game by making it look funny or making guys do unathletic things. You want to make it look cool. Ultimately we’re trying to bring more of a younger generation in, and when you have people making fun of something it doesn’t do the game any justice.”
Fowler particularly took issue with the new knee-height drop rule, for which he was penalized one stroke at last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship. Rather than allow players to drop from shoulder height or below, it’s now limited to knee-height.
While taking a drop Thursday at PGA National, Fowler crouched down and held the golf ball behind his back, asking an official in jest if that was the proper way to do it. Visual evidence spread quickly online.
It was a bad look for the USGA and R&A’s initiative, but Fowler’s point was clear – the new drop rule is already a joke in the minds of most players.
“A lot of us have talked about it,” Fowler said. “Seeing guys drop (in January), a lot of us were laughing at it and making fun of how bad it looks.”
Fowler shot 2-over 72 Friday but moves safely on to the weekend at 2-under overall. Any backlash from Fowler’s public statement won’t come from his peers, many of whom think the new rule is ridiculous and applauded Fowler for making good use of his platform.
“It was hilarious,” said Harold Varner III, who shot 1-under 69 in Round 2 to make the cut. “I thought it explained exactly what the new rules are. It makes it super complicated. I don’t know. They just need to figure it out.”
At least Fowler got to finish his round.
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Alex Cejka was disqualified after 14 holes Thursday when a playing partner turned him in for greens-reading materials that weren’t the proper scale under new restrictions. It was a careless mistake at best and an attempt to cheat at worst. But it doesn’t change the response from most fans and spectators that a player was chucked because of glorified graph paper.
Even Charl Schwartzel, seemingly one of the most mild-mannered players on Tour, flipped out on a rules official after his group was put on the clock on the 18 th hole Thursday. TV cameras caught Schwartzel pointing and yelling at an official sitting in a golf cart, reportedly incredulous that he’d been given a warning.
It didn’t appear to be the result of anything involving the modern rules. But it fit perfectly this week at PGA National, where enforcement around the game is beginning to overshadow the actual competition.