Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Axis and Allies: Golf Version

UPDATED 3/4/2013
            With the 90-day comment period now at an end, some definitive lines have been drawn in the golf world on the anchoring ban.  Golf Channel has covered new opinions very well, but no one has completely summarized the different sides that have quietly come about.

            I’m sure there are plenty of people or big names I have missed, but this is a pretty good summary of the battle lines.  So which side are you on?  For you, who are the axis and who are the allies?

In Favor of the Anchoring Ban:

The USGA and Royal & Ancient – Well, duh.  They proposed the ban in the first place and are showing no signs of backing down.  Word on the street before the comment period was extreme confidence in the ban going into effect come 2016.

The European Tour – The European Tour made their official announcement supporting the R&A and the anchoring ban today.  Unlike the PGA Tour, nearly all the representatives on the Player Committee were in favor of the ban.  Euro Tour Chief Executive George O'Grady noted that the issue has received more press in the United States in part due to a larger number of players using the anchored method and faster green speeds leading to the anchored method's use.

The Ladies European Tour - Officially the right side of the pond is on board with the ban.  As Geoff Shackleford noted, it's not quite Bobby Jones coming back from the dead to support the governing bodies, but it's one more Tour organization in the USGA/R&A camp. 

Sunshine Tour - The South African leg of the European Tour came out in favor of the R&A and will abide by the decision without question.

Jack Nicklaus - Jack was fairly clear who he's siding with on the issue.  Although he stated, "I've been fairly neutral on it," he is also staunchly opposed to bifurcated Rules.  "The one thing that would disturb me was if the Tour took another position other than the the USGA's final position.  The Tour has always played by one set of Rules...and I think we should stay that way."

Tiger Woods – While at one point he did admit practicing or testing anchored putting, he has always been a stalwart against it.  He stands firmly behind the USGA and believes, “all 14 clubs should be swung.”  He reaffirmed his position this week at his Honda Classic press conference.

Rory McIlroy – Rory isn’t as steadfast as Tiger, but his opinion is basically ‘trust the Rules guys’.  He understands and sympathizes with opponents of the ban, but also believes in supporting the USGA and R & A, whatever their decision may be.

Bubba Watson - He was a little late coming to the party, but the reigning Masters champion doesn't feel the anchored stroke is a true golf stroke.  Tally one more in favor of the ban.

Colin Montgomerie – In a strange launch back into relevance, Colin gave his stance, “I think we should go with what the USGA and R & A feel.”  He and Rory share the same sentiment, if the USGA and R & A ban it, go with it.

Nick Faldo – On Golf Channel’s ‘State of the Game’ he clearly felt that anchoring the putter does not constitute a stroke.  “You go back in golf history and it’s called a golf swing, not a golf hinge,” he said.

Johnny Miller – By noting himself as the first to anchor the putter up the arm (which would be legal under Rule 14-1b), he is clearly uncomfortable with anchoring the putter, but also uncomfortable with bifurcation. 

Against the Ban:

The PGA of America – The Tour made bigger headlines, but the PGA came out first, even before the comment period.  PGA President Ted Bishop wrote a strongly worded letter prior to the proposed ban’s announcement stating the PGA was not in favor of the ban.  He reiterated that position after Commissioner Finchem’s announcement this week noting that the PGA’s survey showed 63% of PGA members (club professionals or myself) are against the ban.  I question the accuracy but that’s another point.

The PGA Tour – I think this one is obvious now.  Commissioner Tim Finchem made the position quite clear.

National Golf Course Owner’s Association – These guys have a vested interest in keeping as many players in the game of golf as possible.  They don’t care about Simpson, or Bradley or Els, they care about keeping their courses afloat.  Personally, I think this is one opinion that should speak louder than others, whether I agree or not.

Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Ernie Els – I’ve grouped these guys together for a reason.  All three are obviously against the ban as the 3 major champions believed to be responsible for the proposed ban.  They argue in favor of themselves, but all three have also admitted they’ll switch if that’s what it takes.  Ernie says he won three majors with the short putter and one with the belly – he’ll find a way.  Webb stated he’s been practicing with the regular putter the whole time.  Frankly, I played against him as a junior before he switched…he’s still pretty good.  Keegan just wants people to stop calling him a cheater, which he isn’t.  So stop calling him a cheater people.

Carl Petterson and Tim Clark – I’ve separated these guys for a reason.  Tim Clark uses a long putter because he is physically unable to pronate his wrists in order to use a traditional putter.  He’s used it his whole career, and while Tim is most certainly an elite player, I don’t think anyone would say his record shows a distinct advantage for having used the long putter.  Petterson is another career long putter user.  I believe he’ll do fine with a short putter, but it will take some serious adjusting.

Brandel Chamblee – It’s hard to say with Brandel, because he’s one of the few openly in favor of bifurcation.  Which would suggest that he doesn’t necessarily oppose the ban.  However, I think his statements are pretty clear he thinks it’s a bad move and we should steer clear of this ban.

