Even by the idiosyncratic nature of the Rules of Golf, it's been a rough few weeks for the sport's guidelines. There have been two high-profile cases involving Rule 10.2b(4): Restriction on Caddie Standing Behind Player in which video evidence put the penalties enforced on Haotong Li at the Dubai Desert Classic and Denny McCarthy at the Phoenix Open into question, the latter so egregious that it led the PGA Tour to rescind the penalty on McCarthy. Then there was the matter of Rickie Fowler, who was assessed a penalty after his drop from the water rolled back into the drink.
Fowler ended up overcoming the debacle to win at TPC Scottsdale, and on Wednesday the USGA and R&A provided clarification on the caddie rule to avoid future issues. Nevertheless, two of the game's biggest stars sounded off on the unending controversy involving rules.
“I watched that transpire (the Fowler incident) and couldn’t help but think, ‘This is not what the integrity of the game is about,’” Tony Finau said Wednesday at Pebble Beach. "If the rules aren’t going to protect the integrity of the game, then they’re wrong.
"And that's, I'll always stand on that side just because I know, yeah, I've had things like that happen to me in junior golf, not at the professional level, but I've had things like that happen to me where you know you didn't cause or didn't, your intentions weren't bad in any way, but the ball moves and you have to call that on yourself. And I love that about the game. But if the rules don't protect the player and the integrity of the game then I don't think they're the right rules."
To Finau, at the heart of this issue is that the rules are too sophisticated. And too numbered.
"I think there's too many rules in golf," Finau said. "And I mean that's easy to say for a player, but putting together a rule book is a tough thing in this game because there are so many different parts of the game. Some of the new rules I feel like don't really make a lot of sense. I feel like if it doesn't help the process of either speeding up play or help with the integrity of the game, then I don't think it makes sense to change."
Finau wasn't alone in his assessment. Jordan Spieth said, if he was rules czar, he would change the penalty that dinged Fowler.
"I was watching it on the couch," Spieth said. "I was, I'm like, wow, that's another penalty stroke, just knowing the rule. And that's frustrating because he drops it twice and then places it and he places it without, you can't like create a lie. You can't, so he's doing everything he should be doing, and then all of a sudden it rolls in the water. And if it happens off of a shot, then that's where the ball was supposed to go. Well, when it happens off of a drop, the idea is to get the ball in play in a location there, and I don't think anybody wants that to be a penalty. And it certainly shouldn't be after you're taking a drop or a penalty stroke"
To his credit, Spieth does think the governing bodies are trying to help, it's just that adjustments will need to be made.
"You want to simplify them to where it becomes —you're really looking at the recreational golfer and making it an enjoyable experience and a faster pace of play and I don't think this is like the be-all-end-all," Spieth said. "I think there will still be more adjustments to be made. But I think it was made with the intent to move that direction."
Spieth tees off at 11:11 a.m. on Thursday with Dustin Johnson at Monterey Peninsula CC, while Finau also is set to go off at 11:11, only with Scott Piercy at Pebble Beach.