Jeff Shain

Shain: Rules of golf make a turn toward common sense

Facing a backup on a tee during the Bobby Chapman Invitational a couple of years ago, Carl Yuan thought he might kill the time by checking his aim.

Taking an alignment aid out of his bag, the Chinese teen set it on the ground, set up and took a practice swing.

Boom. Tournament over. Thanks for visiting Spartanburg.

Yuan was disqualified for violating golf's Rule 14-3, which prohibits use of training aids or other "artificial devices" during a competition round. Tied for second entering the final day, Yuan was off the course before completing the front nine.

"He did not drive (to Spartanburg). He had to fly here," recalled Chris Miller, managing director of the South Carolina Junior Golf Association. "Second round of an invitational, and he's disqualified."

Under new rules taking effect next year, Yuan could have continued playing. The two-stroke penalty might have hurt his chances, but at least he'd be allowed to finish and see how he ultimately stood.

If there's a theme running through the revisions unveiled earlier this week by the U.S. Golf Association and the R&A, it's to make the punishment fit the crime.

So no more DQs for the absent-minded use of a rangefinder at events where it isn't allowed. Or for learning of a penalty that should have been applied before signing your scorecard. And it eliminates perhaps golf's ultimate injustice -- deemed automatically responsible when your ball moves as you're setting up over a shot, even if it's clearly a wind gust at fault.

"We knew they were moving toward a more forgiving set (of revisions)," Miller said. "You're seeing a more common sense-type approach."

Though the approaching ban on anchored putting has sparked debate for nearly three years -- an early warning shot to allow players to adjust by 2016 -- these other revisions may have wider impact.

"So happy to see these rules changes for golf. Timely and much needed," tweeted Blayne Barber, in his second PGA Tour season. "Trust me, I know the pain."

You may recall Barber resigned himself to a year of professional purgatory when he realized he misapplied a penalty during the first stage of the 2013 PGA Tour qualifying grind. The resulting DQ knocked Auburn's two-time All-American from the entire process -- no PGA Tour, no Web.com Tour consolation.

Now a player who learns of a violation after posting his score can stay in the competition, with the proper penalty applied and an additional two strokes for the incorrect scorecard. All other instances of turning in a score lower than actually taken still results in disqualification.

"The introduction of the new exception," the USGA said in its explanation, "will maintain the importance of returning an accurate score card."

It still would have saved Michelle Wie's professional debut 10 years ago, when she was found to have taken an improper drop near a cluster of bushes in the third round of the old Samsung World Challenge. But the question didn't arise until the next day, putting her in line for a DQ.

Likewise, Camilo Villegas was sent packing from the Tournament of Champions in 2011 when he casually flipped away a divot after misplaying a chip to an elevated green at Kapalua. Unfortunately, the ball didn't make it all the way up the hill, meaning Villegas moved a loose impediment in the path of a ball that trickled back to his feet.

TV viewers caught that violation, a practice that goes back to Craig Stadler kneeling on a towel at the 1987 Andy Williams Open. One positive aspect of the new rule is it also blunts the dagger of the armchair rules official.

"On the local side, that's usually not an issue," Miller said. "But in light of television, all that's changed (for tour players)."

The one most likely to impact local and club competitions figures to be the one on use of artificial devices. A single breach will bring a two-stroke penalty; repeated violations still result in a DQ.

It allows rules officials to clear up confusion -- particularly over rangefinders -- without having to wield the axe.

Rangefinders are legal in most competition now, save for those involving tour pros. So while they can be used in the U.S. Amateur, they're banned for the U.S. Open and Web.com Tour qualifying. There was at least one case this year, though, where an amateur instinctively reached for the rangefinder during Open qualifying and paid the price.

Rangefinders aside, it's a rule that sometimes trips up pros as well.

Juli Inkster was disqualified from the 2010 Safeway Classic when, faced with a backup on the tee, attached a weighted donut to her 9-iron and swung to keep loose. D.A. Points got a DQ from last year's Pebble Beach stop for tucking a foam ball under his arm to make a few practice swings.

"It's very good direction in regard to that rule," Miller said. "The penalty fits the crime now. It shouldn't be a trunk-slammer all the way home."

Give one more thumbs-up to the ruling bodies for a slight modification on their rules on amateur status. Starting in January, amateurs will be allowed to accept prize money for the purpose of donating it to a recognized charity, as long as the directive was made in advance.

Hideki Matsuyama, then still an amateur, tried to do that in 2011 after the tragic tsunami that hit his native Japan, but got turned down.

"That prompted our review," said the R&A's David Rickman. "If the money was going to an independent and recognized charitable source, then obviously that approach would (now) be given positive consideration."

Another win for common sense.

Follow golf writer Jeff Shain on Twitter at twitter.com/Jeff Shain

  Comments