Switzerland (No opinion or on the fence):

Jason Dufner, Ricky Barnes, Geoff Ogilvy and a number of other Tour players the ban doesn’t affect – There was a good article today about the general indifference of the majority of the Tour.  The reason: the majority doesn’t use an anchored putter and really don’t think guys who anchor have an advantage over them.  What the real consensus is, however, is that they would like to stay playing under one set of Rules.

Phil Mickelson – He’s everybody’s best friend.  He likes the ban, he doesn’t like the ban; he’ll do whatever the USGA and PGA Tour eventually decide, bifurcated or not.  After his brief foot-in –the-mouth moment about taxes, I think he’s staying clear of hot button issues.

The LPGA – I think this is an interesting ‘no call’ on the LPGA’s part.  I’m not sure they have no opinion on it, but they certainly haven’t offered it.  At least they haven’t offered a public opinion, which is smart.  The more I see of Mike Whan, the more I like this (relatively) new Commish.  If all this had been settled behind closed doors before the comment period, not only would we be further along in the process, but we wouldn’t have all this speculation.

Me – Is it really the best thing for the game?  Is an anchored stroke really a stroke?  The only thing I’m sure of is that we definitely should not bifurcate and that I am definitely sick of hearing about “amateurs making Rules for the pros.”  The pros have representation on the Rules Committee, and those “amateurs” have forgotten more about the Rules of Golf and history of Golf than any of us have learned, so maybe they should get a little more respect than calling them “amateurs” when it comes to making the Rules.

Against Bifurcation:

Just about Everybody except Brandel Chamblee - I’m not trying to single Brandel out, in fact, it’s his opinion I usually value the most of Golf Channel writers and commentators.  He is, however, one of the only people I’ve seen openly come out and make a strong argument in favor of bifurcation regardless of the result of the ban.  The general consensus otherwise, is that we all want to play the same game if possible. 

What I would love to see stop, is having Tour players and commentators confuse Local Rules with bifurcation.  This even extends to Tiger who, despite his gaffe earlier in the year, is known to be fairly solid in his Rules knowledge.  The Local Rules the Tour uses on their Hard Card and otherwise, are all in accordance with USGA/R & A Rules.  They are either approved and noted in Appendix I or by Decision under 33-8 (or elsewhere), or have been specifically approved by the USGA.  Adopting a Local Rule is NOT the same as bifurcation.  Bifurcation would be the result of implementing a Rule or Condition that either waives or eliminates a Rule of Golf.  Under USGA/R & A Rules, a Local Rule may not waive a Rule of Golf (Rule 33-8b).  The Local Rules on the PGA Tour Hard Card and that are otherwise adopted (Tiger’s example was the stones in bunkers Local Rule) are permitted by the USGA and therefore are in accordance with the Rules. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jutanugarn's Unplayable Lie

           On the 72nd hole of the Honda LPGA Thailand, Ariya Jutanugarn found her ball lying precariously near (possibly in) the lip of the greenside bunker after her 2nd stroke on the par-5 18th.  She needed a bogey to win outright over Inbee Park who was already in at 12-under par.  She was forced to declare her ball unplayable and take a drop in the bunker.  The situation left some wondering why she had to drop in the bunker.
            First, many questioned whether the ball was in the bunker or not.  It appeared to be mostly touching the grass-covered lip.  It was clear, however, that her ball was touching sand which was part of the bunker.  According to the definition of bunker, a ball is in the bunker when it lies in or any part of it touches the bunker.  Her ball being in the bunker meant two things: 1) whether or not the ball was embedded was irrelevant.  She would not be entitled to relief for a ball embedded in a bunker.  2) if she decided to take an unplayable, she would be required to drop the ball in the bunker unless she proceeded under stroke and distance.
            Proceeding under stroke and distance would have required her to return back to her previous spot where she attempted to reach the green in two.  That significant disadvantage led her to use one of her other two options under Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable).  Under Rule 28, her remaining two options, under penalty of one stroke, were to a) drop the ball within two club-lengths of where it originally lay or, b) drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay keeping that point between where the ball is dropped and the flagstick.  She chose to drop the ball on the “flagline” as it is sometimes called, and luckily dropped the ball on a slope in the bunker so that the ball rolled a little and did not plug.
            Unfortunately, she did not play well from there.  She blasted her bunker shot (her 4th stroke) long of the green.  She got too cute with her 5th stroke and left it in the fringe short of the down slope toward the hole.  She putted her 6th stroke to about 2 feet and missed the short putt to get into a playoff with a brutal lip-out.  She tapped in for a gut-wrenching 8 and a runner-up finish.

PGA Tour Opposes Anchoring Ban - Umm, Duh?

