For roughly five years now, Thomas Pagel, senior director of Rules & Amateur Status for the USGA, has spoken vaguely about the project he and his colleagues in Far Hills, N.J., have been undertaking with his counterparts at the R&A to modernize the Rules of Golf. Whenever asked about the work, Pagel used euphemisms about making the rules simpler to understand, fairer to apply and ultimately less onerous on the everyday golfer, cautious about offering more specifics least he not let the process run its course.
Finally, on Wednesday, the muzzle came off, as the governing bodies revealed in detail the work that had been consuming them. Jointly, the USGA and R&A outlined dozens of proposed rules changes, the most sweeping revision in decades, that aim to, well, make the rules simpler to understand, fairer to apply and ultimately less onerous on the everyday golfers.
“We looked at literally every single rule and every single outcome,” said Pagel when he joined me and Sam Weinman on this week’s Golf Digest Podcast, “and not just [to say] ‘OK, here’s what we want it to be.’ We took the time to study each one of them and get an understanding of the history of each rule to try and understanding how we got to where we are today, so we had a full breath of understanding before we took the puzzle apart and tried to put it back together.”
Pagel opens up about the origin of the project and what it exactly it entailed. He explains the logic behind several of the proposed changes—along with why the USGA and R&A didn’t go farther on certain hot button issues—and outlines the next steps before any specific changes will going into effect in 2019.
Early reaction to the announcement has been mostly positive, although a few tour pros have taken to social media to express their wish that a separate code for professional and amateur golf had been forwarded.
Pagel says that the “B word”—bifurcation—was discussed during the evaluation process. Ultimately, though, the feedback the USGA and R&A got from various stakeholders in the game suggested one set of rules was too critical an element of the game to alter.
“I would say that early on in the process we were engaged with our partners across the professional game, including the PGA Tour and European Tour, and we all continued to believe that one of the great benefits of this game is the fact that there is a single set of rules that can apply to all golfers everywhere,” Pagel says. “So there was that commitment and by in from everybody that you know what, as we do this, lets focus on what we can do right but all golfers, not just one subset.”
You can listen to the podcast below: