Sunday, December 9, 2012

Top 10 Golf Rulings of 2012

            This time of year is made specifically for Top 10 Lists, and the Rules of Golf are not exempt from ranking and picking apart the top 10 incidents from 2012.  This year there were lots of little movements and loud uproars and a couple of the usual “well duh!” moments.  Here is my list of the top 10 Rulings for 2012:

10.            Be Careful What You Brush For

2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, Round 2, Hole 9 – Rory McIlroy was penalized 2 strokes for brushing sand off his line of play on the fringe.  The penalty falls under Rule 13-2 for improving the line of play by removing sand.  Much of the confusion over the ruling is that you are permitted to remove loose impediments on your line of play without penalty.  Sand and loose soil, however, are loose impediments only on the putting green by definition. 

McIlroy had mixed emotions, both admitting his guilt and questioning the common sense of the Rule. “Just made a very stupid mental mistake on 9 that cost me 2 strokes,” he said, “It’s a bit of a weird rule.  You can move a loose impediment like a divot out of your line.  You can’t move sand.  It’s a tricky rule.” Well, a lot of the Rules are tricky, Rory, but if you’re going to be number 1, you better know them.

9.            Change Without Change

2012 Wells Fargo Championship, Round 2, Hole 11 – Ryan Moore was penalized one stroke after his ball moved slightly after he had addressed it on the putting green of the 11th hole at Quail Hollow.  This incident highlighted the new change to Rule 18-2b which now includes an Exception where players can escape penalty if they didn’t cause their ball to move.  Unfortunately for Moore, his situation did not fall under that Exception and he was still subject to penalty under 18-2b (and the ball must be replaced).  “I thought that was the whole point of the Rule change after Webb Simpson’s incident last year, “ Moore said, “…because I certainly did not make the ball move and I thought that was the whole point of the Rule change.”

Well Ryan, the point of the Rule change was for situations where the player clearly did not make the ball move, like sudden gusts of wind or other elements.  A new Decision accompanied the Rule change (18-2b/11), which specifically states that gravity is not a force to be considered when trying to apply the new Exception to a ruling.  The ultimate result of this incident was one of the better Rules related quotes of the year: “It’s unfortunate that they somehow changed the Rules without changing it.  I don’t know how they did that.”

8.            Put it Back…No YOU put it back

2012 PGA Championship, Final Round, Hole 9 – My favorite ruling of the year raised more eyebrows at the insane idiosyncrasies of the Rules than at the ruling itself.  On the 9th hole, Carl Pettersson hit his ball right.  A small boy grabbed the ball and moved it.  After realizing his mistake the boy put it back close to the correct spot, but not quite correct.  Upon arrival on the scene, another spectator helped Rules Official Brad Gregory and Pettersson out by replacing the ball in the exact spot.  There was only one problem:  under Rule 20-3, only the player, his partner (not applicable here) or the person who originally lifted the ball can replace it.  The helpful spectator was none of those and so Brad Gregory had Pettersson lift the ball slightly and replace it himself.  It seemed silly to those watching on national television, and would have seemed sillier if they had mentioned Pettersson would’ve received a one stroke penalty had he not followed Gregory’s instructions, but the Rules are the Rules.

7.            To Be, Or Not To Be…A Bunker

2012 PGA Championship, Kiawah Island (Ocean Course) – Although the announcement did not come as a shocker to golf Rules insiders, when the PGA released the Condition of Competition that all sandy areas at the Ocean Course would be played as “through the green” the golf world started hooting and hollering.  Had Dustin Johnson not been penalized two years prior for a situation that could have been averted through use of the same Condition, this may have passed unnoticed.  The PGA had used this Condition every time they had come to Kiawah, most notably in the 1991 Ryder Cup.

Throughout the championships, TV commentators kept sharing their shock at seeing players take practice swings in the sand and pointing out their own slip-ups at calling the sandy areas “bunkers” because they were no longer bunkers under the Rules.  Frankly, if TV commentators pointed out all the missed terminology they use on a regular basis they wouldn’t have any time to say anything else.  All-in-all, it was just another conversation piece for the Rules of Golf, for better or worse.

6.            Better to be Lucky than Good

2012 Crowne Plaza Invitational (Colonial), Final Round, Hole 18 – The record books will forever show that Zach Johnson won at Colonial by a nail-biting one stroke over Jason Dufner.  The part of the story that leaves out is the penalty that made it that close.  After blasting out from the bunker, Zach Johnson marked his ball and moved it a putter head to get out of Jason Dufner’s line of putt.  At the time he had a three-stroke lead.  Zach then made the putt, but he had forgotten to move his ball marker back to the original spot.  This gave him a two-stroke penalty under Rule 20-7c for playing from a wrong place. 

The big question everyone wondered is why no one reminded Zach to replace his marker, but Zach took it like a man and owned up, “I just feel very lucky.  That’s all.  As I said earlier there are a number of adjectives that I’m calling myself right now, and lucky is the biggest one I can think of.” Lucky that he played well enough to have a three-stroke lead coming into the 72nd hole.

5.            The High-Definition Empire Strikes Again

2012 U.S. Senior Open, First Round, Hole 5 – During the first round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship Corey Pavin was assessed a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 18-2b when his ball moved after address and he failed to replace it.  The catch was that it took some serious slow-motion film to even determine the breach had occurred.  Looking at the video, the ball moved about half an inch downward after Pavin soled his club lightly in the rough behind the ball.  That in itself is a one-stroke penalty under 18-2b.  The additional stroke comes because he was supposed to replace the ball at its original spot and he did not. 