            The speculation since the last Player Advisory Committee meeting is over.  Commissioner Tim Finchem has officially announced the PGA Tour’s opposition to the proposed anchoring ban.  The USGA, by my count, now has 4 more days of silence before they are allowed to speak again.  Mike Davis stated the USGA would not speak publicly during the 90 day comment period (about anchoring, the Four-Ball/Public Links announcement doesn’t count) and the USGA has kept their word.  Right toward the end of that comment period, several organizations have also kept their word in providing their opinions for consideration.
            To tally, the PGA of America via President Ted Bishop, the National Golf Course Owner’s Association and the PGA Tour have now officially made statements against the anchoring ban.  The LPGA has remained relatively silent and has not taken a stance, which is actually quite refreshing.
            This isn’t really unexpected news but I want to point out several things from Tim Finchem’s “press conference” or “gathering” as he called it, that I think have been previously overlooked or are extremely important.
The PGA Tour and PGA of America have representation on the USGA/R&A Rules Committee.  If I hear one more person talking about amateurs making rules for professionals I’m going to backhand them into 1840.  It’s time we realize that professionals are on the Rules Committee as well, and the members of that Committee are not only experts in the Rules, but they are experts in the history of the Rules and the history of the game in general.  They don’t make these decisions lightly.  And please, PLEASE don’t let me hear you talk about the USGA Executive Committee making this call – they have nothing to do with it (ok, not nothing, but they aren’t making the final call).

Commissioner Finchem claims that the discussion of bifurcation hasn’t even begun.  I’m sorry Tim, I don’t believe you.  That statement, however, draws a clear line in the sand that is very important for golf: we don’t agree with this ban, but if you go forward with it I’m not saying we will or will not abide by it yet.  Let’s not pretend the discussion on bifurcation is yet to begin, but let’s take his words for what they are - wiggle room.

So now enjoy the made for TV version of the announcement coming in 15 minutes during the Accenture Match Play final and make of it what you will.  The USGA will break the silence soon enough.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Alexander Noren Ruling Explanation

            On the second playoff hole between Graeme McDowell and Alexander Noren there was a large debate about a potential TIO relief situation for Alexander Noren.  Noren’s ball lay in the desert very close to a line that had a TV tower directly between his ball and the flag.  He could see the flagstick so the tower was not on his line of play.  He was given relief and here’s why:

            In Appendix I you will find the Local Rule for Temporary Immovable Obstructions (App. I-7).  The section which defines interference has a short sentence that is frequently overlooked and even misinterpreted, “interference also exists if the ball lies within one club-length of a spot equidistant from the hole where such intervention would exist.”
            Noren’s ball did not have interference on his line of play from the TV tower, however one club-length to his left there would have been interference.  Even though he was in the desert he did have a play at the ball and he was entitled to relief.
            Some viewers may have been disturbed by the movement of loose impediments in the area where he was going to drop.  This is actually permitted (hopefully the Rules Official would have stopped him if it were not).  It is important to remember that Rule 13-2 prohibits improving the area in which he is to drop or place a ball by specific actions.  Removing loose impediments is not one of those actions. 
Rule 23-1 states that “except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty.”  The desert is not a hazard and is considered through the green.  Decision 23-1/6 tells us that removing loose impediments from an area through the green in which the ball is going to be dropped is permitted.
Although it seemed like a fairly complicated situation, the ruling was actually quite straightforward and without controversy.  Unfortunately for Noren, his fortune stopped at getting relief as he proceeded to lose the hole and the match to McDowell. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter Match Play Blues

            While Play is suspended at the WGC-Accenture Match Play because it is snowing in Marana, Arizona – heavily I might add – I think it’s the appropriate time to take a look at something very important to match play… Claims.

            You have likely heard about the “two-ball” rule, or Rule 3-3 which allows a player to play out the hole with two balls in the event that they are unsure how to proceed or have a doubtful situation.  Many do not realize that this Rule only applies to stroke play.  In match play, a player is not permitted to complete the hole with two balls in the event of a doubtful situation.  In fact, Decision 3-3/9 explains that a second ball played in match play is a wrong ball, and will result in the player losing the hole if a claim is made.

            So how do you resolve a dispute or doubtful situation in match play?  You make a claim.  I mentioned that a second ball in match play is a wrong ball and the player loses the hole if a claim is made.  If a claim is not made, what happens – nothing.  The hole will stand as played with the original ball. 

            In stroke play, it matters that the correct procedure is followed on every hole and so a breach such as a wrong ball, or a serious breach of playing from a wrong place must be corrected.  It matters because you’re not playing against one person, but the entire field.  In match play, your opponent (or opponents) is the only player concerned with your score.  So if they are ok with an incorrect procedure they do not have to call a penalty.  Always remember that even in match play you cannot agree to waive a Rule of Golf, however, Note 1 to Rule 2-5 states, “A player may disregard a breach of the Rules by his opponent provided there is no agreement by the sides to waive a Rule.”  So when a doubtful situation arises, or you believe a breach of the Rules has occurred, a claim must be made.

