Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jon Rahm and the New Decision

            For those who have been following recent Rules events in golf and were watching the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this morning, the result of no penalty for Jon Rahm may seem very confusing.  What happened was really one of the first major instances where a Committee used the “reasonable judgment” standard in the brand-new Decision 34-3/10.
            On an earlier hole, Jon Rahm’s ball came to rest in a position where his ball-marker would have to be placed on top of his fellow-competitor’s ball-marker, so he marked it to the side of the ball, and then spanned the marker one putter-head to the side.  When he spanned the marker back, it appeared fairly clear that he replaced the ball directly in front of his ball-marker, rather than to the side of it as he had originally. He played from the new position and therefore was potentially subject to penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 16-1b (the Rule that allows players to mark & lift the ball on the putting green).
            European Tour Rules Official Andy McFee (apologies if misspelled), pulled Rahm aside to discuss the situation with him. The details of the discussion are no public, but essentially from Rahm’s testimony, McFee determined that Rahm was aware of the awkward marking and used his best judgment to replace the ball in its original spot and was therefore no penalty was applied.  Several months ago, the video evidence would have trumped this testimony, however Decision 34-3/10, introduced after the controversial Lexi Thompson situation at the ANA Inspiration, saved Rahm from penalty.
            Specifically, when referring to this exact type situation the new Decision states, “A ‘reasonable judgment’ standard is applied in evaluating the player’s actions in these situations: so long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted even if later shown to be wrong by the use of video evidence.” [Emphasis Added]
            In order to apply this standard, the Committee must take several factors into consideration to determine whether a player has done what can reasonably be expected. Two of the bullets listed in the Decision as important factors play a key role in the Rahm ruling: 1) the player’s explanation and 2) the amount by which the location was wrong in relation to the type of determination made.  In this case, Rahm stated (according to sources) that he remembered he had marked the ball to the side and specifically remembered trying to get the ball back to the exact spot. While video evidence showed the spot to be probably incorrect, the amount by which it was incorrect was not significant enough to definitively say the player did not meet the reasonable judgment standard.

            To make things more interesting, while Rahm was discussing this ruling with McFee, a spectator had picked up and moved his ball in play in the rough and Rahm was immediately faced with another rules situation. A referee was on site and through Rule 20-3c made sure the ball was replaced properly under the Rules (in this case by dropping).

Friday, May 5, 2017

Casual Water or Loose Impediments: At the Option of the Player

                Last week I had the honor of serving on the Pac-12 Championship Committee for the Men’s championship at Boulder Country Club in Colorado.  I must say it became one of the most unique experiences in officiating I have ever had, and I was also perfectly content to not be the official-in-charge.  Kudos to Jim Moriarty (along with Brad Gregory, Keith Hansen, Missy Jones and the CGA staff that worked Golf Admin hours to get in as many holes as possible) for handling an incredibly difficult set of circumstances, especially with all of us jeering him along…
                The unique circumstance, as many of you witnessed from Golfweek or other national news
outlets, was that we ended up playing in the snow. Eventually, the snow won over and forced Saturday to be a complete day off, but we had “chamber of commerce weather” on Sunday that melted the snow and allowed us to shotgun the players and complete 54 holes.  As we were preparing for that final round and the snow was thawing (see numerous pictures included here), a number of great questions came up from coaches and officials about how to handle the snow.
Using the Sprinklers to Help Thaw the Snow

I Strongly Recommend the Loose Impediments Option

I don't think the heavy stuff's coming down for quite a while, I'd keep playing...

                Fortunately, snow is specifically discussed in the Definitions of the Rules of Golf. Twice, in fact.  Under Casual Water, we see, “Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player.”  The same sentence appears again under Loose Impediments. 
                On the surface, that seems to make our rulings very simple, either take relief under Rule 25-1 or brush the snow away without moving the ball.  And in most cases, it really is that simple.  But as the snow started to thaw and became more patchy, where one patch started and another began became a little more obscured. So let’s look at some of the questions we thought might come up and how we decided to handle them:
Thanks to the great help from BCC Members and staff!

