Some golf rules need to get with times

Dustin Johnson (apparently) cost himself a chance to win the PGA Championship Sunday by grounding his club in an (apparent) bunker.

Along with learning to keep your head down and knees bent, popular rule amateurs love to point out is “You can’t ground your club in a bunker.”

Now we’re heading to debate over what “in” is.

The problem obviously comes from how a bunker is definined. On most courses, there’s absolutely no question. And if there is a question or doubt, players generally will not ground their club. Johnson said after the round that the thought never even crossed his mind.

One rule that’s changed in my 30-year playing career is how to handle lost balls. Years ago, if you couldn’t find your drive, second shot, etc., you played a ball near where you thought your first one landed. Some 20 years ago, that changed to playing it similarity to a shot hit out of bounds. If you can’t find it, you go back to where you originally hit it and take a penalty stroke.

I get the rule, but the rule also was modified around the same time the pace of play issues became a hot topic as coursed enjoyed overflowing tee times.

I’m guessing most players now, unless in an organized competition, just drop a ball and carry on. I mean, they have already lost that $4 ProV1 and they have no desire to make that slow walk 240 yards back to the tee box, only to ask the guy in the tanktop in the group behind to step aside.

“Oh, serious player,” they’d say.

Meanwhile, after the typical five minutes of looking for a lost ball, a couple minute walk back to the tee, then struggling to catch up with your group cost you perhaps 10 minutes.

One could argue changing out of bounds rules should follow suit. Even with penalty shot assessed, going out of bounds which is a much more wayward shot than a water hazard or lost ball, golfers could still make pars or easy bogeys if they could swing freely off any tee. Plus, almost every time you hit it OB, you know that you did wrong almost immediately and hitting a provisional can save the long walk to the teebox.

But Johnson’s situation is different. While the rule is clear, the clear definition of a bunker at Whistling Straits was not.