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.

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