Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Masters Week: Rulings from Masters Past

                Certainly it’s been done before, but I want to take a look back at some notable Rules Incidents that have occurred in the past at the Masters.  I’ll save the best for last as there are at least two rulings that directly led to a change in the Rules. 
            The week of the Masters is very interesting in the Rules world.  All the members of the Rules of Golf Committee are typically invited to work the event and frequently this is when they will have their yearly meeting, whether formally or informally.  What comes from this meeting of the minds is never immediately known, as the decisions will be processed and sent back to the respective internal (PGA, USGA, R & A) Committees before anything is announced.  What also happens though, is that if a major rules incident occurs at the Masters, all the decision makers are present in order to confer and decide upon a reasonable solution that is usually implements more quickly than other Rules changes (some of this is conjecture based on observation).  What is interesting about the Masters, is that ultimately the Masters Rules Committee will make the final call and they’ve been known to bend a little more than, say, the U.S. Open Rules Committee.  We’ll start with those situations:

2004 Ernie Els:  Ernie Els hooked his tee shot on the dogleg 13th hole well into the woods and into a pile of branches that had been blown down from a previous storm.  The Rules Official assigned to the group ruled that Els was not entitled to relief and that the branches were not ground under repair.  Els asked for a second opinion which he got from the Chairman of the Masters Rules Committee.  As any Augusta National member would know, nothing at Augusta is out of place at any time.  Those branches had to be piled for removal the Chairman ruled, and therefore it was ground under repair and Els was entitled to relief.  The situation still required a stellar recovery shot to get out of the woods and Els obliged.

2009 Rory McIlroy:  Ccertainly one of the more interesting incidents because of the penalty that didn’t happen.  On one occasion, McIlroy made a stroke from the bunker and failed to extricate the ball.  He then kicked the area where he was standing.  As Decision 13-4/0.5 tells us, kicking the sand is not something covered under the Exceptions to Rule 13-4 and if that’s what he was doing, McIlroy needed to be penalized two strokes.
            McIlroy explained, however, that he wasn’t kicking the sand, but smoothing the sand over his footprints, albeit a bit angrily.  In 2008, Exception 2 did not yet have the clause about for the sole purpose of caring for the course, however it did permit the player to smooth sand and soil so long as it did not breach Rule 13-2 with relation to his next stroke.  According to David Price, the Committee reviewed several videos of Rory in previous bunkers and he had, in fact, smoothed the sand with his foot in a similar, albeit more friendly, manner.  They ruled that he had not breached Rule 13-4.

            Because Masters Week is so special to all of us the golf world, naturally there are some penalties or rules incidents that you wish you could take back.  Of the next two examples, one was purely heart-breaking and will forever be an example for young golfers to remember when signing their scorecard.  The second, actually involves a childhood friend/opponent of mine and it solidified his reputation as one of the good guys in golf.  A well-deserved reputation I might add.

1968 Roberto DeVicenzo:  “What a stupid I am,” he said after the final verdict was issued.  On the 17th hole of the final round, DeVicenzo had made a wonderful birdie and had launched himself into a tie for the lead with Bob Goalby.  His finishing par ensured a playoff, he thought.  His marker, however, had put down a 4 for the 17th hole and DeVicnezo failed to see the mistake prior to signing and returning his scorecard.  The penalty for such a mistake, is that he was stuck with the higher score and missed out on the playoff by one stroke to Bob Goalby, who sadly is one of the least remembered Masters Champions because of how DeVicenzo lost.

2008 Michael Thompson:  The 15th green in 2008 was a catalyst for change.  Thompson wasn’t the victim that pushed the USGA and R&A over the edge, but the incident welcomed him into our living rooms and gained him millions of fans.  During the second round, Thompson stood over a makeable and much-needed birdie putt.  He was within reach of making the cut as an amateur, having qualified for the Masters through his runner-up finish in the U.S. Amateur the summer before at Olympic Club.  And then his ball started oscillating.  He knew the rule, he knew to be careful.  He backed away, let the wind settle, and stepped in.  He grounded his putter, took one last look at the hole and then – it happened.  The Titleist logo on his ball was askew.  Fellow-Competitor Ben Crenshaw tried to convince him nothing had happened, but Michael knew.  He called the penalty on himself and replaced the ball to the correct position. He missed the putt and then bogeyed 16 and 17 as well.  Thompson missed the cut by four strokes.

