Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jordan Spieth’s Unusual Drop Sequence

             During the second round of the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, Jordan Spieth found his ball lying in a very unique situation.  On hole #7, It was in the middle of an artificially-surfaced golf car path, but also in the middle of a puddle of casual water in the middle of the path. 
            Spieth was presented with a unique conundrum, he was entitled to relief from the immovable obstruction (path) or the abnormal ground condition (casual water). He was not required to take relief from either and in fact, could take relief from one and still end up in a position where there is interference from the other.  He discussed the options with PGA of America Rules Official Brad Gregory, a former Chairman of the PGA Rules Committee and one of the most knowledgeable Rules Officials in the world. Gregory explained his nearest point of relief from the path would force him to stand in the tree branches, so Spieth looked into taking relief from just the casual water.
Gregory had Spieth demonstrate the stroke, stance and direction of play with the club he would’ve used had the casual water not been present.  This club, stance and direction of play was left of the tree in front of him and angled slightly left. The determined the nearest point of relief on the left side of the puddle, but Gregory explained that Spieth could measure the one club-length in any direction, provided the ball is dropped in a position that avoids interference from the puddle.
Spieth tried dropping on a spot diagonally backward from the nearest point of relief, but it was determined that the spot where the ball was dropped (after two drops and a place) was actually in a position where there was still interference. So Rule 20-6 (Lifting Ball Incorrectly Substituted, Dropped or Place) wipes those drops out, and Spieth’s “drop count” was still 0. Along with Gregory’s assistance, Spieth tried to find a spot diagonally right from the nearest point of relief that did have complete interference that was within one club-length.  Spieth found the spot, dropped twice (actually there were two proper drops, he dropped outside the applicable area at one point also), each time rolling forward to a position where there was still interference, and demonstrated to Gregory a stance with a new direction of play.  Gregory caught on to this and had Spieth demonstrate the originally determined stance and direction of play which was finally free of the casual water.  The ball was finally in play properly and relief for that particular situation was complete.
Spieth was then entitled to change his direction of play, stance and/or club if desired to play the stroke.  If interference occurred with the new stroke, he would be entitled to relief for the new situation.  When he played this new stroke his toe hovered over the puddle, and judging by Gregory’s initial conversation with Spieth that water was still visible on the surface just surrounding the edge of the puddle his foot was definitely touching casual water, but that’s ok.
While many have cited various Decisions in the Rules of Golf supporting this ruling, (all of which are relevant and do support the ruling), the heart of the issue, boils down to the Definitions, the most basic building blocks for the Rules of Golf.
The Definition of Nearest Point of Relief is “the point on the course nearest to where the ball lies that is (i) not nearer the hole and (ii) where, if the ball were so positioned, no interference by the condition from which relief is sought would exist for the stroke the player would have made from the original position if the condition were not there.”
From the very beginning, Gregory had Spieth proceeding on the basis of a specific swing, stance and direction of play – a specific stroke – that Spieth would have made if the casual water had not been present. That specific stroke is what Spieth was entitled to relief for and he had to obtain complete relief for that stroke, not a different one.  Gregory, through a bunch of drops, discussion and demonstration successfully managed to get Spieth in a position where complete relief was obtained for the stroke Spieth would have made had the casual water not been present. Despite common belief, Spieth was not then locked into actually using that original stroke for his next play. He was entitled to change directions, stance or even clubs if he wished (this is where Decisions 20-2c/0.8, 24-2b/4, 24-2b/17 and 25-1b/22 provide a lot of support). 

With the new position of the ball further toward the middle of the path, he decided he was able to play a new shot around the trees for a better play at the green.  This new stance put his toe most likely in the casual water. If Spieth wanted to go through the ordeal again and drop for this new type of stroke, he was actually entitled to do so.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Villegas [Not] Embedded Ball

     During the first round of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town we witnessed a unique exchange between Camillo Villegas and PGA Tour Rules Official Gary Young.  Villegas' ball had come to rest buried and embedded in a pile of pine straw and sand.  Villegas called for a ruling to make sure he dropped correctly and was surprised when the official denied him relief. He called in Young for a second opinion and was again disappointed.
     From the video there is no doubt that Villegas' ball was plugged but it was plugged in the sand and some of the loose impediments that surround the course at Harbour Town.  While the local Rule entitling a player to relief for a ball embedded in its own pitch-mark through the green was in effect (as it is for all PGA Tour events per their Hard Card), there is a little-known exception to the Local Rule: "A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if the ball is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely-mown."
    So yes, Villegas' ball may have been embedded, however, because it was embedded in sand in an area that was not closely-mown he was not entitled to relief.   Young correctly ruled that the ball needed to break the surface of the actual ground and not just the sand and loose material on top of the ground in order for Villegas to be entitled to free relief.


Friday, April 8, 2016

Masters Ruling: Huh?

