Nine changes in the new Rules of Golf you absolutely need to know for 2019


By: Ryan Herrington

As Jan. 1 approaches, it’s time to consider what New Year’s resolutions you’ll be making to help your golf game in 2019. For those who haven’t come up with any, here’s a suggestion: Learn the Rules of Golf. (No, really learn them this time.) Perhaps you’ve tried, only to find that by February, the copy of the rules book you picked up is covered with as much dust as that Peloton you bought to get into shape. Yet here’s the thing: There’s no better time than now to give it another shot because a new, modernized version of the rules goes into effect on New Year’s Day.

In the most sweeping revision in more than 60 years, officials from the USGA and R&A, golf’s governing bodies, have reorganized the rules to make them easier to understand and apply. The number has been cut to 24 from 34, and the language simplified to make it more practical. Roughly 2 million copies of the Player’s Edition of the Rules of Golf were published and circulated this fall. If you haven’t gotten one, you can find it online at, as well as with explanatory videos at The free USGA Rules of Golf app has been updated, too.

To help you keep this resolution, here are nine changes to the new rules you should know.

I. Accidents happen
The controversy over Dustin Johnson’s ball moving on the green during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open exposed the old rules for being too harsh when it came to what many considered tickytack infractions. New language, first adopted through Local Rules since 2017, states there is no penalty if you accidentally move your ball (or ball marker) on the green. Put the ball back, and you’re good to go. The same applies if you’re searching for a lost ball and mistakenly move it.

II. The fix is in
Golfers often complained about the silliness of letting players fix a ball mark on the green, but not a spike mark. What’s the difference? With no good answer, officials now will let you fix everything without a penalty. You can also touch the line of your putt with your hand or club so long as you’re not improving it.

III. A lost cause
To improve pace of play, golfers now have just three minutes to search for a missing ball rather than five. Admit it, if you hadn’t found it in three minutes, you weren’t finding it anyway.

IV. Knee is the new shoulder
The process for dropping a ball back in play is revamped in the new rules. Instead of letting go from shoulder height, players will drop from around their knee. This is a compromise from an original proposal that would have let golfers drop from just inches above the ground. To preserve some randomness with the drop, officials went with knee height instead. Why change at all? Primarily to speed up play by increasing the chances your ball stays within the two-club-length drop area on the first try.

V. No longer at touchy subject
Hitting a ball into a water hazard (now defined as “penalty area”) should come with consequences. But golfers don’t have to be nervous about incurring an additional penalty for a minor rules breach while playing their next shot. You’re free to touch/move loose impediments and ground your club, eliminating any unnecessary worry. The only caveat: You still can’t put your club down and use it to improve the conditions for the stroke. You can remove loose impediments in bunkers, too, although touching the sand in a bunker in front of or behind the ball is still prohibited.

VI. Damaged goods
We all get mad on the course, and sometimes that anger is taken out on an unsuspecting driver or putter. Previously, the rules were confusing on when or if you could play a club you damaged during a round, and it led to instances where some players were disqualified for playing clubs with a shaft slightly bent or some other damage they didn’t realize the club had. Now you can play a club that has become damaged in any fashion. If you caused the damage, however, you can’t replace the club with a new one.

VII. Twice is … OK
A double hit is almost always accidental, and the outcome so random as to hardly be beneficial. So golfers are now spared the ignominy of adding a penalty for hitting a ball twice with one swing. It counts as only one stroke. Somewhere T.C. Chen is smiling.

VIII. The end of flagstick folly
Another nod to common sense eliminates a penalty for hitting a flagstick left in the hole while putting on a green. Taking out and then placing back in flagsticks can often cause undo delay in the round, and the flagstick is as likely to keep your ball out of the cup as it would help it fall in.

IX. O.B. option
Courses may implement a Local Rule (not for competition) that offers an alternative to the stroke-and-distance penalty for lost balls or shots hit out-of-bounds. A player may drop a ball anywhere between where the original ball was believed to come to rest (or went out-of-bounds) and just into the edge of the fairway, but no nearer the hole. The golfer takes a two-stroke penalty and plays on instead of returning to the tee. This way, the Local Rule mimics your score if you had played a decent provisional ball.

Image by: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Simplify Your Tee Shots

By: Daniel Berger

I’ve had a successful PGA Tour career, including a pair of wins, by keeping things as simple as possible. Yet, in the numerous pro-ams I play, I notice everyday golfers tend to make things more complicated than they need to be, and their games suffer. One area to simplify is off the tee. For amateurs, it’s the most critical part of the game to avoid big numbers. Keeping it uncomplicated will result in better consistency, which allows you to pay more attention on your approach shots and short game. Here’s your first tip: Swing with the thought of putting the clubface on the back of the ball. This will help keep your body from lunging ahead of it, which causes those toey slices no matter what club you’re using. Read on for more. — With E. Michael Johnson

If we’ve learned anything over the past decade, it’s high launch with low spin is key to maxing driver distance. Most everyday players, however, have a negative angle of attack, with some hitting downward several degrees. That causes a low, spinny tee shot—not great for producing distance. Here’s a simple fix: Adjust your tee height. The people I play with in pro-ams tee the ball too low. You can’t possibly hit up on the ball if it’s only an inch off the ground. Tee it so two-thirds of the ball is higher than the crown of the driver (above), and adjust the ball’s position so it’s in line with the big toe on your front foot. Now drop your right shoulder slightly at address. You can see (below) how this helps get it in the proper position at impact. These simple adjustments at address will automatically improve your tee shots, and they’re so easy to make.

Swinging on an in-to-out path in relation to the target line is something most amateurs really struggle to do in the downswing, but it’s vital to making solid contact. I’m a big fan of the Orange Whip training aid to help with this. With its weighted end and flexible shaft, the Orange Whip keeps the arms and body moving in the proper sequence for that desired in-to-out path. For me, it’s not about where the club is at any given moment. It’s about feeling the proper motion. Another key is getting your chest behind the ball during the backswing. If your chest hovers over the ball, you’ll likely pitch forward on the backswing, eliminating any chance of being in the proper sequence on the way down. To help, set your lead shoulder so it’s pointing a little right (closed) of your target line at address. It gives you a head start for an in-to-out downswing.

The biggest problem I see amateurs have off the tee is, they don’t make solid contact very often. In trying to squeeze as many yards as they can out of their tee shots, they lose control of the swing. Their hands and legs are moving all over the place, and there are too many motions going on to find the center of the face. You need to back it down. A great drill is to swing a 7-iron at 30 percent of your max speed, and keep doing that until you’re hitting solid shots most of the time. Then increase to 50 percent, 70 percent and eventually full speed. This builds the feeling of controlling your swing. If you can’t find the center of the face at less than half speed, you have no chance full throttle. You can do this drill with any club, and I think you’ll be surprised to find how far you hit it without swinging out of your shoes. Better tee shots are as simple as that.


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