European Tour Pros defend R&A, USGA on new rules

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Matt Fitzpatrick, Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington are among the European Tour pros who have come to the defence of the USGA and R&A over recent rule changes which have caused backlash on the professional circuit

Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington have come to the defence of the governing bodies of golf after a series of issues following their implementation of the new rules on the European and PGA Tour's. 

Their comments come after a particularly bad week for the new rules of golf, which included a disqualification for Alex Cejka, a mockery of the new drop rule from Rickie Fowler and the third penalty handed out for infringing the rules about caddies standing behind players. 

That caddie rule in particular has received a lot of heat from the players of late, and Justin Thomas grabbed plenty of headlines when he went on a twitter rant about the latest two-shot penalty handed to Adam Schenk. 

"My problem with the rule," Thomas had tweeted about his contempt towards the rule, "is that unless a caddie is clearly lining a player up (which is very obvious), I don’t see how there’s any benefit to it. Doesn’t make the game any better in my eyes. That being said, we know the rule and have to be careful to go by it."

The World No.3 called out the USGA and said he hoped the 'USGA starts communicating with the current players', but the governing body responded soon after to him with comments Thomas later branded 'shocking' and 'innacurate'. 

But while there has been a big backlash over this rule in recent weeks, including the rescinding of a penalty on Denny McCarthy, it appears not everybody feels that the rule changes are a bad thing. 

Matt Fitzpatrick is one of those players, who called it 'ridiculous' that the USGA and R&A are getting so much grief about the rules, and thinks the onus should be on the officials handing out the penalties.  

"I find it ridiculous that the USGA and R&A are getting so much abuse about these new rules," Fitzpatrick wrote. "The rule is there to help. The problem is the rules officials themselves giving out the penalty. It is their job to be fair and realise players are not being lined up not the organisations

Former European Ryder Cup Capain Thomas Bjorn is another player who has taken issue with the criticism, and took to twitter to say that he felt that everyone had been asked about the rule changes by both the USGA and R&A, and that they had listened. 

"Interesting that and are coming in for so much criticism from players and caddies," Bjorn wrote. "Players from all over the world was asked their opinions about which rules should change, so was the tour refs and officials. I for one think they listened!!

When questioned by a twitter user who stated that 'The caddie behind the player thing is not working and should be fixed ASAP.', Thomas served a rebuttal.

"Really??? I hate seeing caddies aligning players. Is that why you practice. If the rule states you can’t stand behind your player, why do it?"

David Howell echoed Bjorn's sentiments, although conceded the rule itself could be simplified for the sake of clarity.

"It’s a great rule change, the principle is correct, aim yourself with no help, I personally think that the rule should say simply just that," Howell tweeted to Bjorn. "any player caddy combo that tries to break this rule by stealth would be cheating, end of career, reputation trashed. Problem solved?"

Padraig Harrington also served up his own defence of the new rules, and rubbished Justin Thomas' claim that there was no communication between the governing bodies and players. 

"In defence of / .The rule on aligning up a player is a modification of an old rule,a caddie can’t stand directly behind a player as he’s hitting. This amendment being one of around 20 changes has come about with extensive input from our tournament referees and players"



It seems unanimous, from these players at least, that the caddie alignment rule is a good one in principle, and they are happy about the level of input they had in to the new rules. 

And while R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers has conceded that the new changes haven't gone over quite as well as he had hoped, he was clear that he wasn't about to make any 'knee jerk reactions'. 

“There’s been some unfortunate situations, no doubt about that,” Slumbers said. “It hasn’t gone as smoothly as I would have liked.”

Referencing the much discussed knee-drop, Slumbers called Fowler's accidental memory loss about dropping from knee height instead of shoulder height 'unfortunate', but defended the intention of the rule. 

“The intention for the knee drop rule is to be able to get the ball back in play quickly, in a prescribed area, and without having re‑drops.”

“As professionals, we all have to know the rules, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s golf or anything. I think that it was very unfortunate, that situation (Fowler's drop), and a couple of the others, but the rules are an important part of our game.”

As for whether any rules are set to change, we wouldn't expect it - at least in the very near future. 

"This is not the time to make knee‑jerk reactions,” Slumbers added.

So should players stop complaining and accept the rules for what they are? Do you think they are working? Let us know on social media!