The USGA and R&A have introduced a new Local Rule that should put a smile on Justin Thomas’ face.
After holding a regular quarterly meeting this past weekend of the Joint Rules Committee, the governing bodies announced a clarification on Tuesday to the new Rules of Golf that will restore a player’s ability to replace a broken or significantly damaged club during a round, except in cases of abuse.
Under a newly established Local Rule, a club is “broken or significantly damaged” if it meets the following conditions:
• the shaft breaks into pieces, splinters or is bent (but not when the shaft is only dented)
• the club face impact area is visibly deformed (but not when the club face is only scratched)
• the clubhead is visibly and significantly deformed
• the clubhead is detached or loose from the shaft, or
• the grip is loose
However, a player is not allowed to replace his or her club solely because there is a crack in the club face or clubhead.
This Local Rule reverses a change that had been implemented under the new Rules of Golf. Prior to 2019, a club damaged during the normal course of play could be replaced during a round. But when Rule 4.1 went into effect on January 1, that allowance was prohibited, although players were now free to use the damaged club for the rest of the round without any restrictions.
The new rule impacted Thomas during the first round of the Honda Classic in February. When Thomas hit a shot from behind a tree on the 10th hole at PGA National, he bent the shaft on his 9-iron when it hit the tree during his swing. He could continue to play the club, but could not replace it. However, afraid of what might happen if he used the bent-shafted club to hit any other shots, Thomas essentially took the club out of play for the rest of the round.
Afterward, Thomas, already a vocal critic of some of the changes to the Rules, voiced displeasure with the situation. “You can just add that one to the list of rules that don’t make any sense,” he said.
A day later, Adam Schenk was given a two-stroke penalty when his caddie was found to be standing behind him when he was playing a shot, another Rule that Thomas was upset about. That evening Thomas took to Twitter:
Totally agree… I more so say things in hopes that the USGA starts communicating with the current players to better the game and the sport. The rules are rules, no getting past that. Just hoping going forward, communication is had and ALL GOLFERS benefit from any changes 👌🏽 https://t.co/86TE7L8AnR
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) March 2, 2019
In turn, a tweet from the USGA was sent out in response, creating a firestorm.
Justin, we need to talk. You’ve cancelled every meeting we’ve planned with you, but we are reaching out again. We were at the first 5 events, and tournaments last year, and your tour has had a seat at the table for 7 years. We’d love nothing more than to give you a seat. Call us.
— USGA PR (@USGA_PR) March 2, 2019
According to a USGA source, Thomas eventually did meet with Thomas Pagel, USGA senior managing director, governance, in March. His input, along with feedback of other tour pros, was used in part during the decision-making process that results in the new Local Rule.