TWO days before the new year, Bubba Watson already was trying to bone up on the news Rules of Golf.
Some of the pins at Kapalua are set on slopes over the weekend, and Watson had video taken of a putt on the par-3 eighth green in which he purposely hammered it past the hole, and then watched it trickle down the slope and into the cup. His caddie, Ted Scott, tended the pin on the putt. As it rolled back toward the cup, Scott wasn't sure whether to put the pin back in the cup. He finally did just as the ball went in the hole.
Watson posted it on Twitter and asked the USGA: "Is this a penalty? I'm an amateur when it comes to the new rules."
In this case, the answer would appear to be yes. The decision to remove (or tend) the flag stick, or leave it in, must be made before the stroke.
It's an example of what awaits for 2019, at least the early part of the year after a five-year project to simplify the Rules of Golf. The result was the biggest overhaul in history, and one change is that players can leave the flag stick in the cup while on the green, with no penalty if the ball hits the pin.
Bryson DeChambeau has said he will leave the pin in, even on short putts. Justin Thomas could not imagine leaving it in under any circumstances.
"I wouldn't be able to take myself seriously," Thomas said. "I just feel like it would be very, very weird."
The PGA Tour put up a large poster illustrating some of the basics of the new rules. Among them is dropping a ball from knee height while standing, instead of dropping it from shoulder height. Players now can repair damage to the green — spike marks, indentations, etc. — without penalty. There is no longer a penalty for a double hit, or if a shot comes back and hits the player.
Rules officials attended a seminar in December to get up to speed. Players still have some work to do.
"I know a few of them," Rory McIlroy said. "I don't know many of them. Putting with the flag stick in. Tapping down any imperfections on your putting line. I think some people might get carried away with that."
Brandt Snedeker said he typically goes over the Rules of Golf every few years for reminders, especially on relief from various objects. "When you hit it crooked like I do, you get a lot of drops. I need to figure out the right way to do it," he said.
Snedeker is mostly glad that accidental ball movement on the green is no longer penalized. He said that twice in majors, his ball slipped out of his hand and hit his ball marker, which cost him a one-shot penalty. That won't be a penalty now.
He was most curious to see how the changes would affect the pace of play, whether it was time spent repairing greens or simply not knowing the new rules and wanting to call in officials to be sure. But he says he plans a crash course over the next few days.
"I want to know before I get out there Thursday and make sure I don't do something stupid and cost myself a penalty shot," he said. "You know how it works in theory. But until you actually do it under pressure, you don't know how it's going to work out."