‘Pandemic cups’ are causing a hole lot of confusion

Here’s yet another good reason for playing more golf these days: The pandemic-mandated rule changes ought to improve your score.

Assuming you’re OK with those new guidelines.

The one that has had the most effect on play is the rule about what constitutes “holing out.” For the first time in the history of our great game, it’s not as simple as “it’s in the hole or it’s not.”

The new USGA guidelines specifically target hole-liners, whereby the cup is raised above the ground. To have your ball considered “in the hole,” all you have to do is hit the liner.

That created what the USGA calls the “most likely score.” Now we’re supposed to use our judgment to determine whether the ball would have gone in the hole under normal circumstances.

Here’s the official wording:

When making this decision, you should consider where the ball struck the hole-liner as well as the speed at which the ball was traveling when it contacted the hole-liner.  Here are two examples:

Example 1: It would be appropriate to determine your ball would have been holed more than 50% of the time if your ball hits the raised hole-liner squarely and at a slow speed.

Example 2: It would be appropriate to determine your ball would not have been holed more than 50% of the time if your ball glances off the side of the raised hole-liner while traveling fast.

A June 3 article in the New York Times detailed the awkward situations that rule has created. Now you have players not worrying about speed and simply trying to hit the hole-liner on short putts. To some people, that’s proper gamesmanship. To others, it’s cheating.

But no matter how you view it, we all can agree that it improves your score. A Fresno golfer quoted in that N.Y. Times story said his handicap has improved from 16 to 9 the last few months.

Then there’s the matter of the foam insert in the cup, designed to keep you from reaching way down in there to retrieve your ball. Some courses place the insert near ground level, which has resulted in perfectly good putts popping out of the hole. Here’s the USGA wording for that scenario:

Although your ball has not been holed and you have yet to complete the hole, if you determine that, in your best judgment, your ball would have been holed more than 50% of the time had there not been a foam (or other material) insert, you must record your score for handicap purposes as if the ball was holed.

When making this decision, you should consider the speed at which your ball was traveling when it first entered the hole.

Good luck getting the whole foursome to agree on that when there’s money on the line, a scenario the N.Y. Times article also addressed. But there’s yet another weird decision it has created: What constitutes a holed-out shot from off the green or down the fairway?

In fact, I encountered that exact predicament a couple of weeks ago on a par-5.

My drive left me 230 yards from the green, but a small tree was in the way. I had to keep it low and then try to roll it up there.

I hit it perfectly, under the tree limb and with plenty of power. It wasn’t just the shot of the day – it was one of those shots you never forget.

We all watched in amazement as it screamed straight toward the flagstick and, as far as we could tell, hit it squarely without going down into the hole. It stopped 3 feet from the pin for one of the easiest eagles I’ll ever make.

But wait a second, we said. What about the new rules? Is that a 2 – an albatross? No way, we agreed. It was going too fast to stay in the hole no matter what type of hole we’re using these days. It probably would have rolled over the green if it had missed the pin.

It made me realize that now it’s even more difficult to finally get my first hole-in-one after all these years. Not only do I have to hit a good shot; it has to stay in the hole or else we have to agree that it SHOULD HAVE stayed in the hole.

Yeesh. The last thing I want is a “most likely hole-in-one.” That would be a memory with an important footnote. It just wouldn’t feel right.

Conscience counts. The last thing I want to do out there is debate what my score should be. I don’t want an ace – or an albatross – with an asterisk.

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