Phil Mickelson. Picture: KYLE TERADA/USA TODAY SPORTS
Phil Mickelson. Picture: KYLE TERADA/USA TODAY SPORTS

It’s a new year and with it arrived some new rules. As the start of 2022 rolled around, a few rule changes announced by the US Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient (R&A) in 2021 officially came into effect.

As to why the rules are evolving, here’s what the USGA and the R&A said in their official media release: 

“The work is the latest step by the governing bodies to make the rules easier to understand and apply and follows the modernisation process of the Rules of Golf in 2019. The new rules were informed by golfer and golf industry feedback as a part of a comprehensive review, to ensure they continue to reflect how the modern game is played by millions of golfers around the world.”

The weekend hackers don’t really have to worry, but it’s worth exploring one or two of these rules for the competitive amateurs looking to bag prizes and titles.

One of the biggest changes is the new rules on amateur status. They were essentially introduced to cover high-level amateurs, who will now have no restrictions in terms of receiving money to cover expenses and who can have their name, image and likeness linked to promotions or advertising.

Golf fans might remember the commotion last year when 16-year-old top-ranked American amateur Lucy Li was investigated by the USGA for having appeared in an Apple watch advertisement. She received a one-time warning after it was established that she did not get any financial reward.

With the new rule in place, amateurs now can make money off their names and faces, and receive money to cover their expenses with no restrictions.

The rule overview states: “An amateur who does not qualify for a national or collegiate programme now has the same opportunity to find a way to cover expenses without being required to report the source to a national, regional or state golf union or association and may publicly reference the source of the assistance.”

It’s a long-overdue change, by all accounts. Travelling is one of the biggest expenses for high-level amateurs and by removing the complex reporting procedures and restrictions previously guiding the rules of amateur status, the playing field has been levelled to allow equity and inclusion for all amateurs to seek and gain financial support.

The second major change for amateurs is that they can now accept prize money of up to R15,000 without losing their amateur status, though this only applies to scratch competitions — tournaments where no handicap is involved.

No cash prizes may be given in a handicap competition, with the exception of hole-in-one prizes or skills competitions, such as tee-to-hole competitions, long-drive competitions, target competitions and putting competitions.  The handicap competition prizes may not be converted into cash either, so winners can still receive items such as equipment, clothing and vouchers.​

The second big rule change is something we discussed at length in a column last year — driver length.

Having determined that more than 90% of the drivers on tour are between 44.5 and 45.5 inches long, the PGA Tour has implemented a new local rule that limits driver length to 46 inches, two inches shorter than the previous restriction of 48 inches.

Phil Mickelson, who won the 2021 PGA Championship with a driver measuring 47.9 inches, has been vocal in his displeasure about the rule, but multiple Major winner Rory McIlroy leads the contingent in the other camp. “I was in all those meetings when we discussed it for quite a while, and I think the majority of players are on board with it,” McIlroy said in October.

Very few club amateurs play with a driver that long, but if you do, you needn’t lose too much sleep over it, unless your club adopts it into their local rules.

Greens books

The last big rule change applies to the professionals, with the PGA Tour once again taking the lead on this one — the greens books makeover.

From the first of January 2022, the PGA Tour implemented another local rule that states that players and caddies may only use committee-approved yardage books. These books will be very similar to the traditional yardage books, but they will only have general information on slopes and other features with respect to greens.

In a memo sent to the players, the PGA Tour said the purpose of this local rule is to return to a position where players and caddies use only their skill, judgment and feel along with any information gained through experience, preparation, and practice to read the line of play on the putting greens.

In short, players and caddies will not be allowed to use old yardage books, and will have to add their notes to their new books, either from the old ones, or from first-hand observations on the course or from television broadcasts. They can also no longer use any tools or devices to measure slopes or contours and record that information.

It’s quite a stand from the PGA Tour, but a welcome one that could speed up play as golfers learn to judge their putts from what they see in front of them rather than what is written down in their greens book.

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