A player brushes away snow before making the decision to treat the snow as casual water:
Unfortunately, once the player treated the snow as loose impediments, the right to take relief for casual water from that same patch of snow went away.  If we permitted the player to treat the same patch of snow in two different manners, nothing would prevent a player from taking casual water relief, but brushing away a circle to drop in a desired spot.

A player takes relief from one snow patch and a separate snow patch interferes at the nearest point of relief:
We had to treat each snow patch as a different “puddle” of casual water. So if a player took relief from one snow patch, we found the nearest point of relief from that specific snow patch. If the player then had interference from a separate snow patch, he would be entitled to take relief from the new snow patch or play the ball as it lies.

A player decides to take casual water relief, then wishes to brush the snow away:
Once the player sees that the nearest point of relief would not be in a desirable spot, the preference became to simply brush the snow away.  So the answer in this scenario depends on whether the player has lifted the ball or not. If the player has not lifted the ball, nothing prevented the player from deciding to treat the snow as loose impediments and brushing it away. If, however, the player had lifted the ball, in order to avoid penalty he had to take complete relief.           

In the end, I can tell you that in the group I walked with on Sunday, we had absolutely zero rulings regarding the snow. But before the round, the possibilities were endless!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lexi Thompson MAJOR Penalty

 Currently happening in the ANA Inspiration we are seeing the first major instance of the application of the new (2016) Exception to Rule 6-6d for signing an incorrect score card. The explanation we are receiving is that Thompson incorrectly replaced her ball on the 17th green during the 3rd round. Rule 16-1b requires the ball to be replaced in the exact same spot. The television evidence revealed that she replaced the ball in a slightly different spot. The penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 16-1b is two strokes. Since she signed her score card without the two stroke penalty and she was completely unaware of the penalty at the time, the Exception to Rule 6-6d kicks in.
   The Exception essentially lessened the previous penalty that would have disqualified the player for signing for an incorrect score card.  Since her incorrect score was the result of failing to include a penalty she was unaware of, she is not disqualified but is assessed the penalty she failed to include (two strokes under Rule 16-1b) and an additional two stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for signing for an incorrect score on the 17th hole.  The result is four total penalty strokes and Thompson is now not leading the the first LPGA major of the season.
   This appears to be an extremely harsh penalty, especially as the result of a video review, but remember that had this occurred in 2015, Thompson would have been disqualified for the incorrect score card.
   On TV it was easily heard that it wasn't intentional, but unfortunately this is not an intent-based Rule. The reality is that she put the ball back in the wrong spot. Was it a significant advantage? No. However, the Rule is written to dissuade the player from the potential advantage that could be gained by replacing the ball in an incorrect position.
    So in summary: On the 17th hole of the third round, Thompson incorrectly replaced her ball on the putting green and as a result played from a wrong place in breach of Rule 16-1b. She signed a score card without that penalty included because she was unaware of it. Since the breach was discovered prior to the close of competition, the Committee is required to apply the Exception to Rule 6-6d which means that they added the two-stroke penalty that wasn't included in her score yesterday, and an additional two-stroke penalty for signing for an incorrect score - a total of four penalty strokes.
   If Thompson comes back and manages to win, it will highlight how extremely significant the new Exception really is, because prior to 2016 she would've been disqualified from the competition for the same situation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The MGA Quiz Results are Out!

Bravo to the MGA on another wonderful Quiz for 2017. They always manage to find the smallest of holes in the code of the Rules of Golf and rip them open for interesting and unique Rules situations, some of which only have answers based on what your Committee decides. As usual, the combined efforts here on the West Coast were not able to divine the true intent and secret behind all the questions and I would like to review the “incorrect” answers and reasons why:

Our Answer
MGA Answer

4. In stroke play, Player A hits his tee shot, finds a ball he assumes to be his and plays that ball which ends up slightly closer to the hole than Player B’s second shot. As B is preparing to play his third shot, A asks him what club he used to play his second shot. A then realizes he has played a wrong ball. A returns to the area from which he played the wrong ball, finds his original ball after a one minute search, and plays the original ball into the hole in four more strokes. A’s score for the hole is:
A) 6
B) 7
C) 8

First, let’s agree that there are 5 “talent” strokes. So the debate here is between two or four penalty strokes. I will hand this one to the MGA, there is a great debate as to what penalties should stick when committed while playing a wrong ball. We are on one side of the debate, the MGA chose the other and in all honesty it has more support in the Rules. 