               On the 18th hole during the second round of the Masters, Bryson Dechambeau found himself in a tie for second place, but also far further left than he had wanted and already laying 3 after using the stroke and distance option of the Ball Unplayable Rule (Rule 28). However, his ball had come to rest in a unique position near a concession area that was defined by the Committee as a temporary immovable obstruction.  One of the options a Committee may make available to a player for intervention by a TIO (intervention is when the TIO intervenes on a player’s line of play and directly between the ball and the hole), is that the player may find the nearest point where relief is available on either side of the TIO, without penalty.
                Dechambeau used this option to go to the other side of the concession area. One thing that makes TIO rulings complicated is that the local Rule (see Appendix I-A-4b) states that a player still has interference if the ball is within one club-length of a point where intervention exists.  For that reason, the Rules official terminology for the relief procedure is “more than one, less than two.”  This is why there were two tees where Dechambeau had measured the one club-length from the nearest point where intervention did not exist.  He was then required to drop within a club-length beyond that initial measured area.
                TIO intervention situations don’t occur often in amateur events, so Dechambeau actually dropped the ball inside the one club-length “alley-way” the first time.  Dechambeau was required to correct this mistake under Rule 20-6 and the referee correctly told him to pick up the ball and drop it again outside the “alley-way”.  From this point on, the only way the ruling makes sense is if that ball came to rest within two club-lengths of where it first struck the course on the drop, and if that is the case the referee did an amazing job in an incredibly complex situation. 
So if the ball was at rest on the road within two club-lengths of where the drop had struck the course, it was properly in play and the next step was for Dechambeau to take relief from the road, an immovable obstruction, by finding his nearest point of relief and dropping within one club-length of that point, no nearer the hole (Rule 24-2b). The referee determined that the nearest point of relief had to be on the opposite side of the road (which it would have been) from where he was originally and had him proceed accordingly. Both of his drops rolled back onto the road, so Rule 20-2c required him to place the ball where it first struck the course on the re-drop.

However, upon watching the situation unfold and then after carefully reviewing the video footage, it appears that the ball came to rest well over two club-lengths from where it first struck the course on the second drop. If that is the case, Dechambeau should have been required to re-drop the ball, and if it rolled more than two club-lengths again he would have placed it – on the original (right-hand) side of the road.  If he were then standing on the road, he would have been entitled to relief, but his nearest point of relief would more than likely have remained on that original side of the road.  The apparent misstep actually worked to Dechambeau’s benefit as he was able to advance the ball to the green more easily from where he eventually ended up.
Either way, because Dechambeau was acting under the guidance of the referee, he would be absolved from the ball ending up in the wrong place.

Monday, March 7, 2016

JB Holmes and the Serious Breach

                On the first hole during the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, JB Holmes found some early trouble and went afoul of the Rules, resulting in a rare “must correct” situation.
                Holmes had pulled his tee shot on the first hole left of the fairway into the adjacent water hazard.  Under Rule 26-1c, one of his options for relief, under penalty of one stroke, was to drop within two club-lengths of a point on the opposite margin of the hazard that was equidistant to the hole from the point where his ball last crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard.  However, that is not where Holmes dropped a ball.  He correctly identified the equidistant point on the opposite margin, but instead of dropping within two club-lengths, he dropped the ball about 25 yards back on a line that kept the equidistant point between where he dropped the ball and the hole.  This is a hybrid between two options of the water hazard Rule and unfortunately when he played the ball that meant he had played from a wrong place.
                Holmes played two more strokes before he was approached by officials at the putting green who informed him of the incorrect drop and that the Committee considered it to be a serious breach of playing from a wrong place.  This is where the ruling gets interesting.
                When Holmes played from the wrong place, he incurred a penalty of two strokes, regardless of whether the Committee deemed it to be a serious breach.  The difference is that a serious breach of playing from a wrong place (see Rule 20-7c) must be corrected prior to playing from the next teeing ground or the player would be disqualified. Officials had Holmes return to the hazard and drop a ball correctly under Rule 26-1c and play the hole.  The stroke played from the wrong place and strokes continuing play of the hole from the wrong place do not count his score.
                The most interesting part of the ruling is figuring out why this was considered a serious breach.  How to determine whether a payer has played from a wrong place is given to us in Note 1 to Rule 20-7c, which states that a serious breach of playing from a wrong place has occurred when the “Committee considers he has gained a significant advantage as a result of playing from a wrong place.”  We get two examples in the Decisions on the Rules of Golf to guide Committees in making this determination:

1) Decision 26-1/11 states that if a player treats a regular water hazard as a lateral water hazard by dropping in a place that allows the competitor to avoid negotiating the hazard, he has committed a serious breach.

2) Decision 26-1/21 states that a player who drops 50 yards or more closer to the hole than where the Rules require is guilty of a serious breach of the water hazard Rule.

