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.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year! Sherlock Holmes the Rules Official

            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.”

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.