Here’s the debate:  Under Rules 3-3 and 20-7c we have a supporting decision 20-7c/5 that refers to “penalty strokes incurred solely by playing the ball Rules not to count.” That decision clarifies that there are certain penalties that do not go away when playing a second ball under 3-3 or 20-7c because the penalty cannot be affiliated with one ball or another. Penalties for practice, advice or playing a wrong ball do not go away even if it seems like the action should be affiliated with one ball over another.

We do not have the same verbiage or decision for when a player plays a wrong ball or plays from outside the teeing ground. There is a faction that believes that the similar philosophy should be applied and penalties for advice or practice should not go away if committed while playing a wrong ball (or playing a ball played from outside the teeing ground). We answered that way.  There is another faction that has those penalties go away because the only verbiage we get “Strokes made by a competitor with a wrong ball do not count in his score.” There is no decision to break the tie here. My argument is that, while we do not get any additional verbiage, what we do have says “strokes made by a competitor.” There is no reference to penalty strokes going away.

So there is no official answer to the question (unless someone on the RoG Committee wants to correct me because a decision has finally been made), but it is a great discussion point.

5. A and B are partners in a four-ball stroke play competition. A’s ball comes to rest in casual water. A’s caddie picks up the ball, hands it to B who places it 3 club-lengths behind the casual water at a spot that keeps the point where the ball lay between the spot where it is placed and the hole. A plays the ball. A incurs:
A) 1 penalty stroke.
B) 2 penalty strokes.
C) 3 penalty strokes.
D) 4 penalty strokes.

I disagree with the answer here, but I know how they got there.  The MGA assessed an additional penalty stroke for the caddie’s unauthorized lifting of the ball. Only 3 people may lift – the player, partner or person authorized by the player. The caddie was not authorized and generally would incur a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2.  However, we have other applicable circumstances where there is no penalty if another Rule applies that permits the ball to be lifted and played from somewhere else.

Specifically, Decision 26-1/9 tells us there is no penalty for a caddie lifting a ball from a water hazard without authority if it is clear the player will be proceeding under the water hazard Rule.  I believe the general consensus is the same for other Rules that allow the player to play from somewhere else (except for a ball unplayable which has its own Decision and reasoning). However, I grant the MGA that there is nothing in the Rules that states that specifically with regard to casual water or an abnormal ground condition and therefore the answer has technical merit.

6. In a stroke play event, Player A’s approach shot comes to rest on the putting green leaving him with a long 75-foot putt. Player B’s approach shot lands in a greenside bunker. A marks and lifts his ball, then reads his line of putt. B’s bunker shot comes to rest on the putting green, but he still has a 30-foot putt remaining. A reads his line of putt from the other side of the hole while B is cleaning up the bunker. Just as B finishes, A replaces his ball. A putts his ball and it apparently comes to rest, but is overhanging the hole. B, not paying attention, immediately walks up to his ball and putts it. B’s ball not only strikes A’s ball, deflecting it into the hole, but B’s ball follows it in as well. Unsure of how to proceed, the competitor’s agree that since both balls were holed, there is no issue and they proceed to tee off the next hole and complete the stipulated round. They inform the Committee of this situation prior to signing and returning their score cards. The Committee should rule:
A) Both players’ balls are considered holed and there is no penalty.
B) Player A’s ball is considered holed. Player B;s ball is considered holed and he is assessed a two-stroke penalty.
C) Player A is disqualified and Player B’s ball is considered holed and he is assessed a two-stroke penalty.
D) Both players should have replaced their balls and replayed their last strokes. As both players failed to hole out, they are both disqualified.

