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Rules officials face crash course on new golf rules

(AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

Slugger White spent three weeks in Asia as the lead rules official for PGA Tour events. He is officiating in Mexico this week at the Mayakoba Classic, and then he heads to Australia the week of Thanksgiving for his final event of the year, the World Cup.

And then? He has four weeks to get up to speed on the largest overhaul of rules in golf history.

White is among hundreds of rules officials worldwide who face a crash course on the modernized Rules of Golf that take effect Jan. 1. The modernized rules, which took more than five years to develop, were announced in early March. But the majority of officials did not get a head start on studying the changes for fear they might rely on 2019 rules at 2018 tournaments.

"There's so many differences," White said Tuesday from Mexico. "We've kind of tugged along on little things, but on a weekly basis, we don't want to confuse ourselves. The embedded ball is going to be different next year. It's one club length. Now it's drop as near as you can."

Tour officials typically go to USGA rules workshops in the fall, and they've had half-day seminars every four years to go over any changes to the Rules of Golf. Now, however, officials from various tours plan an intensive two-day session with the USGA the second week in December.

White said the USGA would be at five PGA Tour events to start next year.

The modernized rules were developed to make them easier to understand and to apply. Among the more drastic changes are penalty drops from knee-high height (instead of shoulder height) and eliminating penalties for balls that move accidentally on the green or clubs that touch the ground in a hazard. Also, players will be allowed to leave the pin in the hole while on the green and repair spike marks.

Missy Jones on the LPGA Tour finished up the qualifying series last week and, like White, said she didn't study the new rules sooner because "it's hard to look at those and officiate under 2018 rules."

She recalled one instance when a player removed a boundary stake that was impeding her swing.

"I was thinking that next year she would have a chance to put it back (before hitting her shot)," Jones said. In this case, the player was docked two shots.

The toughest aspect for rules official is adapting to 24 rules instead of 36. They could recite rules by numbers, and that will make it particularly difficult on someone like White, who has been a rules official for 37 years.

"An unplayable ball is no longer (Rule) 28," White said. Next year that falls under Rule 19.

Jones said recreational golfers won't have to worry about citing numbers, and the modernized rules will be easier to understand.

"For us, it's erase the hard drive and start over," she said.

And it's not just them. Jones said she handed out a 16-page booklet with highlights of the major changes to players in the scoring area at the LPGA qualifying series last week. The PGA Tour plans to distribute information and videos to players after its year ends Nov. 18 at the RSM Classic.

Justin Rose had reason to celebrate his second time reaching No. 1 in the world because he got there by winning the Turkish Airlines Open.

But the celebration is short.

Brooks Koepka replaces him at No. 1 next week with neither of them playing. And thus continues what amounts to musical chairs atop the world ranking in 2018, the most volatile - for now - since 1997.

Rose, Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas have taken turns at No. 1 this year, the most since Greg Norman, Tom Lehman, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els each got to No. 1 during 1997. There were eight changes at the top in 1997, and next week will be the eighth change in 2018.

There could be more.

Koepka has one more tournament this year. He defends his title in the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour on Nov. 15-18. Rose is expected to play two more events, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas the week after Thanksgiving and his title defense in the Indonesia Masters in Jakarta on Dec. 13-16.

They are the only two who can reach No. 1 the rest of the year. Johnson is not expected to play again until Kapalua, and Thomas would appear to be too far back even if he wins his final event of the year in the Bahamas.

Thanks to the change in the PGA Tour schedule, players now can qualify for the U.S. Open in four countries.

There already was a 36-hole sectional qualifier in England for European Tour players and in Japan for players from various Asian tours. Because the Canadian Open is the week before the U.S. Open next year, the USGA is scouting golf courses near the Toronto area to have a 36-hole qualifier on the Monday ahead of the Canadian Open.

Previously, that qualifier was held in Memphis, Tennessee, ahead of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, which next year becomes a World Golf Championship in late July.

Jim Furyk's father is the only coach he has ever had. Mike Furyk now gets to be his partner.

Furyk is among four newcomers to the PNC Father-Son Challenge, which will be held Dec. 15-16 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Orlando, Florida. Others playing for the first time are Darren Clarke and David Toms with their sons, and Matt Kuchar with his father.

Players must have won a major or The Players Championship to be eligible, and their partner must not hold a PGA Tour card. Davis Love III is playing with his son, Dru, who has played 11 times on the PGA Tour on sponsor exemptions as he starts his career.

"My entire golf career has been a family affair and my dad has been there every step of the way," Furyk said. "He has taught me so many lessons about life and my golf swing, so to have this opportunity to team up with him is nothing short of a dream come true."

Angel Cabrera and his son, Angel Jr., are the defending champions.

Jack Nicklaus returns with this grandson, G.T., who in April gave his grandfather one of his greatest thrills by making a hole-in-one during the Par 3 Tournament at the Masters. They also played as a team last year.

The 20-team field features 11 players in the Hall of Fame, including Retief Goosen, who will be inducted in June.

Dustin Johnson has signed up to play in Abu Dhabi for the third straight year. ... No player from among the top seven in the Race to Dubai is playing the Nedbank Challenge, a Rolex Series event and the penultimate tournament in the Race to Dubai. ... Abraham Ancer tied for fourth in Las Vegas and became the first Mexican golfer to crack the top 100 in the world ranking. Ancer is at No. 98 going into the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. ... The Country Club of Birmingham in Alabama has been selected to host the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in 2022.

For the second straight week, a fall event on the PGA Tour has a higher strength-of-field rating than a Rolex Series event on the European Tour.

"Everybody does it in a different way. I believe I found a way that works really, really well for me." - Bryson DeChambeau after his fourth PGA Tour title in 12 starts.

Updated November 6, 2018

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