Finally, no USGA Punishment for the Innocent 0

(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.)  Feb. 6, 2012 — The USGA has listened to what golfers have been saying for years – that there were some pretty goofy rules that did little except slow the pace of play and punish the innocent.

Among the biggest changes for the 2012-2015 edition of the Rules of Golf is that a golfer is no longer penalized if the wind moves his ball before he makes a stroke.

The USGA and the Royal & Ancient Club in the United Kingdom – which jointly administer the Rules of Golf for every golfer in the world (except, maybe, those in North Korea) – now agree a player is “exonerated” if the wind or a blown leaf or twig moves his ball after the club has been grounded.

If you play in spring tournaments, you know what I mean. With the wind howling in their ears, competitors set up over a shot, typically a putt on the green, hover the club in the air, then spend a minute or more backing off and glaring suspiciously at their ball, as if it were bent on ratting them out to the IRS.

Under the old rule, if the player grounded his club and the ball moved, even one dimple’s worth, the player was presumed guilty of a penalty, a golf version of Hosea’s “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”The USGA’s version went something like, “If you’re crazy enough to play in a sustained 35-mile-an-hour wind, you deserve what you get.”

Under the 2012 rule change, if the ball moves “when it is known or virtually certain” the player did not cause it to move, there is no penalty. The ball is played from wherever it ends up being blown. Hooray for common sense. Hooray for speeding up play on a breezy day.

Another 2012 rule change allows a player to rake or tidy up a bunker or other hazard before hitting a shot, provided the raking or tidying doesn’t improve the player’s lie, area of intended stance or swing.

Previously, you couldn’t touch the sand, soil, rocks or mud in any hazard with anything but your feet before making a stroke. This, too, speeds up play and eliminates a penalty for someone who simply is trying to be courteous or who maybe suffers from severe OCD.

Oddly, I am reminded right this minute of the day I waded into the muck to attempt to play my ball in a tidal marsh. First my FootJoys, then my cuffs, then my pant legs, calves and wedge/walking stick slowly sunk into the ooze.

After doing a fair imitation of a wooly mammoth trapped in the LaBrea Tar Pits and making a Ross Perot-like giant sucking sound as one foot broke free, I found I’d lost a golf shoe.

It’s good to know that this year, the USGA says I am free to repeat that performance penalty-free.

 — Dan Vukelich


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Dan Vukelich, former editor of ABQ Free Press and Sun Country Golf magazine, is editor of He's a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Golf Travel Writers of America. Reach him at

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