Here’s one where I say touché. Having the ball overhanging the hole threw us off. The trick is that although Rule 16-2 specifies a time where the Rules deem the ball to be at rest, nothing in that Rule say the ball is not at rest prior to that time limit.  We treated the ball as still moving and then proceeded as if 19-5b applied. Good fluff MGA!

9. In a match play event, a par-3 hole has its teeing ground located immediately behind a water hazard with an island putting green. A player’s tee shot lands on the greenside of the water hazard, rolls backwards, and is lost in the water hazard. He drops correctly under the water hazard rule, keeping the point at which the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard between the hole and the place where he dropped a ball. In so doing he dropped the ball on the teeing ground. Realizing he could have re-teed his ball under the stroke and distance provision of the Rule, he lifts and tees his ball. He plays the teed ball onto the putting green. His first putt strikes his opponent’s ball lying on the putting green. He then completes the hole in one additional stroke. What is his score for the hole?
A) 5
B) 6
C) 7
D) 8

I believe there is some general disagreement in the Rules world about this particular situation. We applied four talent strokes and one penalty stroke under Rule 26-1.  The player essentially lucked out that they first dropped the ball on the teeing ground and they were entitled to put the ball somewhere else on the teeing ground.  But… he did drop the ball and a substituted ball becomes the ball in play when it has been dropped or placed (Rule 20-4). Since he played from the teeing ground next, lifting the ball was really stroke and distance and that’s where the MGA gets the additional penalty stroke. It’s a hard argument here and I’m not sure there is consensus at the highest levels as to whether this situation should be one penalty stroke or two.

24. During an individual stroke play event with the one ball condition in effect, Player A loses his second shot in a water hazard. He borrows a ball from Player B, inadvertently putting a different model ball (improper ball) into play properly under R26 and plays it into the fairway. Player C then points out the violation. Attempting to correct the error, A then goes back and drops a proper ball at the spot from which he had put the improper ball into play. He hits the proper ball into the rough near the improper ball. B suggests that under the one ball condition, A could have replaced the improper ball with a proper ball. A then lifts both the proper ball from the rough and the improper ball from the fairway. He places the proper ball at the spot the improper ball had previously come to rest in the fairway. He hits the proper ball onto the putting green and one-putts. A’s score for the hole is:
A) 8
B) 10
C) 11
D) 12

Well this one is just confusing right? We counted five talent strokes and six penalty strokes (26-1, LR, 27-1 and 18-2). How to get to 12? Well that’s simple… we miscounted. There are 6 talent strokes.  He hit the second shot into the water hazard. 3 played the improper ball. 4 played the proper ball. 5 played to green and 6 one-putted.  Whoops! D is the correct answer without argument here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Modernizing the Rules of Golf Review: Nothing Off the Table

                Last Wednesday, the USGA and R & A released the proposed New Modernized Rules of Golf to go into effect in 2019. We are now in a feedback phase for 6 months where all golfers can submit feedback on the proposed Rules directly to their governing body. The Rules Modernization project is 5 years in the making and is the most comprehensive overhaul of the Rules since 1984, when the current 34 Rules were developed and implemented.
                I, for one, am incredibly impressed at the draft and look forward to seeing what changes come after the feedback period. The governing bodies clearly took an open mind and left nothing off the discussion table. They’ve done a wonderful job of making sure many of the previous loopholes and confusions are eliminated and fit all the moving pieces of the Rules back into place in a manner that should be understandable for all golfers. Following is not a complete review of all the changes, but an overview of the more important or more significant changes and their effects on the game. While some comments may come off as criticism, I am offering solely my opinion and fully applaud and support the extremely diligent and laborious efforts of the USGA and R & A staff and Committees involved.
(For brevity, I have used he to refer to the player when needed, rather than he or she.)