            But you can’t just make a claim all willy-nilly.  There is a correct procedure and timeframe that must be followed in order for the Committee to consider a claim.  First, the player must notify his opponent that he is making a claim or wants a ruling, and he must state the facts upon which the claim or ruling is to be based.   Decision 2-5/2 discussed the kinds of statements that do and do not constitute valid claims.  Basically, if you want a ruling or want to make a claim, you should say that – exactly that.

            A claim must also be made in a timely manner and must otherwise fit into the guidelines set by Rule 2-5.  Rule 2-5 clarifies how a valid claim is made at different times throughout the round.  Sometimes you don’t become aware that a breach occurred until a later hole or even after the round.  There are different stipulations to make the claim valid in those cases.  What is clear, however, is that you cannot hold onto a known breach of the Rules until needed.  For example, if you notice that your opponent has started the round with 15 clubs, but on the 15th hole you’re 2 down and want to even the match, you cannot then make a claim.  The fact that there were 15 clubs was not previously unknown to you.

            Rule 2-5 can be complicated, so rather than trying to explain every intricacy I’ve broken the Rule down into the chart below.  Hopefully this will help increase your understanding of Rule 2-5, claims and match play in general.

Rule 2-5: Making a Valid Claim

Timely Manner 
A claim has been made in a timely manner if made as follows:
a.         During the Round – Before any player has played from the next teeing ground
b.         On the Final Hole of the Round – Before all players have left the putting green
c.         After Leaving the Final Putting Green – Before the result of the match has been announced

The circumstances or violation giving rise to the claim became known…

On the Hole in Question (Violation occurred on the same hole)
Claim is valid if -
a.         Made in a timely manner

On a Later Hole (Violation occurred on a prior hole)
Claim is valid if -
a.         Made in timely manner AND
b.         The facts were previously unknown to the player AND
c.         The player had been given wrong information

After the Result of the Match has been announced
Claim is valid if -
a.         The facts were previously unknown to the player at the time the result was announced AND
b.         The player had been given wrong information AND
c.         The opponent knew he had given wrong information

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Golf History: Peg Barnard Invitational Day 2

            Well, the first tournament of the year is in the books.  On the Rules front, day 2 remained fairly quiet besides the usual.  The drop zone on hole 4 got plenty of use, and there were a few questions about French drains, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Again, the shotgun start resulted in all groups finishing under the set pace of play with only 3 timing warnings being given throughout the entire event. 
            Today was extremely notable, however, as we were witness to what may well be the lowest competitive nine holes of golf ever played at any level.  I had the honor of tallying up a front nine score of 26 for Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse.  Let me emphasize that – TWENTY-SIX.  She was nine-under through nine holes including 5 birdies and two eagles.  She proceeded to add three more birdies to offset two bogeys on the back and finished at 10-under par 61.  We’re checking the record books but the immediate verdict is that this is the lowest round ever scored in NCAA women’s history.
            To all the officials who were with me and part of this special day, thank you, I’m glad we all got to witness history.
            I was first alerted to the low scoring at the ninth hole after I witnessed Stackhouse drain a 30-footer for birdie.  Stanford head coach Anne Walker told me first that the birdie put her at -8 thru nine and then corrected it to -9 when she found out Stackhouse had also birdied the 8th hole.  The rest of the story is on the card.  I doubt I will ever get to tally a front nine like this again, so it is certainly worthy for everyone’s eyes here. By the way, Stanford won the team competition in addition to Stackhouse's double-digit individual victory.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Speaking of Wrong Places...

One the Champions Tour today there was a wrong place penalty assessed to Bob Tway.  He was preparing for a chip shot with an awkward stance just outside a bunker, he grounded the club behind the ball and TV replay showed that the ball moved.  He did not replace the ball as required by Rule 18-2b and therefore instead of a one-stroke penalty for moving his ball at rest after address, he incurred a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 18-2b.

The analysis and interview with the Champions Tour official showed that the main question was whether Tway had in fact soled his club behind the ball and therefore addressed it.  TV review indicated that he had.  Because there was no evidence that anything other than the player caused the ball to move, the new Exception to 18-2b did not apply.  They took their time and involved several officials in addition to the TV replay and the commentary was spot on.  They wanted to be sure he had addressed the ball, and once that was determined they were certain of the ruling.  Nice job, but another unfortunate turn of events for Mr. Tway whose bogey became a triple.

Peg Barnard Invitational Round 1

With day 1 in the books it's safe to take a look back at all the great things that happened.  First, the weather was amazing and it looks as though we're going to dodge a bullet with the potential frost.  But that isn't Rules news. 

We had a shotgun start in groups of 3 and the set pace of play was 4 hours and 41 minutes.  Not cheetah speed by any means, but no small feat for a collegiate shotgun either.  All groups finished under pace of play and all scorecards had been returned within 5 hours and 10 minutes.  If you've ever worked a collegiate shotgun your jaw probably just dropped.

Most of the rulings today were simple and typical.  Ground under repair, obstruction relief, french drain questions, the usual suspects.  One ruling stood out as it was complicated and thought provoking.

