Tony Jacklin
Tony Jacklin in discussion with a Rules official during the 1971 Open Championship at Birkdale
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tony Jacklin tells GM about some of his Rules mishaps over the years and discusses whether some of the Rules of Golf are unfair, or perhaps a little silly...

The Rules guys were kept on their toes at St Andrews this year thanks to the weather, and there’s no doubt golf’s Rules can be a complicated affair.

I’ve certainly come a cropper a few times over the years. I remember going into a rabbit hole in the 1973 Open at Troon, taking a drop and my ball then rolling outside where I had measured. I’d dropped within the designated area, but sadly, what I didn’t know was that if the ball rolled outside that area but within another two club-lengths, it was still okay – it was still in play.

Mine was within two club-lengths of where it had landed, but I thought it had to stay within the area I had marked out. So it was a genuine mistake, which I got penalised for, because it was all on TV. But it taught me to always ask for rulings when uncertain.

That said, in my first senior tournament at Lytham – the British Seniors – I was playing alongside Gary Player and Tom Wargo. On the 11th hole I was in a bunker and my ball hit the lip and just brushed my shirt before coming back down into the sand.

I told Gary and Tom, declared a one-shot penalty, and eventually signed for a 79 as I’d played terribly! I then got a call back at the hotel and talked it through with The R&A. They said, “We thought that’s what you did, but it’s two shots.”

So I’d signed for a score lower than I’d actually taken and ended up being DQ’d. But Gary, Tom and I all thought it was one shot, so there was ignorance there on all our parts. So my take on it these days – certainly given the amount of money the top guys are playing for – is that you need a Rules guy close at all times!

I remember another time in the LA Open being well inside the cut line as I played the 17th in round two. It was a par 3 and I pulled my tee shot, then tried to lob it over a tree to get it on the green. My ball hit the tree and didn’t come down!

I could see two balls up there. One was a Titleist, but I was playing a Maxfli, so I said to the official: “That one’s not mine, so the other one must be.” He said: “You’ve got to identify it to say it’s yours.” So my caddie started to shin up this tree, but a chimpanzee couldn’t have got to where this ball was. He shook it a bit, and two balls dropped down.

When he came down the official said: “Did you shake the tree?” He said yes, and the official replied: “I thought so – that’s a two-shot penalty for moving a ball in play.” I ended up missing the cut out of nowhere!

Related: how to use the Rules to your advantage

So I’ve had my Rules experiences and sometimes it’s difficult, because common sense doesn’t always seem to prevail. But I guess that’s because we’re all biased towards our own ends, so we don’t want it to be as bad as it can be.

I’ve always felt it’s a bit unfair that you hit a perfect drive down the fairway and finish in somebody’s divot, as Marc Leishman did in the play-off at St Andrews. Rub of the green, they call that, don’t they?

And in the old days you could hit a very good shot in to five or six feet and have a huge spike mark between you and the hole – laziness on the part of someone else. That kind of thing does seem unfair to me, but I think the divot scenario is the worst, although I appreciate it would be very hard to define what is and isn’t a divot.

Spike marks were a big problem 30 years ago, and we did have a year on the European Tour when you were allowed to tap spike marks down. I vividly remember players going all the way down the line tapping the damn things down, so somebody is always going to take it to the extreme, aren’t they? And The R&A has got to take it to its extreme too as the body who makes the Rules.

Looking back, I’m not sure how we managed in the 1960s when we played the two final rounds in a day at all our tournaments, as I did from 1963 right through until I went to America in 1967. Essentially your fellow competitors on the final day were your referees, so if you thought you deserved a drop, you’d call them over and they’d say: “Yeah, that’s good,” or whatever.

It was about fair play and very little happened that really stopped us from a Rules perspective. They just didn’t have enough staff on tour back then, but if I was out there, I wouldn’t do a thing without asking.

And finally, I do think some of the Rules are stupid. A guy drops his ball on his marker and his marker jumps up, as happened to Ian Poulter a few years ago. What’s that all about? Just when you think you’ve seen it all…!

Nick Bonfield
Content Editor

Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, commissioning and feature writing. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x