Emphasis on Pace of Play

What I love
                Acknowledging that pace of play is hurting the game of golf, it was brought to the front as an important factor in determining some of the new Rules.  The expansion on the Rules regarding pace of play, including tips and examples of what players should be doing to help are fantastic:
  •          Reducing the search time from 5 minutes to 3 minutes will help with pace of play, and making the 40-second recommendation part of the Rules may help players with lengthy pre-shot routines in developing a better approach to their strokes.
  •          Permitting players to invite opponents to play first in match play in order to save time will eliminate many match play problems. I’ve received tons of questions about this over the years and I think it’s a great move.
  •          Encouraging players to go to the next tee after finishing a hole has also been a proven method of improving pace of play, and formalizing the recommendation should help the game.

What I Don’t Love
                While there were clearly great strides in the area of improving pace of play, I think there were some places the changes either missed the mark, or could have gone farther:
  •          If you properly announce and play a provisional ball that might be lost outside a water hazard, you cannot use the provisional ball as the stroke and distance option if it is subsequently found in a penalty area (currently water hazard) or found unplayable. This has been a huge time killer and I feel that if the provisional ball is designed to help with pace of play, this is a great opportunity to pick up some time without giving an advantage to a player.
  •          Repairing nearly all forms of damage on the putting green is probably a necessary change and we’ve seen outcries from professionals and public alike about the unfairness of spike marks and other damage. However, I’m afraid it may cause an unintended slow-down on the putting green so we as golfers in general have to take this “gimme” from the governing bodies and do our best not to abuse it. Sometimes we might have to leave some damage in place so that we can play at a reasonable pace.

Revised Relief Procedures

What I Love       
Some of the greatest confusion on the Rules rested around the various relief procedures available and the complexities of dropping the ball and where it ends up.  The proposed Rules made extensive revisions to relief procedures, unifying them behind a single standard and certainly did relax and simplify the Rules for dropping:
  •          Regardless of the option used, 20 inches is the standard relief area (with exceptions for penalized relief options from penalty areas or under ball unplayable). We no longer have to guess whether a ball was dropped “as near as possible” to a spot and even embedded ball relief is given this 20 inch latitude. The standard also ensures that all golfers will have the exact same distance for relief for a given procedure.
  •         A ball must be re-dropped if it rolls outside the relief area. This greatly reduces the complexities found in current Rule 20-2c and also ensures that luck of the landscape can’t change how much relief one player gets over another in a similar situation.
  •          The procedure for dropping the ball has been relaxed and now only requires that the ball fall through the air and it is recommended that it be dropped from at least one inch above the ground or growing object.

What I Don’t Love
                The above changes do help simplify and standardize the Rules for relief, but I do wish we could have gone further in some areas:
  •          One of the greatest confusions about dropping still exists – when to use 20 inches and when to use 80 inches. I would like to see one standard distance. My preference is for one club-length attained by using any readily available club other than a putter, which would guarantee 95% of the time using a 45-46 inch driver. If club-lengths are now off the table, I would be in favor of a standard 40 inches. Because I’m increasing the size of the relief area I would recommend requiring players to stand upright to drop the ball.
  •            I’m actually in favor of placing the ball all around, but understand the importance of the drop and the randomness it provides to guarantee someone doesn’t take advantage of the relief Rules.
  •       I’d like to see the penalties for improper dropping (both manner and person) go away. So long as the ball is dropped and it ends up being played from within the proper relief area, why does it matter how it got there or who dropped it? If the player plays the ball from the proper spot, this seems like a penalty that doesn’t fit the potential advantage gained.
  •          Unlimited drops when the ball does not stay in the relief area. I realize on one hand, this gets rid of the problem for players who don’t know better and drop the ball a third time. On the other hand, if I’m an official in the situation, how do I tell a player to stop dropping and place the ball? We need to stick to the two drops and place, I think most golfers who attempt to know the Rules understand this concept.

