After hitting a funky-looking drive on the third hole at The Northern Trust on Friday, Webb Simpson realized he had an inch-and-a-half long crack on his driver head. Figuring he could just immediately replace it with a backup driver, he conferred with PGA Tour officials to learn that, in fact, he could not.
Simpson was a victim of one of the major changes to the 2019 Rules of Golf that may be the worst received of the lot.
Under new Rule 4-1 of the Rules of Golf, a player originally could not replace their damaged golf club if it happens in the course of normal golf activities — either because of a player’s behavior or their caddie’s. A player could replace a damaged club that has been affected by natural forces or outside agency out of their control.
In April 2019, however, the USGA and R&A modified the rule, explaining what kind of damage would allow a player to replace their clubs.
From the Model Local Rules:
If a player’s club is “broken or significantly damaged” during the round by the player or caddie, except in cases of abuse, the player may replace the club with any club under Rule 4.1b(4).
When replacing a club, the player must immediately take the broken or significantly damaged club out of play, using the procedure in Rule 4.1c(1).
For the purposes of this Local Rule:
A club is “broken or significantly damaged” when:
- 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.
Exception: A club face or clubhead is not “broken or significantly damaged” solely because it is cracked.
However, a cracked club face or head is not enough to warrant replacement. And that’s what caught Simpson, who had to play out his round alternating between hitting a 3-wood or the cracked driver that flew funny.
Simpson realizes the Tour rules official was just doing his job, but he would like the USGA and R&A to further amend the rule.
“No fault of our rules official,” Simpson said. “He made a good call. But I think the way the rule is written should be edited.”