Monday, February 26, 2018

Lexi's (Newest) Penalty

On Friday at the LPGA Thailand, Lexi Thompson incurred another penalty, this time for a breach of Rule 13-2 by removing a TIO  from her line of play (or area of intended swing).  The issue at hand was a large sponsor sign that impeded her line of play. I cannot confirm whether it physically interfered with her area of intended swing, but the breach is the same whether it interfered with her swing physically or with her line of play. 

Either way, per the Notice to Players for this event, the sign was deemed to be a TIO, which meant that relief was to be taken by lifting and dropping the ball at a spot in accordance with the Local Rule, rather than moving the sign.  Because there was help nearby, she had the sign moved out of her way.

Moving something that is deemed to be fixed (such as a TIO) in order to improve your area of intended swing or line of play is a breach of Rule 13-2, which comes with a two-stroke penalty in stroke play.

I can feel for Lexi on this one, but the situation emphasizes the importance of reading the Local Rules. In some events, signage like this would be treated as a movable obstruction when readily-movable. In other events (like this one), championship staff do not want players moving the signs for any reason and therefore deem the item to be a TIO, which grants relief for line of play intervention, but does not permit the player to move the object.  I can even reference situations where a sign like this would be treated as either a movable obstruction or a TIO depending on whether the player can readily move the object.

How a player has to treat the object depends 100% on the verbiage in the Notice to Players.  Since I am not privy to the Notice for this event, I cannot specify the exact verbiage that was used, but given the penalty it is safe to say this event specified the sponsor signs (or maybe even just the signs on this particular hole) were deemed to be TIOs. Therefore, even though she was able to move the sign rather quickly and without causing damage to the course, the proper method for obtaining relief was to lift and drop the ball in a position that provided relief in accordance with the Local Rule.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

President's Cup Ruling

Here's a written explanation of what just occurred at the President's Cup:

On the 12th hole, Louis Oosthuizen had a chip shot (putt from off the putting green) that was well passed the hole when Jordan Spieth stopped and scooped the ball up while it was still in motion.

The argument is that there was no possibility of this ball going into the hole and the United States had already conceded a birdie to the International team and Oosthuizen could no longer make a birdie or better once his ball passed the hole.

There is one problem, the ball was still in motion. A player is not permitted to exert influence on the movement of a ball while it is still in motion. Even if you say that Spieth was conceding the next stroke, a concession may not be made while the ball is still in motion. It has to come to rest.

The Rule in question is Rule 1-2 which is an intent-based Rule. Spieth clearly did not intend anything untoward, however he did intend to influence the ball in motion by stopping and lifting it (unaware that doing so would be a penalty because of the certainty that the ball would no longer have an impact on the hole).  The penalty for a breach of Rule 1-2 is loss of hole in match play.  Because the format is four-ball match play and this breach did not assist Spieth’s partner, the result is that Spieth was disqualified from the hole – so the birdie putt he had remaining no longer mattered.

I realize this does not seem fair or sensible given that there was no ill-will and the action had no effect on the result of the hole (other than the penalty of course). But the Rule is clear, you need to let the ball come to rest, you cannot influence the movement of a ball in motion.

For those wondering why Rule 19-3 does not apply, Rule 19-3 applies to when a ball is accidentally stopped or deflected. Spieth's stopping of the ball was clearly not accidental and therefore Rule 1-2 must be applied.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Interesting Rulings - Simple Yet Complex

This past weekend I had the honor and pleasure of working with the PGA Tour Champions crew at the Pure Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee here at Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach.  It was really a fairly quiet weekend, but the tour has a really great crew of officials to work with and the fantastic weather also helped make for a memorable weekend on tour.

It’s fun for me to work an event like this because I get to be the rookie again. The stories I got to hear from officials who’ve been working on this tour or another for 30 plus years all gave valuable insights to improve my own officiating.  It’s also fun to get just a little bit of jitters again when that 40 seconds of sheer terror comes up amongst the 4 (12) hours of boredom.

Anyway, I’m certainly not going to talk in depth about any inner-workings (except that if you hear anyone say the Tours don’t care about pace of play – that person is wrong), but I did have two interesting rulings that are worth discussing for their educational value.