The 12th hole at Stanford University Golf Course is a par 5 with the tee shot over a ravine that transitions from a water hazard to lateral water hazard on both sides.  The player severely hooked her tee shot.  While the official went forward to pinpoint the location where it last crossed the margin of the lateral portion of the hazard, the player stepped forward and dropped and played under 26-1b with relation to where her ball last crossed the margin of the regular water hazard on the other side of the ravine. Unfortunately, that was not the correct place.  The rover was called in to address the wrong place ruling and here's where it got even more interesting.

First, there is a two-stroke penalty for a breach of 26-1 in addition to the initial one-stroke penalty for proceeding under 26-1. It was determined that because she played an unobstructed shot from a pristine lie rather than an obstructed shot from a horrible lie, the player gained a significant advantage and therefore her breach was a serious one and needed to be corrected in accordance with 20-7c.  She then dropped under 26-1c with relation to the correct reference point and played on.

The debate that ensues is what constitutes a serious breach.  Decision 26-1/21 details how a distance advantage can constitute a serious breach.  A player that plays several yards closer to the hole has not committed a serious breach, whereas a player that plays 50 yards closer has.  In this particular situation distance was not the main consideration as the player actually dropped incorrectly from about 50-80 yards farther from the hole.  However, Note 1 to 20-7c states, "A competitor is deemed to have committed a serious breach of the applicable Rule if the Committee considers he has gained a significant advantage as a result of playing from a wrong place."

Playing from a pristine lie from further away potentially allowed the player to use a longer club and advance the ball more successfully than where her drop should have been.  The Committee can also consider this a significant advantage and therefore a serious breach. It was an unfortunate turn of events for the player, and it stings even more that if she had proceeded under 26-1a (stroke and distance) instead of dropping 20 yards in front of the teeing ground under 26-1b, there would have been no wrong place penalty. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Where Was it?" "The Fairway"

Bubba Watson was a little wayward in the middle of his round today, and so was one of the carts driving around the course at Riviera CC in the Northern Trust Open.  The cart accidentally drove over Bubba's ball in the rough and moved it.  He then dropped it to put it back into play.  Some of you may wonder why it wasn't simply replaced...

First, Bubba's ball at rest was moved by an outside agency.  Rule 18-1 applies and the ball must be replaced.  However, his lie was altered and therefore we go to Rule 20-3b to get the ball back into play.  Through the green, except in a hazard the ball must be placed in the nearest most similar lie.  But wait...he dropped the ball!  Well, if we go to the Note it states, "If the original lie of the ball to be replaced has been altered and it is impossible to determine the spot where the ball is to be placed or replaced, Rule 20-3b applies if the original lie is known, and 20-3c applies if the original lie is not known."

Because Bubba was not next to the ball when it was run over the original lie was not known, it was only known that the ball had been moved and the lie altered, he didn't know exactly where to put it back or what lie he had, therefore Rule 20-3c applies.  Rule 20-3c requires the ball through the green to be dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not in a hazard.  He was entitled to clean the ball before dropping it (see Rule 21).  You could also have reached this ruling by reading Note 3 under Rule 18-1 when it is impossible to determine the spot to replace the ball.

So the Tour official had Bubba drop the ball as near as possible to where it lay.  The first drop rolled closer to the hole and he was required to re-drop under Rule 20-2c.  He did, and there was a slight hesitation to determine if the ball had rolled closer to the hole again, but it had not so the ball was in play.

The best part of the procedure is when the official asked Bubba where the ball was before it had been run over and Bubba replied, "The fairway."  Nice try, Bubba.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Amazing Spiderwoman

            Hopefully, by now you’ve heard about the amazing “Spiderwoman,” who essentially risked her life and played through intense pain just to finish a qualifying round. 
            On the fourth hole at the qualifier for the ISPS Handa Australian Open, the LPGA’s season opener, Daneila Holmqvist felt an intense stabbing pain just above her ankle.  She noticed a small eight-legged critter running from her and the caddies quickly identified it as a black widow.  Now the amazing part starts.  She grabbed a tee from her pocket to slice open the wound and squeezed as much of the venom out as possible.  “It was not the best looking thing I’ve done,” she said, “but I had to get as much out of me as I could.”
            Given that black widow bites are known to have been deadly to full grown adults as well as children, a trip to the hospital would seem like to most reasonable next step.  Instead, she kept playing – for fourteen more holes.  I’m reminded of Bill Murray in Caddyshack when the priest asks if he should continue in the pouring rain.  Bill’s character, Carl Spackler, replies in his now iconic accent, “I’d keep playing.  I don’t think the heavy stuff is gonna come down for quite a while.”  Daniela unfortunately shot 74 and did not qualify for the event, admitting she felt a bit dizzy and tired after the round.  I think she should be given a sponsor’s invite based on her merit in the situation alone (I suppose stupidity and ignorance for your safety can be considered merit in this case, I mean, she did at least squeeze the venom out). That isn’t the case and she’s on to her next event.
            The situation allows me to dig into my Rules book and go over two situations in particular that apply or could apply to her case.