Relaxed Rules for Penalty Areas and Bunkers

What I Love
                I think it’s great that there is no longer a penalty for grounding your club or touching or moving loose impediments in a penalty area or bunker (although touching sand near ball to play from a bunker still prohibited). While I’ve always understood the potential advantage gained, I’ve always felt the Rule resulted in some very unfair penalties:
  •         Penalty areas can now be determined by Committees regardless of whether they are water features. So the previously prohibited “desert rule” or “jungle rule” could now be enacted with deserts or jungles being marked as penalty areas. This is simply a pace of play time saver but also gives some more latitude to Committees on how they mark a course.
  •          I know Brian Davis and Michelle Wie would love this Rule to have been around a few years ago, but relaxing the penalty for touching or moving loose impediments just takes care of the situations where no real advantage was gained. Just ticking a loose leaf in the backswing shouldn’t cost you two strokes or a loss of hole.

What I Don’t Love
                I just want to see this relaxation go a tiny bit further. The USGA has presented a good summary of the reasons for leaving some of the bunker prohibitions in place but I offer an alternative view and proposal below:
  •          Why still prohibit touching sand in a bunker by the ball (literally in front of or behind or for testing)? As long as the conditions are not improved by lightly grounding the club and the player doesn’t deliberately clear sand behind the ball during the backswing, why is this still a penalty? The player still needs to make the stroke, and I think 2012 at Kiawah Island shows that there is no advantage to permitting players to ground their clubs in playing the stroke or take practice swings in bunkers. 
  •       I understand that bunkers are design features that are intended to pose a specific challenge to a golfer, and that the Rules are in place to maintain that challenge.  My argument is that allowing practice swings and grounding the club lightly do not affect the challenge significantly enough for the vast majority of golfers to warrant treating penalty areas more favorably than bunkers. The USGA argument I do agree could be a problem, is displaced sand. Compromise Proposal: Prohibit practice swings that touch the sand in the bunker, but there is no penalty if the sand is touched accidentally during the practice swing. I would even be okay with prohibiting touching the sand with the club behind the ball provided there is an added stipulation that no penalty be applied if the sand is inadvertently touched.
  •          The proposed Rules offer a ball unplayable relief option to get out of a bunker. This is fantastic. BUT, it’s an option that costs two strokes to use.  Not only is the difference between one-stroke and two-stroke options adding unnecessary complexity, but it only costs one stroke to get out of a penalty area why should it cost more than one stroke to get out of a bunker?

The Flagstick

What I Love
                All in all, current Rule 17 is just downright confusing. There are tons of Notes, Exceptions and internally defined terms that lead to most people left completely clueless regarding what should be some simple permissions. The proposed Rules regarding the flagstick greatly simplify the flagstick and penalties affiliated with issues:
  •         No penalty for striking an attended flagstick, attendant or unattended flagstick after a stroke from the putting green. As long as the deflection is not intentional, this always seemed to be an unnecessary penalty.
  •          Penalties for the unauthorized attendance or attending the flagstick while the ball is in motion now are clearly based on intent. If the attendance is not intended to influence to movement of the ball (“must not deliberately attend or remove the flagstick to affect where the player’s ball might come to rest”), then the penalty does not apply.

What I Don’t Love
                I don’t like that we need a flagstick Rule that has penalties to begin with. It can still get complicated but at least we’re basing the penalty on intent, not action, so that unintended unauthorized removal does not unfairly penalize a player:
  •          Couldn’t all the flagstick penalties affiliated with influencing the movement of the ball be taken care of by one Rule? Or should flagstick attendance penalties be based on result (only if a deliberate action results in the ball being stopped or deflected)? I think current Rule 1-2 could’ve been used in a way to take care of all the influence the movement type situations, despite the drawbacks of the Rule in its current form.

Multiple Books

What I Love
                I am fully behind the concept of a player’s book that can give the player in a competition or a casual round a quick reference guide how to proceed correctly under the Rules.

