Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Western Intercollegiate Preview - Changing the Facts

            When you’re working as a Rules Official, the most important thing when making a ruling is to make sure you get the facts.  At every seminar I’ve attended with the USGA’s Jeff Hall as an instructor I’ve heard him say, “If you change the facts, you get a different answer.”  At last year’s Western Intercollegiate, I was involved in a ruling that eventually circulated with different facts, resulting in the coach and player believing an incorrect ruling had been made.  Many, many conversations later, I’m no longer positive what actually happened, I only know what I was originally told…and ruled on.

            I was at the 10th green at Pasatiempo, a great junction as a Rules Official because I had quick access to the 10th hole, 16th hole, 11th hole and 17th  hole, all of which have a variety of rulings every round.  Patrick Cantlay’s group had just arrived at the green with the entourage (last year’s tournament was one week removed from Cantlay’s fine performance at the Masters), and Cantlay was first to play from an awkward position behind the flag.  He hit an incredible shot that nicked the overhanging tree limb and settled about a foot from the hole.

            It was then I saw his teammate Pedro Figuerido waving me over.  He explained to me that his ball-marker had moved as he had knocked it with his putter.  I asked him to go through the facts and he explained he had moved his ball-marker in making his practice strokes, waving his putter over the ball-marker.  I confirmed that with him and explained that he incurred a one-stroke penalty for moving the marker and had to replace it.  He asked if I was sure and I said, “Yes, but I will confirm over the radio with my rovers as well for you.”

            I repeated the situation clearly over the radio so that Pedro could hear me.  I stated he had moved his ball-marker in the process of making practice swings with his putter and wanted to confirm the one-stroke penalty.  The rovers confirmed and I moved on.  This was during the first round of the 36-hole day and he saw me later in the day during the second round and asked again if I was sure.  I said yes and moved on.

            At the end of the day, one of my rovers came to me with an odd situation that occurred later.  In Cantlay’s same group, a player of a different team accidentally moved his ball-marker in the process of brushing away loose impediments on the putting green.  The rover correctly ruled there was no penalty in this instance and the marker must be replaced.  Cantlay spoke up, “That’s not what we were told earlier.”  The rover, who had answered my call earlier for confirmation, explained the difference in the two situations and Cantlay said, “But that’s not what happened.”

            The story then became that Pedro had been brushing loose impediments away with his putter and in the process moved his ball-marker.  There would have been no penalty for this, but as you read before, that’s not what I was told originally. 

            This difference in facts lead to multiple conversations with the team’s head coach, who was very cordial and understanding, just trying to figure out what happened.  I explained I ruled based on what was told to me.  If those weren’t the facts, I needed to be told.  As I had repeated the situation over the radio that would have been a good time for Pedro to step in and say, “Wait, that’s not quite right.”  At that point mid-way through the third and final round, it was no longer clear I had been told the correct facts.  What I didn’t want, was to change the ruling based on hearsay.  If Pedro wanted to approach me and explain the true facts I would have been inclined to correct that Committee mistake and rescind the penalty stroke as the competition had not closed (see Decision 34-3/1).  I’m not positive that the facts that were originally given were incorrect in the first place.

            This situation serves as a reminder to officials and players alike, if you change the facts you get a different answer, so make sure you give or obtain the right facts.

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