First, I must applaud the USGA and R&A for their initiative to make some changes.
However, I hope that in general the proposed changes to the rules are truly intended to “simplify” the rules rather than “modernize” them – which may only be a figure of speech. My concern stems from the fact that the Rules of Golf have stood the test of time – approximately 300 years or more — and we need to recalibrate every now and again by referring to the original set of Rules for guidance, to make sure we do not stray too far from the purpose and principles of the code.
It is WE who have, over time, complicated the Rules in a good faith effort to be more specific and all-inclusive but inadvertently, the Rules have gradually migrated away from the basic principle, that they should be simple, unambiguous and the intent plainly conveyed so they are clearly understood by those who play the game, allowing common sense to dictate how they are interpreted. It is this which will define how effective the rules are and how well they will voluntarily be accepted and applied.
With the above in mind, my comments about the proposed new ball dropping procedure are:
It introduces ambiguity into the process; how it is applied will challenge the intent of the golfer and potentially introduce conflict between competitors and officials on interpretation.
The randomness of the eventual lie is significantly reduced – from the shoulder height drop — but placing the ball is not significantly different than dropping it from ½ an inch which is permissible.
The downside is greater than the upside compared to just leaving the rule as is, OR let’s bite the bullet and permit placing the ball when taking relief.