What I Don’t Love
                One of the greatest things about the Rules of Golf is that player, referee administrator and governing body are all looking at the exact same reference. If I have to penalize a player or tell a player to proceed differently than he would like, I can point to something in the same book he’s got. I have some concerns with separating this all out:
  •          Where are the Local Rules? Associations and clubs alike are still going to want to create Hard Cards, the standard Local Rules for all competitions. Typically, clauses could read “the Local Rule in Appendix I is in effect.” Any player can find that Local Rule in their own Rule book.  The proposed multi-book format does not appear to provide that same comfort, meaning I could have Local Rules in effect that a player will need to carry multiple books in order to have all the Rules at his fingertips.
  •          As a tournament administrator, I love that I have all the Rules guidance I need to conduct a competition in one book, - the Decisions book. I have no issue with getting rid of the Decisions book in its current format, but I want one book that gives me all the Rules guidance I need and can point to. For the same reason I hate flipping back and forth between Rules 6 and 33 during Rules school the last couple years, I do not want to be flipping back and forth between multiple books when discussing an issue with the Committee.

There is a lot more to the proposed New Rules of Golf and I strongly urge all of you to view all the available resources you can for yourself at and to contact your state or regional golf association for assistance in understanding the new Rules or the process. Utilize the feedback section so that the governing bodies have as much information and feedback to go by as possible. The proposed Rules are not final and it is still possible that some wonderful changes we are all hoping for may come to fruition, or that changes we don’t like that are now present may go away. But the Rules of Golf Committees can only make those decisions if you give your feedback. Just make sure to do your homework first!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Embedded Ball, "Preferred Lies" and Really Wet Conditions

                Finally, northern California is back to normal. So much so that it is receiving an abnormal amount of rain in a short span of time.  The conditions for golf courses, not surprisingly, are less than ideal.  So I’ve received a lot of questions regarding various options and Local Rules that can be used to help players get through the muddy, mucky conditions.  This can be incredibly challenging when there are misunderstandings as to how various Local Rules can be used, and this weekend at the Peg Barnard we had to come up with a unique solution to best serve the players while still staying firmly within the bounds of the Rules of Golf.

                Before speaking to my experience this week, it should first be explained what Rules and Local Rules are available for players in these conditions.  The first two are better known and are part of the Rules of Golf:
1.       Rule 25-2 – Relief without penalty for a ball embedded in its own pitch-mark.  Generally the Local Rule in Appendix I is in effect to extend relief to anywhere through the green, except when embedded in sand in a non-closely-mown area.
2.       Rule 25-1 – Relief without penalty for interference by an abnormal ground condition. I think where many golfers are confused is that an abnormal ground condition is a specific term under the Rules that refers to ground under repair, casual water or a hole, cast or runway made by a burrowing animal, reptile or bird. The fact that the mushy earth is abnormal to the usual conditions of the course does not, of itself, constitute an abnormal ground condition under the Rules of Golf.

When conditions warrant, there are two Local Rules that are designed to alleviate problems affiliated with extremely wet, poor conditions that are detrimental to the proper playing of the game.  What is often confusing, is that there are limitations as to how far the Rules can be extended:

  1.    “Preferred Lies” also known as “Winter Rules” or Lift, Clean and Place – Appendix I gives the Committee the authority to permit players to lift, clean and place their ball within a specified distance of the original spot. This should only be used when fairway conditions are unsatisfactory.  The catch to this Local Rule is that it is only permissible to put it in effect in closely-mown areas through the green or a MORE restricted area. The Committee does not have the authority under the Rules to extend this Local Rule to anywhere through the green. In other words, this Rule is designed to be used for fairways or fringes, not in the rough.
      Many are confused about this because there are examples of Committees who have over-stepped the authority given by the Rules and made the decision to play “preferred lies” anywhere through the green, notably on the PGA Tour last year (see my FarbTalk article here). “The Committee is always right, even when they’re wrong,” however, there is a difference between having the authority to do something under the Rules and the Committee being permitted to make its own decisions.
      So when conditions throughout the course are so mucky that permitting a player to clean their ball should be granted anywhere through the green, there is a Local Rule that is permissible to use:
  2.    Cleaning Ball: Lift, clean and Replace – The Local Rule in Appendix I immediately following “preferred lies” permits players to lift, clean and replace the ball in the same spot from which it was lifted. This Rule can be restricted if desired, but the Committee does have the authority to use this Local Rule anywhere through the green.