In Holmes’ case, he actually dropped 25 yards further from the hole than where the Rule required, so why was it a serious breach? We have to go back to Note 1 from Rule 20-7c: the Committee considered that Holmes had gained a significant advantage by dropping further back at a spot that allowed him to play a 3-wood over the trees.  The spot where he was required to drop would not have permitted him to do so. Ultimately, whether a played has committed a serious breach is the Committee’s decision, not the player’s. In this case it is perfectly plausible to state the ability for a tour pro to use a 280 yard club, rather than a 180 or 200 yard punch shot club was a significant advantage. In the end, Holmes made a 7 on the hole, including the two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of the water hazard rule (Rule 26) and the one-stroke penalty for taking relief from the water hazard.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Rory McIlroy's Driver

            On the 18th hole at the WGC Cadillac Championship we saw a unique event that raised a few eyebrows, but was actually perfectly within the Rules.  To setup the situation, in recent years we’ve been introduced to adjustable drivers with heads that are screwed on. This has brought about a few questions regarding the Rules concerning driver adjustments.
            Today, Rory McIlroy was seen tightening the screw on his driver on the 18th tee, and rightfully so a couple questions needed to be answered: what caused him to ask for the wrench and why did he use it?
            The reason these questions needed to be answered rest in Rule 4-2. Rule 4-2 states that the playing characteristics of a club must not be adjusted or changed during the stipulated round. If McIlroy was adjusting the settings of his driver, there would be a problem.
            However, Rule 4-3 also came into play. Rule 4-3 permits a player to repair a club (without delay) that has become damaged in the normal course of play. The term damage can apply to a few things: the club could be obviously damaged, like an iron shaft that is snapped in half as the result of striking a tree in the follow through of a stroke. Or it could be less obviously damaged, as we saw today.
            McIlroy was seen tapping the driver on the ground because he heard a rattle. He discovered that the head had in fact become loose during the round, and because of Rule 4-3 he was entitled to repair the club to its original state. In this case, that meant he could tighten the loose screw back to how it was when he started.

            The end result was no penalty as he acted within the Rules. Had he tightened the screw to a different setting or otherwise changed the playing characteristics, McIlroy would’ve been disqualified for making a stroke with that club in breach of Rule 4-2. However, since he simply repaired the loose screw, Rule 4-3 provided that no penalty was the correct ruling.  Decision 4-3/2 specifies that the term "repair" means restoring the club as early as possible to its condition prior to becoming damaged. Tightening a screw loosened during the normal course of play falls well into that category. The video covers the situation quite well in the commentary.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

First Look at an Anchoring Ruling on Tour

     A little more than two years ago we first heard about anchoring and the proposed new Rule. Then several months ago, when the USGA announced the 2016 changes to the Rules of Golf, anchoring again was in the spotlight as one of the four major changes to the 2016 edition.  For the first two weeks on the PGA Tour this year, however, we’ve been hearing more about the absence of anchoring and had yet to run into any actual issues with the Rule itself.
     Until Zac Blair used a fairway wood to play a chip from the fringe on the 71st hole of the Sony Open in Hawaii and television footage caught the handle of the club clearly catching his torso at the end of the stroke. PGA Tour officials questioned Blair, and no penalty was issued because he did not intentionally anchor the club for the stroke.
     This is a great opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about the new Rule now that we’ve seen one of the potential gray areas arise in competition.

Misconception #1: The anchoring ban is specific to putters.
Truth #1:  Rule 14-1b applies to all clubs and all strokes.  The new Rule does not permit players to anchor with other clubs, however, it does not prohibit players from using long or belly putters without anchoring.

Misconception #2: If the grip touches the torso during any part of the stroke, the player is in breach of the Rule.
Truth #2: Rule 14-1b prohibits intentionally anchoring the club, either directly or through the use of an “anchor point.”  If the player’s club inadvertently comes into contact with the body, the player is not in breach of Rule 14-1b (see Decision 14-1b/6).

Misconception #3: As long as the club does not touch the body, the player is not anchoring.
Truth #3:  Rule 14-1b prohibits both direct anchoring and anchoring through the use of an “anchor point.” Note 2 to Rule 14-1b explains that, “An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.”  This means that a player may not anchor his forearm against his body with the intent of steadying the grip of the club and thereby creating a pseudo-pendulum. Even though the club itself is not anchored against the body, the use of the “anchor point” violates the new Rule and would come with a penalty.

Misconception #4: Because anchoring is a prohibited stroke, a player who does so is disqualified.
Truth #4: The penalty for a breach of Rule 14-1b is loss of hole in match play, or two strokes in stroke play for each anchored stroke.  To apply the penalty, count the anchored stroke itself and add an additional two penalty strokes.

At the Sony Open, the fact that Blair did not intentionally hold the grip against his torso meant that he was not in violation of the Rule, even though the grip clearly did come into contact with his body during the stroke. We will probably see more situations like this throughout the year; the key point to remember is that anchoring is an intent-based Rule. Without intent, there is no breach.