One Golfer’s Opinion: Keith Cook interviews Missy Jones, NCAA West Region Official-In-Charge (OIC) for Division 1 Women’s Golf.
Golf’s Rules are in the news again. Just a few weeks ago, Local Golfer’s article on Rory McIlroy’s two-stroke penalty at the Abu Dhabi Championship drew many views and comments from our members. The latest high-profile rules situation involved Bubba Watson being given free relief and a drop from the hole of a burrowing animal in the Phoenix Open. It is inevitable with high-profile rulings, like these, that good conversation, some debate, and yes, maybe even some controversy will surface.
Golf is a great game, period. But golf is also a game where you can hit a ball 300 yards down the middle of a fairway, land in a divot, and it’s “tough luck.” However, you can also drive it 300 yards and more than 50 yards offline and get free relief from a burrowing animal.
The rules of golf can be complicated and intricate at times. Understanding and interpreting them on an expert level takes years of study, experience, and hard work. The interview below was conducted online with rules expert and self-proclaimed “Rules Geek” Missy Jones.
Missy Jones is an experienced and well-respected rules official. She is a USGA Committee member, the NCAA West Region Official-In-Charge (OIC) for Division 1 Women’s Golf, and a prominent member of both the Montana and Arizona golf rules committees. I would like to thank Missy for sharing her thoughts and experience with us.
When we last chatted, you were attending the USGA’s Annual Meeting held at the Pinehurst resort. Is there anything you can or would like to share with us from the meeting?
I’m encouraged by the messages coming out of Golf House. Better accessibility for juniors, women and others. They are continuing to promote the use of less water, fertilizer, etc. and saving money in maintaining courses. Tackling pace of play studies and giving that information to our members to help them speed up play at the club level and even allowing distance measuring devices in our amateur championships. I’m optimistic about Tom O’Toole Jr.’s presidency and I think he is going to give Mike Davis (USGA Executive Director) a lot of support in accomplishing the goals they talked about. Both Tom and Mike are well liked and people will stand behind them. In fact, I witnessed a standing ovation for Tom when he was elected into office and I’ve never seen that before for an incoming president.
Rules have been in the news a lot lately with high-profile players being assessed penalties or given rulings some thought were generous. What is your opinion on the current state of the rules in amateur and professional golf?
There is nothing wrong with the Rules of Golf as far as I’m concerned. We sometimes have a PR problem brought on by misguided interpretations but the basic tenets of “Play the ball as it lies and play the course as you find it” guide us in understanding them. Sometimes we get a good break and sometimes we get a bad one and if you look at the history of the game and the courses in Scotland where we started, you’ll see that an odd bounce may give us something we may not deserve – good or bad. That is the game. People get caught up in what they think should be fair and we get spoiled with perfectly manicured courses where the odd bounce or divot hole is less likely. Get over it. Golf is a combination of skill and luck and I really think that is part of why we all love it so much.
“Bifurcation” of the rules (one set of rules for amateurs and one set for professionals) has been a topic discussed as a way to make the game easier for amateurs. I believe one set of rules is vital for golf and provides strength to the game. What are your thoughts on bifurcation of the rules?
The game of golf is defined by its rules. It’s not golf without them and part of the games’ allure is its complexity – both in mastering the shots and the rules. I don’t agree that making the rules simpler would make the game easier or draw in more golfers. That said, I think there are ways to draw in more people by playing things similar to golf. I’ve seen ladies’ associations start recreational leagues like a “Wine & Nine” for example, that follow loose interpretations of the rules and have no established handicaps to get more players introduced to the game. I’ve seen these social leagues turn out people who become golfers who end up asking me about the rules and how to make a proper drop. They get the fever and want to learn the REAL game — the game defined by its one set of rules. Things like keeping a good pace, playing from the proper set of tees for their ability or picking up their ball once they have reached their maximum score in Equitable Stroke, play a bigger part in making the game fun for amateurs. All of this is best handled under one set of rules. Plus I think the rules are complicated enough without us throwing different versions around. Yikes – an official’s nightmare really.
In your experience as a rules official, what rule or rules do see as the most misunderstood or the most difficult for players to interpret?
That is a hard one to answer because it varies, especially between amateur and professional players. I’m always amazed to see someone who has played golf for 25 years not know the different options for a water hazard or lateral water hazard drop. I don’t understand that. It is especially disconcerting when pros do it wrong or announcers butcher an explanation of what is going on with a player. It’s their job and either they, the caddie or producers should be well versed in the rules. I wouldn’t practice law or be an accountant without being well versed in the demands of those jobs. I really can’t point to one rule that is more misunderstood than another, but Rule 28 – Ball Unplayable might be the one I’ve seen most often done incorrectly.
In your career, what is the toughest decision you’ve had to make as a rules official?