Discontinuing Play

            Clearly, in Holmqvist’s case she had to act quickly, so the disruption of play may not have been long.  But there are instances when players are and are not permitted to discontinue play of their own accord.  Rule 6-8 gives us four main reasons a player may discontinue play:

1) The Committee has suspended play.  This is pretty clear, if the Committee tells you first that you may stop, then go ahead and stop.  In some cases, the Committee may suspend play requiring you to stop immediately because of a dangerous situation.

2)  The player believes there is danger from lightening.  So the player is able to stop play if he (or she) alone believes the thunder sound is just a bit too close.  Report to the Committee immediately.

3) The player is seeking a decision from the Committee on a doubtful or disputed point (see Rules 2-5 and 34-3).  There is a limit to this.  First, you must immediately report to the Committee.  If the Committee is not readily available, it is not acceptable to wait an undue amount of time for an official to arrive.  You may be allowed to discontinue play briefly under this clause, but there are plenty of situations where a player could be subject to an undue delay penalty (Rule 6-7) if they wait an inordinate amount of time.

4) There is some other good reason to discontinue play such as sudden illness.  Ken Venturi’s U.S. Open at Congressional comes to mind. This would also be the clause under which Daniela discontinued play.  Make sure you report to the Committee as soon as practicable.  The penalty for discontinuing play without a good reason to do so is disqualification.

Rule 6-8 also states that bad weather is not a good reason, of itself, to discontinue play.  Sorry fair weather fans.

            To cover Daniela specifically, Decision 6-8/3a rules on discontinuing play due to a physical problem:

Q. During a round, a player is incapacitated by heat exhaustion, a bee sting or because he has been struck by a golf ball.  The player reports his problem to the Committee and requests the Committee to allow him some time to recuperate.  Should the Committee comply with the request?

A. The matter is up to the Committee.  Rule 6-8a(iv) permits a player to discontinue play because of sudden illness and the player incurs no penalty if he reports to the Committee as soon as practicable and the Committee considers his reason satisfactory.  It would seem reasonable for the Committee to allow a player 10 or 15 minutes to recuperate from such a physical problem but ordinarily allowing more time than that would be inadvisable.

A bite from a black widow is a bit more severe than a bee sting, so I think Holmqvist was clearly safe from penalty and had the right to discontinue play for a few minutes. 

Other Dangerous Situations

            There are two decisions under 1-4 that discuss dangerous situations as the term refers to wildlife or poisonous plants.  Decision 1-4/10 permits a player relief if his ball comes to rest in an area surrounded by bees or next to a rattlesnake or other dangerous wildlife.  “It is unreasonable to expect the player to play from such a dangerous situation and unfair to require the player to incur a penalty…”  Had Holmqvist been approaching her ball and found it near a black widow or several widows, this Decision would have exempted her from playing that ball and allowed her to substitute and play a ball in a safer spot (within one club-length from the nearest spot that is not dangerous).
            Decision 1-4/11 further clarifies the meaning of “Dangerous Situation” and rules that a ball coming to rest in an area of poisonous plants would not be a dangerous situation.  “Decision 1-4/10 contemplates a situation which is unrelated to conditions normally encountered on the course.  Unpleasant lies are a common occurrence which players must accept.”  In other words, with rattlers, bees and spiders, neither you nor course have control or knowledge of where they might be.  In the case of plants that are stationary, you shouldn’t be hitting it there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Four-Ball Rules! I mean, the Rules of Four-Ball...

            So clearly the big news yesterday was the announcement of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championships, starting in 2015.  From a Rules perspective, the fact that they will have a major championship with four-ball stroke play and four-ball match play is awesome.  To sum up the new events, there will be a men’s championship which will consist of 128 teams (or sides as the USGA’s John Bodenhamer correctly stated) that will be reduced to the low 32 teams after two rounds of stroke play.  It will conclude in an 18-hole match.  The women’s championship will start with 64 teams and follow the same structure the rest of the way.  They’re planning to hold the event early in the year (during the college season) which will break away from the traditional timing of USGA championships.  The time for qualifying will be complicated, but that’s an issue for another day.

            I certainly don’t want to downplay the retirement of the Amateur Public Links and Women’s Amateur Public Links, although I’m not going to take the negative outlook that some have put forth.  Because the name just shouts “public golf” it may look like another strike against Joe Everyday golfer but the truth is the event differed little from the U.S. Amateur in its field and participants.  It was getting much more difficult to determine who was a bona fide public golfer as many collegiate players, including champions of the event, no doubt had access (albeit not officially) to private facilities other than through their schools.  It will be sad to see these championships go, but it’s not a travesty either.

            What the announcement yesterday allows us to do is to open up a part of the Rule book so few people ever do – Rules 30 and 31.