The whole situation was well handled as Jeff Hall from the USGA took Pavin to the control room and showed him the footage of the ball moving.  The best part was Pavin’s instant acceptance and high class reaction to the ruling, “That’s the rules, and they were enforced properly, and I saw it on tape, and it's definitely what happened. The ball moved.  I didn’t think it did when I was out on the golf course…I was glad they brought it to my attention.” He revealed himself to be one of the great guys in golf as controversy surrounding slow-mo cameras and the Rules grew once again.

4.            Did I do that?

2012 Open Championship, Final Round, Hole 7 – After all the controversy surrounding moving golf balls in the past two years, the entire world let out a collective, “Uh oh,” as we watched Adam Scott’s ball roll down the slope a few yards from its original spot.  Even more surprising to most was what could best be described as a “No Call” as the walking Rules Official determined that there was no penalty. 

Adam Scott had taken a few practice swings fairly close to the ball.  He walked away and about 10 seconds later, when he was a few yards away from the ball it began to roll.  He had not addressed the ball so he would only incur a penalty under 18-2a if it was determined that his practice strokes had caused the ball to move.  Much to Paul Azinger’s and Senior R & A Official Peter Dawson’s dismay up in the booth, the walking official determined that he had not caused the ball to move.  There was no penalty and Scott had to play the ball from its new location.

The two most notable issues with this incident were 1) television’s absolute incompetence at covering the Rules as it showed a graphic about 18-2b, which was not the Rule involved, alongside Azinger’s ranting and, 2) Peter Dawson throwing his Rules official under the bus on national television – ouch.  After careful consideration I think the Rules community agrees that it was a good “no call,” but it was not handled as well as it should have been for the final group in the final round of a major.  It would have been a major uproar had Scott gone on to win.

3.            Not Having a Good Time

2012 Sybase Match Play Championship, Semi-Final Match, Hole 12 – Morgan Pressel thought she had just won the 12th hole to go 3 up only to find out from the Official Timer, the late Doug Brecht, that she had missed her time by 39 seconds on the 12th hole.  It was a loss of hole penalty and the resulting 2 hole swing left her 1 up.  Pressel ended up losing the match to Azahara Munoz 2 and 1, and Munoz won the Sybase Match Play the next day.

Although both players had been warned about slow play at the 9th hole, it was clear to everyone that Munoz was the slow player of the group and was solely responsible for holding the group back.  Unfortunately, it was Pressel who exceeded her allotted time several holes later.   Pressel proceeded to increase the tension after accusing Munoz of touching her line of putt on the 15th hole, which would have been a loss of hole penalty under Rule 16-1a, except Tour officials could find no evidence of such a breach.  Pressel was fuming after the round and when asked for comment she was heard saying, “Not a chance.”

The golf world had a mixed reaction.  Some were glad that a major Tour was finally penalizing players for slow play, and just as many were upset that the Tour would enforce pace of play in such a match-altering manner.  “It’s an unfortunate situation,“ said Heather Daly-Donofrio, the Senior Vice President of Tour Operations. “This is one of those days where it is very tough to be an LPGA official.  It’s not an easy thing to deliver a pace of play penalty to a player in a situation like this.”

2.            Leaf Litter

2012 PGA Championship, Final Round, Hole 1 – He didn’t find out until the fourth hole, but Carl Pettersson had caused a leaf to move during the backswing for his stroke at his ball lying in the hazard on the first hole.  Under Rule 13-4c that is a two-stroke penalty for moving a loose impediment in a hazard when your ball lies in the same hazard.  Slow-motion video revealed that he had in fact brushed the grass during his backswing and whether directly or indirectly that movement had caused a small leaf to flutter.  The golf world was furious that such a small action could result in a two-stroke penalty that could have such a serious impact on the result of the championship. 

Pettersson was unhappy for a different reason.  He had checked about his rights before the stroke, “I double checked with the official to make sure I could brush the grass as long as I didn’t put any weight on the ground with the clubhead, and he said sure.  I wish he would have mentioned the leaves, too.  I was just trying to hit the ball.  I didn’t even think twice about it.”  Many people questioned the nature of the Rule suggesting that no significant advantage was gained from his action, but unfortunately for Pettersson, that’s not what the Rule says. 

1.            Inter-touchdown-ception!

November 28, 2012 from the USGA and R&A – The verdict is still out on the potential impact of the anchoring ban that was announced at the end of November.  The controversy that has surrounded this issue for the entire year makes it worthy of the number one spot for 2012’s Top 10 Rulings.

The new Rule 14-1b, if confirmed, will not go into effect until January 1, 2016 at the next Rules change.  The announcement came and officially divided the golf world, particularly after the PGA of America’s President wrote a letter pleading with the ruling bodies to reconsider the ban.  The USGA’s Mike Davis helped make the announcement and stated that the new Rule is not based on specific data or any potential advantage anchoring might give a player.  Our conclusion is that the Rules of Golf should be amended to preserve the traditional character of the golf swing by eliminating the growing practice of anchoring the club,” Davis said. 

Basically, the ruling bodies saw something they didn’t like and will have it eliminated in 2016, but until then the controversy will continue with players who legally use the anchored stroke.  In an incident at Tiger’s tournament, the World Challenge, a heckler called Keegan Bradley a “cheater” and prompted a swift response from the USGA who called the act “deplorable.”  

Since the new Rule is not officially confirmed, there is still hope for many that the ruling bodies will reconsider, but it is highly unlikely.  I’ve personally said my piece on the issue, but we all know that this isn’t over by a long shot.

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