I guess decision is the wrong word because our biggest concern is getting it right and once we arrive at the answer that the book and evidence gives us it’s really not a decision but a statement of fact. Sometimes there is some subjective decision making involved though. If you look at Bubba’s drop at the Waste Management, Jon had to make a decision. Could Bubba get the club on that ball and get it out of the bush? Because of his skills and strength the answer is yes, so he would be entitled to relief because that stroke had a burrowing animal hole interfering with it. At a junior event where a player may have almost zero chance of making a stroke at that ball in a bush, he may not get relief because the exception to Rule 28 says that a player may not take relief under this rule if interference by anything other than the abnormal ground condition makes the stroke clearly impracticable. The official had to decide if making the stroke was impracticable or not. I think he made a proper decision but not every official might reach the same conclusion.
Sorry, I got a little off topic. A good rules official sees themselves as a facilitator and not a cop. We don’t want to give penalties and will do everything we can to help players get a ball back in play with as little amount of penalty as possible. We will also stop them if we can before they do something that would incur a penalty. So for me personally, the times that have been the toughest are when I wish I could have been there quicker to help the player not get a penalty in the first place.
As you know, the Pinehurst Resort (Course No. 2) will host the U.S. Open Championship from June 9-15, 2014, and the U.S. Women’s Open Championship from June 16-22, 2014. As a rules official, do you expect any significant rules issues or challenges with the two tournaments being held back-to-back? For example, more Ground Under Repair areas, worn crosswalk areas, and course condition in general for the Women’s Championship?
No. I don’t think it will be much different than the normal course wear and tear we usually have. If you look at any of the number of tournaments recently where we had weather issues, officials are reassessing course condition constantly. Too much rain or spectator traffic may make an area muddy or ugly and we will put down some ground under repair paint to make sure the players get relief. This will be no different. I am not a spokesperson for the USGA but I am confident they are studying all these factors and will put crosswalks and other things far away from where landing areas will be for the following week. Mike addressed the topic of divots and wear in landing areas and I think they will do their best to mitigate the impact on the women. I’m excited for the back-to-back championships and hope we get good weather and great attendance. I think the officials will handle anything that comes their way just like they do any other time.
Women’s professional golf is on the rise with more tournaments in 2014 and the addition of the “Race to the CME Globe” and the $1 million dollar prize at the end of the season. What do you see going forward for the future of Women’s Golf with respect to the young and talented NCAA Women golfers you are around?
There is such a talented group of young players coming up but it is harder for them to make it into the big leagues than it is for the men. That’s just a fact. If you look at the developmental tours, the Web.com and Symetra, the men make more money along the way in trying to make it to the PGA Tour. The women have a harder time and need to get their LPGA card quicker in order to stay afloat. It costs a lot of money in travel expenses and just paying their bills to stay out there and follow their dreams. I hope the money and the fan base interest catch up for all of these talented women. The LPGA is a great product for all of its stakeholders and I often tell men I come in contact with that they would benefit in watching the female players more than the men. Their swing speeds, equipment and course management strategies is more likely to fit them then the stuff the guys on PGA tour are using and doing.
Any up and coming NCAA players we should watch out for in the future?
There are just so many great players. Teams on the men’s side, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Cal and USC, UCLA, OSU on the women’s. I really can’t narrow it down because there are so many reaching their peaks right now and should be watched. Annie Park, Kyung Kim, Trey Mullinax, Brandon Hagy, Cameron Wilson and Patrick Rogers, Mariah Stackhouse, Cory Whitsett, Alison Lee, Stephanie Meadow, Ashlan Ramsey, Noemi Jimenez … the list goes on and on. These kids are good.
Final question. If you could change one thing about the rules of golf, what would it be?
You know, I really wouldn’t change much. We need to remember that the complexity of the rules are really in response to try and be as fair as possible. I write pieces on golftraditions.com to try and explain the intricacies of the rules, but often times I find myself thinking about how complicated the slight nuances are and how hard it is to make it so that the every day player can understand them. I guess that’s what rules officials are for but I want to emphasize that the recreational player need only read pages 11-17 in the Rules of Golf book to know 99 percent of what they will ever face on the course. We have also worked really hard to come up with some “Rules of Golf Explained” videos that are available at www.usga-rules.com. The rules are specific in their attempt to be fair and they are what define our game. So I wouldn’t change anything other than if I could convince people to embrace the ones we have more.
End of Interview
Editor’s Note: Local Golfer would like to thank Missy Jones for taking the time to share her thoughts and opinions. Do you have any rules questions you would like to ask Missy Jones? Share a comment in the comments section. We would love to hear from you. Please submit stories to firstname.lastname@example.org
BIO: Keith Cook is a contributing editor for localgolfer.com. His career highlights include rounds in nearly every US state and numerous countries throughout the world. He is a retired 29-year US Military Veteran living in Michigan. Follow Keith and Local Golfer on Twitter @LocalGolfer