Parts of the Course and the Impact of Local Rules
On Friday, I was on the 18th hole at Poppy Hills and Scott McCarron waved me over.  His ball was in a “Natural Sandy Area” and he just wanted to confirm that it was actually an NSA and not a bunker.  I confirmed for him and he followed up by asking if stones in the NSA were movable obstructions like they are in bunkers (by Local Rule).  I explained that the stones in an NSA are loose impediments and could be moved provided the ball is not moved in the process.  That was the end of the interaction but immediately the gears started turning…

With the Local Rule making stones in bunkers in effect, one of the fundamental hierarchies of the Rules of Golf suffered a little dent.  Typically, areas that are through the green are treated more favorably under the Rules than hazards (bunkers and water hazards).  For example, through the green a player may move loose impediments without penalty provided the ball is not moved, however in a hazard, Rule 13-4 prohibits that action when the ball lies in the same hazard.  By using the Local Rule, bunkers get to be treated in a more favorable fashion than the NSA’s by changing the status of a stone to movable obstruction. If the player accidentally moves the ball in the process of moving a movable obstruction, there is no penalty (and the ball must be replaced).  So with the Local Rule, a player could accidentally move their ball in play while moving a stone in a bunker, and not incur a penalty, however the same action in an NSA would result in a one-stroke penalty thereby making through the green a harsher place to end up than the bunker – at least as far as stones are concerned.

I’m not making a comment on whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, but it was just an interesting wrinkle about the effect of certain Local Rules on the big picture.

Jay Haas and the Tree by a Cart Path (this one’s for your Spooner)
Frequently, we get rulings that are very simple on the outside but involve a significant amount of Rules subsets to complete. In this case, I dealt with a simple case of giving relief from a cart path, but the number of Rules involved I believe hit double digits by the time all was said and done.

Jay Haas called for a ruling on the 9th hole at Poppy Hills and I was nearest so I headed over.  When I got there his ball was on the edge of the cart path with a bushy tree directly next to it.  He said he was looking for his relief point. The way his ball was sitting and the way the tree interfered with a normal direction of play I had to ask, “Ok, so the question is what shot would you play if the cart path weren’t here?”  He looks at me and says, “That’s just it… I think the only shot I can play here is a little pitch out backwards away from the hole,” and he takes his stance and demonstrates how he’d play a pitch out.  That shot was perfectly reasonable and so he was entitled to relief – for that stroke (see Decision 24-2b/17). 

So his nearest point of relief ended up being about a yard into the middle of the bushy tree. The diagram in Decision 24-2b/3.7 highlights how this works pretty well. Fortunately, this wasn’t actually a tree trunk, just in the branches and he was able to get a tee down on the ground at his nearest point of relief.  He measured his one club-length and at first measured in an angle toward the path such that the club-length got him out of the tree to a position where he could play a right-handed shot.  The problem is, if he dropped the ball at the point he was looking at, he would still have interference from the path – for the backwards stroke he was taking relief for.  So I explained he has to drop where he has complete relief for the backwards stroke and he adjust the club-length and dropped accordingly.
The first drop rolled to where he could play right-handed, but still had interference for the backwards stroke. So I had him re-drop with the same result.

For those following the count, we started with Rule 24-2b with two situations supported by 24-2b Decisions. Now we’re in the middle of Rule 20-2c because he’s dropping.
He tried to place the ball where it first struck the ground on the second drop and it didn’t stay put. He tried again and it wouldn’t stay put. So now we’ve moved on to Rule 20-3d and he had to place the ball at the nearest point no nearer the hole where it would stay at rest. This was only an inch away and the ball stayed put.

In many cases, this would be the end of it, but as Haas attempted to take his stance one of the lower branches was pushed back a little, and it seemed potentially unnecessary.  He asked if it was OK - which was a key point to me - because it meant he was attempting to take his stance fairly. We’ve now moved into Rule 13-2 territory. (I’ll break this down piece by piece shortly).  I explained to Haas that he needed to take the least intrusive method of taking his stance, which meant that if it were possible for him to take his stance without moving that branch back, that’s how he had to stand. So he did some shuffling and managed a fairly wide stance with the branch back in its original position.
At this point he stepped out of this stance and walked onto the path to his caddie but was concerned because he said that was not his normal stance and thought he could back into the position the way he originally did. I explained that if he’s able to take his stance without bending the branch, that’s how he had to do it, but if it were not possible to take his stance without doing so, that’s when it would be permitted.  Meanwhile, a good chunk of time had passed and we were several yards from the ball, when the ball decided it had its own plans and rolled about six inches down the slope. And now we’re in Rule 18-2 – really Decision 18-2/0.5 and have to make a determination.