            Rule 30 covers Three-Ball, Best-Ball and Four-Ball Match Play, while Rule 31 covers Four-Ball Stroke Play.  These forms of play need their own Rules because there are certain situations that need to be addressed that the rest of the Rules simply don’t.  So to best give an overview of these Rules, let’s highlight these differences and see how the Rules deal with them.

You’re playing with a Partner as a Side

            For both forms of Four-Ball this means there are several considerations to be addressed. 

·         Rules 30 and 31 tell you that the side can be represented by one or both partners at any time.  An absent partner, however, can only join between the play of two holes, not during a hole.

·         The side can play in any order it sees fit.  This means that a player with the ball closest to the hole could correctly play before other players if the side chooses to.  This isn’t as important in stroke play, but it is very important in match play.  A player could tap in a short putt for a half leaving the way for his partner to take an aggressive run to win the hole from farther away. 

·         Only one partner will incur a penalty if he accidentally plays the other’s ball (30-3c and 31-5).  That player will incur the general penalty for playing a wrong ball, “but his partner incurs no penalty even if the wrong ball belongs to him.”

Certain Penalty Breaches Apply to the Whole Side

            There are certain penalties that are considered egregious enough that the whole side gets the applicable penalty. 

·         If there is a maximum penalty for the round (Rule 4, Rule 6-4 or Local Rules/Conditions of Competition) the penalty will apply to both players.  So if one partner has 15 clubs, both players will incur the penalty.

·         If any partner is disqualified for certain penalties, the whole side will be disqualified from the competition.  Examples that are common between both stroke and match play are Rules 1-3, 4, 5-1 or 2, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 11-1, 14-3 and 33-7.  So if either partner makes a stroke with a non-conforming club or off a non-conforming tee the whole side is disqualified.

·         If a player’s breach of a Rule assists his partner in playing the hole (or adversely affects an opponent’s play) then the partner will incur the applicable penalty as well.  So if I remove a loose impediment in a bunker where both my ball and my partner’s ball lay, we will both incur a two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4.

Disqualification from the Hole

            Because only one of the two scores made by a side needs to be used, one partner could incur a penalty that would normally result in disqualification.  In Four-Ball, except for the specifically listed penalties in 30-3e and 31-7, a player can be disqualified for a hole only.  The earlier example of a wrong ball is perfect.  In match play, the player who strikes the wrong ball is disqualified for the hole only (normally loss of hole).  In stroke play that mistake must be corrected prior to playing from the next teeing ground.  If the mistake isn’t corrected, however, in four-ball the player would only be disqualified from the hole at which the wrong ball was played, not for the entire competition.  It is important, however, that both partners are not disqualified on the same hole.  That would result in the side being disqualified from the competition.


            Partners can give each other advice and otherwise help the other out.  There are some key points to remember though:

·         You cannot stand on an extension of your partner’s line (line of play or line of putt) behind him during a stroke. This is a breach of 14-2b that would apply to the partner playing the stroke, or to the side if the breach assisted the other.

·         You still can’t touch the putting green to indicate a line for putting for a stroke from the putting green.  This is a breach of 8-2b and the partner who is putting would incur the penalty.

·         If your partner attends the flagstick, it is authorized.  Make sure you know where your partner is and what he’s doing, or you could end up with a penalty for striking him (either under 17-3 or 19-2).


Hopefully this is a good introduction to the wonderful format of Four-Ball.  For further information or more in depth reading, look to Rules 30 and 31 and the applicable Decisions.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Another K.O. for Ko

            For those of you who were busy watching Bill Murray’s antics and the best argument for Phil to switch to soft spikes, over in New Zealand something far more awesome than anything that could happen in Monterey was taking place. 
            Officially, the LPGA doesn’t start until next week, but many Tour players were warming up with a solid field and event in the New Zealand Women’s Open.  The field included LPGA Tour winners Anna Norqvist, Christina Kim and Sydnee Michaels among other well-known players.  The field also included LPGA Tour Champion Lydia Ko, who at 14-years old became the youngest player ever to win a professional event, and then followed it with an LPGA Tour victory at the Canadian Women’s Open at 15-years old.  She added the U.S. Women’s Amateur title to that list and as of a few hours ago she also tacked on the national open title for her native homeland.
            Ko finished the 3 round event at 10-under par.  She was the only player in the field with 3 rounds of 70 or better including a pair of weekend 68s.  Her final round had only one bogey on the third hole as she completed her final 15 holes without a blemish. She hit 17 of 18 greens. It was truly a remarkable performance.
            In stark contrast to her LPGA Tour victory which was very much without contest on the final day, this was neck-and-neck all the way to the finish.  In fact, she was tied going into the final hole with American Amelia Lewis who three-putted the final green to drop to -9 in the penultimate group.  Ko, needing par to win, delivered and captured her third professional title at the age of 15.
            If you were following on Twitter, Ron Sirak, Randall Mell and Beth Ann Baldry all gave frequent updates and when the result was final the congratulations started pouring in.  I think one of the classiest things I’ve seen in the recent past is the string of Retweets from Lydia Ko who appears to have Retweeted every single congratulatory tweet sent her way.  For the Twitter-less, a Retweet is very much like a thank you because it resends your original tweet to the person’s own followers.   Not only is she already a veteran champion but she’s a class act as well. 
Ko has stated she’s interested in the normal college life and I think there are coaches everywhere who would love to have her on the team, but I’m not sure that would even be a challenge.  It’s clear she belongs amongst the very best in the game and I sure hope she stays interested in golf so we can watch for years to come.  Congratulations Lydia, good luck next week and into the future!