So this past weekend at Stanford for the Peg Barnard Invitational, a women’s event held this time of year each year, the course was thoroughly saturated.  And while good weather was forecasted (and came true) for the days of play, the damage had already been done.  My initial recommendation was to use Lift, Clean and Replace through the green so that there would be some relief for players in the rough as the balls were picking up tons of mud.  There were some who very much wanted to play “preferred lies” through the green and I had to explain what I explained above: it is not permissible under the Rules to extend lift, clean and place to anywhere through the green. I even confirmed that this was the official stance again to be certain. My argument was a bit hampered by examples and rumors of prominent events using the illegal Local Rule, but while the conditions were not great, they were not to the point where exceeding the authority of the Rules was necessary. So, finally, after way too much time as I should have seen this sooner, came the solution:

For the event we played “preferred lies” in closely-mown areas through the green.  So in fairways (which were still distinguishable as all cuts had not been mown for the same amount of time), players could lift, clean and place the ball within a score card length, no nearer the hole. Additionally, we invoked lift, clean and replace anywhere through the green. So players could lift, clean and replace the ball in the same spot if the ball was in the rough. The invocation of both Local Rules granted the players the maximum amount of relief we could provide while still operating under the Rules of Golf. 

Due to the unique solution, a few unexpected and interesting questions arose.

Embedded Ball Relief: Because of the two different local Rule procedures, if the ball was embedded it mattered whether it was in the fairway or the rough.  In the fairway, because a score card length was permitted, a player could simply mark, lift and then place the ball out of the pitch-mark without having to use the drop procedure in Rule 25-2. In the rough, because replacing would mean putting the ball back into the pitch-mark, players had to take the Rule 25-2 relief by dropping and then could still lift, clean and replace if desired.

Casual Water Relief: Again, the two different local Rule procedures could lead to two very different scenarios. In the fairway, if a player had interference from casual water where the ball came to rest, they could either a) take relief and then use lift, clean and place from the new position, or b) lift, clean and place the ball within a score card length to try and avoid interference and if interference still existed they could then take relief from the casual water. In the rough, if the ball came to rest in an area with interference by casual water, the player could lift, clean and replace the ball, then decide to take relief or they could take relief and then lift, clean and replace the ball.

Ball Lost in a Muddy Area: I received a ton of questions, both in this event and from others playing around the area, about balls that plug in the middle of the fairway and cannot be found.  There is some confusion about this and how it relates to Rule 25-1c, Ball Not Found in Abnormal Ground Condition.  Unfortunately, soft, mushy earth is not an abnormal ground condition (see Decision 25/1).  So if a ball plugs in a large area of soft, mushy earth and cannot be found within five minutes, even in the middle of the fairway, the ball is lost and the player must proceed under penalty of stroke and distance. A large area of mud is different from an area that has been declared ground under repair or a large puddle of casual water. If it is known or virtually certain that a ball is in ground under repair or casual water (both abnormal ground conditions under the Rules), but it cannot be found, the player is entitled to relief without penalty.  Now before you go and declare the entire fairway to be ground under repair so players can take this relief, know that the relief is going to be relative to where the ball last crossed the outermost limits of the condition.
      So, in the end there are a lot of options for relief when these kinds of muddy, mucky conditions occur and because the Rules give us specific guidance and specific local Rules to use in these conditions, we, whether as players, course operators or Committees need to ensure we utilize the local Rules properly and in accordance with the authority given by the Rules.

     If you are running an event, playing an event or officiating an event with these kinds of conditions and need to know your options, please remember that your state or regional golf association is there to help you and guide you, or you can always contact the USGA directly. Don’t assume the Committee can just do whatever it wants and still play under the Rules of Golf.