Since he had not taken any actions near the ball besides taking his stance (club had not been grounded, no ground within a club of the ball had been touched), the ball was already perched precariously, we were some distance from the ball when it moved and there was a significant amount of time between any actions occurring and the ball moving, it was less likely than not that he had caused the ball to move.  Therefore, he had to play the ball from the new position.

So with the ball in the new position he again took his stance, partially in the tree and was able to take his normal stance without moving the branch. He played, said thank you for the help and the ruling was finally complete.  But as you can see, a fairly simple ruling on the outside (cart path relief) involved many different Rules to finally resolve the entire situation.  Furthermore, it required an understanding within certain Rules to make sure the procedure and eventual stance were correct.

We’re at an interesting time in the Rules of Golf world, because we are nearing the largest re-working of the Rule book since 1984. Many golfers are looking for “simpler” Rules. It is important to understand that the Rules are complex due to the infinite nature of golf’s playing field.  There are no trees on the 50 yard line or on a basketball court that could influence the game. No cart paths running through the middle of a baseball diamond.  So in golf, in order to give relief for things that interfere with the proper playing of the game, Rules have to be created to make sure every player takes relief in the same manner. So even with a new code coming out, there will still be complex rulings and situations that require in-depth knowledge to satisfactorily resolve situations.

For example, in the new Rules, the essence of Rule 13-2 still exists (proposed Rule 8.1). In the ruling above, I had to work through many aspects of Rule 13-2 to get to the proper result and the same process will still have to be followed under Rule 8.1. Here’s the breakdown:

Haas was taking his stance in a tree with some branches.  Rule 13-2 prohibits a player from “improving” a specific area.  So first, I had to determine if he was making an improvement.  Decision 13-2/0.5 explains that an improvement would be something that gives the player a potential advantage. Next, there are four specific areas that a player cannot improve: lie of ball, area of stance or swing, line of play or area where he is dropping a ball.  The area of stance and swing were involved here and the branch being moved would be an improvement.  So the Rules still applies.  

Next, there are only specific actions that a player may not take if it improves one of the four protected areas.  The second one listed is “moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed.” That was the case here as Haas was moving a branch from a growing tree.  However, there are exceptions where the player would not be penalized even if one of the protected areas were improved. The second bullet is “in fairly taking his stance.”

The term “fairly taking his stance” is explained in Decision 13-2/1 and the key points from the decision are that 1) the player is not entitled to a normal stance or swing and 2) the player should select the least intrusive course of action that results in the minimum improvement of the area.  While Haas was taking his stance, this was the determination that needed to be made. The last part, was that Haas had improved a protected area but did so while attempting to fairly take his stance. Now Decision 13-2/1.1 discusses the situation and we get to the result of no penalty because 1) the branch was moved while attempting to take his stance fairly and 2) the branch was returned to its original position before the stroke was made.

Under the proposed Rule 8.1 the same exact process is followed to get to the same result, the only difference being that the key points of Decisions 13-2/0.5, 13-2/1 and 13-2/1.1 have been brought out into the Rule itself, eliminating the need to know a supporting Decision. The Rule is still complex and involves a decent amount of knowledge to apply it properly, but it has to be there to protect the nature of the game. It is easier to understand, but it is not necessarily “simpler” – and that’s OK.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ben Crane's 8 Penalty Strokes

                At the Boise Open, Ben Crane received a total of 8 penalty strokes and it had nothing to do with a scorecard mistake. Let’s take a closer look at the situation to see the Rules in action behind it:

The Violation (as a whole)
Crane first noticed that he had left the dot sticker (used to collect TrackMan data) on his driver on the 11th tee, and then later noticed at the 14th hole that he had left the dot sticker also on his 6-iron. Unfortunately, the dot stickers are external attachments and much like adhesive tape (see Decision 4-1/5) they render a club non-conforming when not removed. The good news for Crane, he only carried the non-conforming clubs, he did not use them.

The First Penalty
The penalty in stroke play for carrying, but not using a non-conforming club is two strokes for every hole at which the breach occurred with a maximum penalty of four strokes per round (Rule 4-1). When Crane discovered his driver in breach of the Rules he was between the play of two holes. The penalty statement for Rule 4-1 and 4-2 says a breach discovered between the play of two holes is deemed to have been discovered during play of the next hole, which means Crane was deemed to be in breach of Rule 4-1 for two holes. This resulted in two penalty strokes on his first hole (the 10th hole) AND his second hole (the 11th) for a total of four penalty strokes.  Furthermore, the club in breach of the Rules (his driver) had to be declared out of play for the rest of the round.

