Under the old rules, if a ball moved after a player’s address, he was hit with a one stroke penalty—even if he did nothing to cause that movement. In recent years, the rule has caught such players as Webb Simpson (perhaps ultimately costing him this year’s money title and Player of the Year honors), Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington.
The revision says that there is no penalty when it is “known or virtually certain” that the player did not cause the ball to move. In other words, if you set up to make a putt and the wind shifts the ball, you are no longer liable.
Another revision says that a player who misses his tee time is not automatically disqualified. Instead, if he arrives within five minutes, the player is hit with a two stroke penalty or loss of hole in match play. I wonder if that’ll apply to missing a pro am tee time, as Jim Furyk did at the 2010 Barclays (which also caused him to be disqualified from that tournament).
Finally, the USGA and R&A also now permit a player to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, provided it’s not done to improve a lie. I’m not aware of any notable incidents here, but at courses where people pay attention to such things, it may speed things up a bit.
The ruling bodies did not, however, fix my two least favorite rules. A lost or out of bounds ball is still stoke-and-distance. Few people in my experience ever return to hit again from the original spot; they just drop in a likely spot and play on. Indeed, returning the original scene of the crime on a crowded public course is to put your self in physical peril from the players waiting on the tee behind you. There was a time when the penalty was distance only, but my suggestion is a penalty (I’m not sure about one or two strokes), with a drop where the ball was last seen.
The other rules I want corrected is the one that penalizes a player for signing an incorrect scorecard or for forgetting to sign a scorecard altogether. There should be a fairness and equity clause. A player who signs for a higher score should be given the opportunity to fix the math error (eg. Roberto De Vicenzo in the 1968 Masters). A player who forgets (this happened to, among others, Harrington and Doug Sanders) should simply be called back to fix the oversight. And where there’s no intent to deceive (such as when Mark Roe and Jesper Parnevik were disqualified for forgetting to exchange cards at the Open Championship), I don’t think there’s any need for a death sentence. There’s simply too much of a “gotcha” factor in the rules as they are.