Saturday, March 16, 2013

Caddie Trouble

            Just when I thought there was a slight Rules lull, we have another phoned-in viewer notification that results in a two-stroke penalty. 
            The ruling that eventually went against Stacy Lewis at the 3rd round of the RR Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup in Arizona certainly had some controversy.  After the initial viewings I strongly believed the LPGA had it wrong.  At first, I thought they had it wrong because I didn’t see the action, then I wasn’t sure they dug far enough into the Rule.  Unfortunately, for Stacy, they did get it right.
            On the 16th hole, Lewis found herself in the fairway bunker.  While trying to figure out her play, her caddie walked into the bunker as well.  At a point in the conversation where they were discussing the depth of the sand, her caddie could be seen twisting his foot ever so slightly as if to test that depth.  It seemed innocent enough, but 13-4 does not permit the player, and by extension the caddie, to test the surface of the hazard in this manner.
            I initially found fault with the ruling because if you read Decision 13-4/0.5, it specifically permits the player to dig in slightly with her feet in preparation for a stroke or practice swing.  It even permits the player to do so (and by extension the caddie) anywhere in the bunker. But before I get to the catch, I’m going to sidetrack to a ruling at last year’s Stanford U.S. Intercollegiate.
            During the final round, the USC coach came in to me for a ruling regarding an Oregon player.  We had heavy rains the day before and many bunkers had muddy and sandy areas.  The player in question took a stance for a practice swing very close to the golf ball because it was the only area with a similar condition to where the golf ball lay rather than where he would normally take his stance.  He dug in slightly and the USC coach was calling this into question.  The player even stated he took the stance where he did to test the condition of the hazard.  This seemed damning enough.  However, 13-4/0.5 specifically permits this action anywhere in a hazard.  So long as he didn’t improve his lie with respect to 13-2, there was no breach.  We confirmed this with the USGA.  They confirmed that the provisions of 13-4/0.5 override the fact that he used the phrase “testing the condition” specifically because this form of testing was explicitly permitted.
            It was with that ruling in mind that I initially had trouble wrapping my fingers around this one.  I give credit to a colleague who made sure to point out the difference:  he wasn’t taking a stance or mimicking a stance preparatory for a stroke.  He was just wiggling his toe around in the sand.  It is this key difference that makes the action a breach of Rule 13-4a.  Had he taken a stance and wiggled around as you normally would for a bunker shot, there is nowhere in the Rules that I find a penalty.
            You have to wonder, if Stacy had not made a comment about the depth of the sand would he have dug his toe in?  It seemed pretty reactionary.  Just a bit of bad timing.  

You can also read the USGA Manager of Rules Commmunications John Van der Borght's article on the incident here.

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