The Second Penalty
A few holes later on the 14th hole, Crane discovered that the dot sticker was also still on his 6-iron. This is considered a completely separate violation because of the new discovery.  For those who think this is harsh, look at it this way: when he discovered the dot on his driver he should have ensured that all his clubs were free of the dot stickers.  So Crane incurred two additional penalty strokes in each of his first two holes (the 10th and 11th holes) because those were the first two holes he was in violation. 

And again, he was required to declare the 6-iron out of play for the rest of his round.
So the end result is that Crane incurred a total of 8 penalty strokes that were incurred as two separate four penalty stroke situations and applied to the score card as four separate two-stroke penalties. I still say that may not be the worst of it, because he still had to play the remainder of his round – without a driver and 6-iron.

Crane doesn’t mention having to declare the clubs out of play in his interview, but that is what the Rules require if you ever find yourself in that situation.

UPDATE: Crane late talked to officials and explained that he was aware of the 6-iron dot sticker at the time he was dealing with the driver dot sticker. Since he failed to declare the 6-iron out of play immediately he was disqualified. The Tour's explanation that I tweeted ran a fairly good summary.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Amateur Match Play Fun and Other Commentary

With the close of the Amateur Match Play Championship, the NCGA Championship season is officially over the hump and on the way cruising to our lengthy off-season of December 31-January1. Fortunately, there were no major Rules incidents of note, but I do get to share a video of some of the play during the second 18 of the Championship Match.

The 5th hole at Spyglass Hill is a challenging par 3 with a very uniquely shaped green.  The back right hole location forces anyone who leaves their tee shot short right to come up with a crafty solution to have a reasonable par putt.  Shintaro Ban took wedge out.  While we were standing there, I had a brief discussion with the Referee for the match about reminding Shintaro that he can't strike the flagstick since the stroke is from the putting green.  However, he knew the Rule well and his caddie attended the flagstick without any prompt from the peanut gallery.

I apologize for the sideways video, but my editing techniques are getting rusty...

The Championship match went all the way to the final hole, with Isaiah Salinda narrowly edging out the defending champ Shintaro Ban with a win at the final hole and a 1 up victory.

Throughout the week in my conversations with our many referees, I was reminded that there have been several Rules controversies/situations that have occurred recently that I had not given much commentary on.  So below are some of my comments.

Jordan Spieth at the British Open
I'm sure glad I didn't have to figure this one out on live international television.  Spieth declared his ball unplayable and used his 28b "flagline" option to get the ball to a spot where his TIO relief would move him to the right of the equipment trailers. Great work by the Referee to use the radio and get staff and rover support to make sure the proper relief and reference points were determined.  Yes it took a while, but that ruling was not as simple as just knowing the Rules involved.

Erica Shepherd and the Putt That Wasn't
I had the honor of working the Girls' Junior Championship, but had already headed back home by the time this incident occurred.  The bottom line: always double check with your opponent before moving your ball. For those of you that think there's a sportsmanship element to this - get over it. It is extremely likely that this violation would have been enforced regardless of Shepherd's initial comment that Moon's putt hadn't been conceded. As an aside to those who actually commented negatively to Shepherd on social media, if you're on Twitter trolling a 16-year old because she stated a fact, I think you've got some problems.

The Bunker Liner
Another situation I did not witness, but a player on Tour received free relief for interference from the bunker liner when his ball was not lying well. He was still required to drop in the bunker but it gave him a much better shot at the ball.  The bottom line - that's what the Rule says.  He had interference from an immovable obstruction in the bunker. He was entitled to relief. It pays to know the Rules (or at least enough to ask for help).

Poulter and Virtual Certainty
There was a bit of volume surrounding a ruling with Ian Poulter during the final round of the PGA Championship. I happen to know the Referee involved and I feel for him - because the two players clearly didn't fully understand the concept of virtual certainty and how it applies. Just like Spieth at the British Open, I'm glad I didn't have to figure this one out on international television. More than that, in the end the situation that arose (by finding the original ball outside the hazard after 5 minutes - see Definition of Lost Ball - but before one had been put into play under the water hazard Rule, he had a situation that literally is not fully contemplated by the Rules). CS, I feel for ya.

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).