Four of the world’s best golfers went “back to school” today as the new 2019 Rules came into play for the first European Tour event of the year in Abu Dhabi.
Seven years in the making, the new rules – 24 in total – are designed to make the sport faster, fairer and simpler. Defending double champion Tommy Fleetwood, triple Major winner Brooks Koepka, 19-time PGA TOUR winner Dustin Johnson and super Swede Henrik Stenson, playing in Abu Dhabi for the fourteenth consecutive year, wasted no time in swotting up on the exciting new changes.
Key rule changes include players allowed to putt with the flagstick in, lost ball search time reduced from five minutes to three minutes, drops to be taken from knee height rather than shoulder height plus a recommendation that no stroke should take longer than 40 seconds.
As the first European Tour event of the season, all eyes will be on the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA as the new rules come into play for the first time. Long established as the jewel in the crown of Middle Eastern golf, the tournament, taking place from January 16-19, recently became part of the prestigious Rolex Series and, with a prize fund now at US$7million, is one of the premium tournaments on The European Tour.
Defending double champion Tommy Fleetwood, who won the tournament in 2017 and 2018, said: “It’s a really memorable tournament for me. It’s always a really special time of year as everything is up for grabs and, as ever, the strength of field here in Abu Dhabi is something else. With the new rule changes, it will be a fascinating start to 2019.
Triple Major winner Brooks Koepka added: “2018 was a huge year for me, winning both the US Open and the PGA Championship, so I can’t wait to kick on into 2019 as my game is coming around nicely. The new rule changes for 2019 should also encourage more people to get involved in this wonderful sport of ours.”
Dustin Johnson, one of only three players ever to win a Tour title in each of his first eleven seasons, agrees, saying: “The 2019 Rules can really help to simplify the game an make it more enjoyable for players at every level. It should be an easy adjustment and as always, I’m looking forward to another great week here in Abu Dhabi.”
Former Open champion Henrik Stenson added: “Abu Dhabi is one of my favourite tournaments of the year. It’s cool to have played in every edition of this tournament and experienced first-hand its growth into one of the biggest events on the European Tour with the strongest field in the Middle East.”
Abdulfattah Sharaf, CEO UAE & Head of International Markets at HSBC Bank Middle East, said: “We’re in for a superb week - the start of the new golfing year, the start of the latest Desert Swing and the debut for the 2019 Rules with some of the best golfers on the planet going toe to toe for the prestigious Falcon Trophy.”
“Hosting the first European Tour event featuring the 2019 Rules helps us set a new standard for golf.
“Working closely with the European Tour and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, HSBC has a proud tradition of bringing firsts to this region and 2019 really feels like a significant breakthrough. To officially launch the tournament, we wanted to bring some of the world’s best players together and it was important to us to include some of our HSBC Future Falcons who we hope will go on to great things themselves.”