On this New Year’s Day and in honor of the upcoming new Season of Sherlock on the BBC I want to share the tale of Sherlock Holmes the Rules Official. For those of you who are Rules Officials you’ll recognize that Sherlock’s manner with players is not to be emulated and certainly you will need to ask more questions to get to a proper ruling. But he does get it right…
From the Memoirs of Dr. John “Tom” Watson:
For those familiar with the off-putting, stubborn personality of my compatriot Sherlock Holmes, it is no surprise that this was his only foray into the profession of officiating the Rules of Golf. He asked me to join him for his day on the links, a mid-level competition of amateur golfers. The governing body was in need of some assistance and Holmes’ reputation led to his recommendation and placement as a roving official on the front nine.
The day was fairly quiet until he received a call on the radio to come to the ninth green for a second opinion in a ball at rest moved situation. What transpired next was nothing short of classic.
“Thanks for the help Sherlock. This player’s ball moved and I am inclined to rule he has caused the ball to move and incurs a single penalty stroke per Rule 18-2,” said Lestrade, the Rules Official who requested the second opinion.
“Well of course you would. And it was indeed good of this fellow to ask for a second opinion because the first would be quite wrong.”
“How could you possibly know that, you have not even heard the facts?” I exclaimed, in part attempting to soften the rudeness of my friend.
“The balance of probability my dear Watson, or the weight of evidence I should say. I only need one more piece of evidence to fully confirm my findings,” and turning to the player he said, “Could you please point to the spot where your ball would have to be replaced?”
The player did so and Holmes nodded in confirmation, “Precisely. Now please do replace your ball at that spot, but you shall incur no penalty.”
At this point Lestrade chimes in, “But why should you find that he must replace the ball without a penalty?”
“Elementary. But as usual Lestrade, you have asked the most incorrect question for the situation. Your question should first have been why must he replace the ball? Why there is no penalty is so simple you should find a new profession for not observing it first. Now since you have displayed such utter confusion in the matter I will lay it out for you, despite the facts being laid clear before your very eyes with very little search required.
“First, without even being told it is clear that we have a case that the ball has moved and at least two of the three players here are entirely unsure whether the player actually caused the movement. In order to determine whether or not he caused the ball to move we must look at the weight of the evidence, what I call the balance of probability, to decide whether in fact he is guilty of a breach under Rule 18-2 and must replace the ball.
There are several questions that must be answered to determine whether the weight of evidence is for or against the player.”
Lestrade interrupted, “But you didn’t ask any questions.”
“I said there are several questions that must be answered, and through careful observation all of the questions are answered, you have no need to ask if you’d simply observe rather than see.”
“Fine, go ahead, dazzle me with your answers.”
“Well, starting with the obvious, is there some other weather condition that could have caused the movement? Clearly, the answer is no. It is a calm day without a cloud in the sky and I’m fairly certain that there was no significant movement of the earth to cause the movement.
“Next, what is the condition of the ground near the ball? You can plainly see the ball does lie on a decent slope, and as it is late in the day the grass has grown since this morning. Alone, this would suggest the player did not cause the movement. However, what makes that significant is that this particular grass has a grain that is currently growing up the slope, somewhat nullifying the effect of the downhill and holding the ball from rolling.
“The length of the grass is also significant because it created a bit of a perched lie for the ball, balanced on the ends of somewhat longer blades of grass. The lie of the ball is important.
“Next, what actions were taken near the ball. You might wonder how I know what actions could have taken place, but again the simple act of observation tells me all I need to know.” Turning to the player, “You can correct me if I misstate something.
“First, you can clearly see there is only one firm set of footprints in position for his stance. Combining his “plus four” attire with the fact that the player has a number of gadgets in his bag you can presume that this is a player that takes lessons and is accustomed to taking numerous practice swings prior to any stroke. Since there is only one set of footprints near the ball in position for a stance, it can then be deduced that the practice strokes were taken precariously close to the ball.”
“Uncanny!” The four players stated in unison.
“No, simple deduction. But that is not the action that caused the movement. Slightly fainter than the footprints but still clear to the naked eye is the impression of the putter behind the ball, the impression that the ball was resting in prior to its replacement. This was the most telling detail of all. Not only did the player ground the club immediately behind the ball with enough impact as to cause an imprint on the putting green, but the ball managed to roll backward, up the slope, coming to rest in that impression. That detail was the final piece of the puzzle that was confirmed when the player replaced his ball at a spot downhill from where it has moved. Regardless of how to view the rest of the facts, although I think they are still quite clear, the firm grounding of the putter combined with the ball moving uphill rather than with the natural gradient would suggest that the weight of the evidence is against the player and that he caused the movement. Thus he needed to replace the ball.”
Lestrade stepped in at this point, “Aha! So then I was correct, and you have misspoken. He is due a penalty stroke.”
“No, I do not misspeak and you were never correct. What ever you had done correctly was by pure chance. You of all people should note that all three players are holding a yellow paper in their hands. On one side are the hole locations for today, but on the other is the “Notice to Players” where clearly stated in bold I was able to discern the words: Ball Accidentally Moved. I did not need to read further to know that the new Local Rule – so new today is the first day it could be used - eliminating the penalty for accidental movement of the ball on the putting green must be in effect. That left only one question requiring an answer, ‘Was the movement accidental?’ Even the most unsure of detectives could deduce that the movement was not intentional, for what purpose would it serve to move the ball backward?
The end result, as I’ve previously stated is that the ball must be replaced and no penalty is incurred. It really was a good idea for you to call me in, Lestrade.”