AT&T Swing Tips

            I had the wonderful experience of working in the pro shop at a host facility for the AT&T National Pro-Am when I worked as an Assistant Pro at Poppy Hills.  It was fun to see the celebrities and professionals as they would come in for practice rounds or just to thank the staff.  In the last couple years I tend to steer clear and watch the Pro-Am from the very best spot in the house – my couch. 
            One of the best parts about watching the Pro-Am on Saturday on TV rather than live, is getting to watch Peter Kostis analyze all the amateur swings from the 17th hole.  It’s just unique to see so many amateur golf swings analyzed, and I really think there are some key tips that come out of Peter’s analyses.  So here are the main reoccurring tips and their importance to your golf swing.

Start the Downswing with your Lower Body

            Something that Kostis keeps pointing out as a major positive is when a player starts their downswing with the lower body.  This is key to properly clearing your hips and maintaining coil for power and accuracy.  Fred Couples used to say he started his downswing with a slight movement of the left (forward) knee toward the target and that move would set the rest of the swing in motion. 
            If you’re losing power or releasing early, try focusing on starting your downswing from the ground up.  This will set your downswing into the correct sequence for maximum power and accuracy.

Hands Reach the Ball First

            If you’ve heard the term “casting” or “early release” then this tip is for you.  This is actually more of a fundamental to a good golf swing than a tip, but it is key to make sure your hands reach the golf ball first.  If your clubhead gets to the ball before your hands you’ve lost all your stored power and will likely have an angled clubface. 
            When starting your downswing, think about trying to stick the handle of the club into the ground.  If you can hold that thought and position until your hands approach the golf ball you will maintain that angle and be able to properly release the club through impact for more power and control.

Set Your Wrists Before the Top of the Backswing

            This tip ties in with the last.  You’ll notice one difference between professionals and amateurs is that they set their wrists at different times.  Professionals will set the angle about 1/2 to ¾ through their backswing and will maintain that angle until their hands reach the golf ball.  While there are a couple exceptions to the rule (Mickelson and Tiger come to mind) this early set allows the professional to fully coil at the top and hold the angle until the release.
            Amateurs on the other hand, tend not to set their wrists until they reach the top of the swing.  The beginning of the downswing will actually increase that angle and the position can look really solid at that moment.  The problem is that the late set and transition tends to act like a springboard and the club will start an early release and lose all that stored power.  If you manage to maintain the angle in this fashion you will have a lot of power, but it’s extremely difficult to do.
            If you’re having trouble setting your wrists early, try setting your hands for a ¾ swing while making your full turn.   This will set your wrists at the ¾ mark and allow you to better maintain that angle to create more power and control.

            As an update for everyone, it’s been a quiet Rules week.  My journey to Golf House for USGA/PGA Rules School was canceled thanks to winter storm Nemo.  I will be rescheduling and will do a day-by-day Rules lesson blog when I do go.  Next weekend, however, is my first championship assignment of the year at the Peg Barnard Invitational at Stanford University Golf Course.  I will bring any Rules news or interesting happenings from each day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Dad's Putter

            Everyone has sentimental, nostalgic days for various reasons.  Today is one of those days for me.  It’s my father’s 66th birthday.  He died in a private plane crash in March of 2006 while I was still in school at the University of Georgia.  This article won’t be his story, but today I am reminded of something he always did when we played golf.  He always marked the golf ball on the putting green with the toe of his putter before he cleaned it, and for the longest time I thought it wasn’t permitted.

            Then I got myself a Decisions book.  And this brief article will be about how my dad had it right all along because of what Decision 20-1/16 says.  Decision 20-1/16 is titled “Method Used to Mark Position of Ball: and describes the various acceptable and unacceptable methods for marking a golf ball.  Sure enough, while it is not recommended, placing the toe of the club at the side of, or behind the ball is acceptable.  So is using a tee, a loose impediment or scratching a line (so long as the putting green is not tested and a putting line is not indicated).

            What is not permitted is to use a pre-existing mark or blemish to mark the golf ball.  It is “necessary to physically mark the position of the ball.”  The Note to Rule 20-1 recommends using a ball-marker, small coin or similar object, but it uses the word “should” which as we know in Rules jargon means, “You ought to do this, but you’re not penalized if you don’t.”

            So this one’s for you dad, for abiding by the Rules (at least in this instance) and for all the memories of your putter Woody holding steady as the ball gets a simple wipe of the thumb.