Confusing Golf Rule #8: Adjusting Clubs and Bent Clubs

Leave the screwdriver in your bag.

Over the last several years, it seems that every golf equipment manufacturer has drivers and fairway woods that are adjustable, perhaps all starting with the TaylorMade R7 — as long as you don’t count the weird set you could buy only through SkyMall.  I know, you’ve got an adjustable driver.  On the first hole, you have it set up for a fade.  On the second hole you want to change it to help you have a draw.  No-can-do says the rules.  Once you start a round or a match, the clubs cannot be adjusted for the duration of the round or match.

Details here:  If you are in a multiple round tournament, you can make all the adjustments you want between rounds.  But this may not be overnight.  Several times this year, and every year, the PGA tournament has players that cannot finish a round that day.  When they show up the following day to finish their round, the clubs need to be the same as they were for the beginning of that round.  However after they finish that round and before they tee off for the next round they can tinker away.  Penalty, 2-strokes each time used, max is 4-stroke penalty.

More details:  If you are playing in a match, it works just like a stroke play round with the following exception — matches can have varying lengths and the clubs cannot be adjusted during a match.  So if you think about the finals of the US Amateur, this is a 36 hole match play, with a little break for lunch.  Once a player tees off on number 1, the clubs they have (and the adjustments made to them prior to teeing off) is what they have to play with.  Sometimes matches are shorter.  At a club I used to belong to we had a series of three 9-hole matches in a single day.  I would be able to make adjustments between each of these matches.  Penalty, loss of hole with a two-hole loss max.

Bent Clubs:  The how and why matters.

So that’s the rule about adjusting the club.  What happens if I damage a club?

When you damage a club, the rule hinges on your intent and/or disposition when it occurred, and what the specific damage is.  Lets say you have a ball that is next to a tree, and when you make your swing the club hits the tree and the shaft bends.   You cannot use the club as is, but you can replace that club or repair that club if there is not undue delay.  I had this happen on the 9th hole once, and I was able to go into the pro shop at the turn, give them one club to repair and they gave me a club to borrow for the back 9.  All legit.

However, lets say you make your swing and the club may or may not hit the tree, but you are unhappy with the result and so you whack the club into the tree and the shaft bends.  In this case, you cannot use the club as is and you may not replace it.  You are stuck with one fewer club available for the rest of the round.  We saw this during the 2013 US Open when Rory McIlroy took out his displeasure on his 9-iron and intentionally bent it.  He had several holes left but had to play without using that club.

Note, though, that in either case you cannot play the damaged club.   But sometimes damage is considered insignificant.  If the club’s lie is changed or the face of the club gets a nick, that’s considered normal wear and you can keep using that club.  Basically, bent or broken shafts and broken clubheads is the sort of damage that causes a club to not be used.

The penalties are harsh.  If you are playing stroke play, you get a two-stroke penalty for each time you use the damaged club with a maximum of four-penalty strokes in a round.  In match play, you lose each hole in which you used the damaged club, with a maximum loss of two holes for this reason.

Addendum: If a club gets damaged in normal play, and during the round you replace it with a club that can be adjusted, you can adjust the club as you see fit before you put the club in play. We saw this in the 2015 US Open when the head of George Coetzee’s driver snapped off as he drove the ball. His replacement club was adjustable and he made adjustments to it before using it.

USGA Rule 4-1, 4-2 and 4-3

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