            And finally, there’s the controversy.  As I said at the beginning, things that happen at the Masters provoke change.  Two of these incidents led directly to Rules changes in the following revision.  One is a mystery that may never be solved.


1958 Arnold Palmer:  During the final round Arnold was playing with Ken Venturi when Palmer’s tee shot on the 12th hole plugged in turf behind the green.  Palmer believed that he was entitled to relief, something Venturi agreed with but the walking Rules Official said no.  Angrily, Palmer hacked his ball out of the plugged lie and made 5 with his original ball.  Still angry, Palmer announced that he would play a second ball (in accordance with Rule 11-5, now known as 3-3) with which he would take proper relief.  In 1958, Rule 11-5 was not terribly different from the current version of Rule 3-3.  It still stipulated that the player must announce his intent to proceed under the Rule before playing a stroke with either ball.  The verbiage in the 1958 Rules of Golf also states the second ball will count if the competitor fails to announce which ball he would like to count, rather than the original.  This is where the story diverges.

            Venturi is adamant that Palmer played that second ball incorrectly as he did not announce his intent prior to playing the original.  Even under the 1958 Rule 11-5, this would mean the second ball could not count.  Palmer claims he mentioned a second ball to the official when first discussing the situation and at a time when Venturi would not have been able to hear the conversation.  Palmer claims the official would not grant him relief, nor permit him to play a second ball.  The Committee at the 15th hole told them the ruling that Palmer’s second ball, with which he had scored a 3, would count.  Palmer went on to win his first Masters.

2003 Jeff Maggert:  During the final round of the 2003 Masters, Jeff Maggert found the bunker on the treacherous short par-4 3rd hole.  When he tried to play out of the bunker, however, the ball bounced off the lip and back in Maggert.  This falls under Rule 19-2 Ball in Motion Stopped or Deflected by Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment.  In 2003, the penalty under 19-2 was two strokes which turned Maggert’s bogey into a triple.  He wasn’t completely derailed until a disasterous 8 on the par-3 12th hole later in the round that effectively ended his title chances. 

            In 2008, the Rules of Golf softened the penalty for Rule 19-2 to one stroke, using that incident as a catalyst for deciding that two strokes was too harsh for the situation.  Why didn’t they change it in 2004?  Well, most likely the Rules changes that happened in 2004 had already been decided and were just being finalized at or around the 2003 Masters.  If the 2003 Masters was the first time the conversation changed to think of softening the penalty, there would have been no chance to go through all the proper channels to make the change in time for 2004.

2008 Padraig Harrington:  The video may be used in Rules seminars for decades to come, or at least until they finally get rid of 18-2b and the definition of addressing the ball and just make us say you moved it or you didn’t.  Padraig addresses his ball on the 15th green, then backs away. The wind picks up and he steps in again.  He then backs away as the wind clearly moves the ball, blowing it several inches from its original position.

            In 2008, as we saw before, this was a one-stroke penalty and the ball had to be replaced, regardless of the fact that the ball was clearly moved by the wind and not by addressing the ball.  Harrington became a sort of poster child for the change that went into effect in 2012, the Exception to Rule 18-2b which now exempts the player in that situation if it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause the ball to move.

2007 Phil Mickelson: A reader pointed out that there was another important ruling involving Phil Mickelson in 2007. Thank you Nigel for the reminder and leg work to find the videos.  Late in the afternoon, Phil used his large staff bag to provide shade over the golf ball, thereby reducing the distraction of moving shadows from patrons.  The Chairman of the Masters Rules Committee again stepped in and ruled the next day that there was no Rules breach.  In 2008, Decision 14-2/2.5 was introduced making this action specifically a breach of Rule 14-2 and thus a two-stroke penalty.


            So as we go deeper into golf’s Holy Week, keep the Rules in mind, because if something happens that is news this week, it might just change in 2016…


  1. You could add Mickleson and the bag placed by the tee marker to cast a shadow, where he subsequently teed the ball - new decision followed.

    1. That is a good one, I had completely forgotten. If I can find a picture I will add it, can you remember the year?

  2. Found the video:
    see also part 2 - Rules discussion: