Friday, May 31, 2013

Pace of Play - AGAIN

            When writing about the Rules, I’ve tried to maintain as unbiased an opinion as possible.  Naturally some topics strike a stronger chord than others.  Yesterday’s outrage over the pace of play penalty issued at the NCAA Championship, however, struck a note of hypocrisy that I cannot let pass without a word.  So here we go, into a discussion about pace of play – again.

            The more specific details I will have to solicit from the officials I know at a later time.  What is known, is that Dunlap and his fellow-competitors missed not just one checkpoint, but two checkpoints.  They missed the 18th and 9th hole checkpoints, the latter by six minutes.  The NCAA pace of play policy uses a four checkpoint system, where the first miss gives the entire group a warning and the second miss gives a group a one-stroke penalty that is subject to appeal at the end of the round.  The ½ deliberation that is being discussed in the media is not the Committee’s decision to apply the penalty, but rather that appeal process and all the information gathering that is required to make an informed decision.  You may see a non-event specific version of the NCAA checkpoint policy in my Pace of Play section of the blog.

            The NCAA Rules Committee has some of the best and brightest Rules Officials in the country, including several who also serve on USGA Championship Committees.  They know quite well, that while the circumstances surrounding the penalty could change the result of the championship, the application of the Rules has nothing to do with player or team standings in the competition.  The Committee took their time during the appeal and the fact that the penalty was issued means that given all the applicable data the penalty strokes given to Dunlap and Eason were warranted – even if it meant the Aggies had to go to a playoff to make it to match play (which they eventually lost).

            When doing Pace of Play appeals, only certain factors are considered.  The group missed their time by six minutes.  That seems like small fries to a casual observer, but that means the group was well out of position.  Look at it this way, if every group missed their times by six minutes, rounds would be in the realm of 7 hours long.  The fact that they received a warning at their ninth hole, means the Committee had plenty of time to observe and time players individually to determine if one or more of the players in the group were causing the problem.  Clearly, they determined that Rahm from Arizona State had been playing quickly and had been taking actions to try and help the group along.  Dunlap and Eason were not.

            But this article isn’t really about the penalty itself.  The Committee did right by the field (in particular Jonathan Garrick who received a penalty during the first round) by enforcing the stated policy regardless of what was on the line.  This article is about the hypocritical reactions across the globe to the timing and application of the penalty.

            We all know there is a pace of play problem, and nowhere is it worse than in men’s collegiate golf.  The player’s complained of the policy not being enforced all year long.  There are two reasons a player might say this: 1)The NCAA doesn’t run their tournaments year long.  Schools host the events and administer them on their own or with the assistance of regional golf associations or even solicited select officials.  I have run 3 collegiate events so far this year, and was only able to use the four checkpoint policy in one of them.  Which brings me to reason 2) Most collegiate events use a shotgun start format.  It is impossible to use the four checkpoint system with a shotgun start.  So it would be impossible for events throughout the year to use the same policy as the players see in their conference championships, regionals and then nationals.  Even worse, is that most shotgun starts operate without pace of play policies at all because it is difficult to enforce.

            The Pac-12 Conference picked up on one of the major issues which is field size.  Starting next season, fields in Pac-12 hosted events are limited to a field of 80 players.  Guess what?  When I have 80 players and a tee time start I can get them around rather quickly. During the 2011 Pac-10 Championships we had groups of 3 with a 4:40 pace of play and no groups finished over pace.  Granted, that's not exactly Speedy Gonzalez pace, but it's better than the 6 hour shotguns we see each year. 

            But I’m going to talk about one major issue for collegiate golf’s pace of play that is rarely mentioned out loud, except by EVERY Rules Official that has ever worked a collegiate event – Coaches.

            I’ll start by saying that I have the privilege of working with several coaches at their events throughout the year, none of whom do I think are a part of the issue.  At those events, however, are many, many coaches who preach about pace of play and then constantly cause more pace issues by their interaction and policies with their own players.  The USGA did a major disservice to collegiate golf when they permitted the GCAA/NCAA to allow two coaches to give advice as opposed to one.

So I now say this directly to coaches of America: Let your players play.  You recruited them because they knew how to handle the course on their own.  Train them during practice, but once they are on the course leave them alone.  Players do not need you to read their putts.  Players do not need to discuss yardages with you for three minutes on every shot.  Players do not need to mark 6 inch putts because they have to run laps if they miss short putts throughout the day.  Train them to shorten their routines, not lengthen them.  Train them in pace of play best practices, like playing ready golf, being ready to play by getting yardages while other players are hitting, going to the next tee when they are the first to finish a hole and so on. 

            The best thing for collegiate golf would be if coaches were no longer allowed to talk to players during the round except to say, “Speed up!”  Allow them to carry food, water, umbrellas and whatever else goes in those gym bags attached to every cart, but no advice.  Unfortunately, this will never happen, so I ask coaches for something that is plausible – let us do our jobs.

            Coaches love pace of play policies and love the idea of penalties being assessed, until it has to go against their own players.  Let us do our jobs as officials and apply the policies evenly.  The players at the NCAA’s were in "shock" because they’re used to shotgun starts where host coaches have basically stated that pace of play is not in effect.  The bottom line is that the NCAA checkpoint policy hasn’t changed for several years.  The players knew it.  The coaches knew it.  And yet everyone is all upset that it was actually enforced, and then wants to complain about the pace of play problem in college golf! 

Get over it.  Get over it now, because the argument is bad for the game and bad for the players.  A player who misses two checkpoints and receives a penalty shouldn’t feel jilted, he should know he screwed up and his coach should know he screwed up not getting his player to play faster.  Dunlap handled the penalty with class yesterday.  The coach and a fellow teammate did not, and Cameron Peck’s tweet was uncalled for and immature.  So now let’s move on and do what really is good for pace of play and continue to assess penalties when they are called for – in collegiate golf, in amateur golf, in junior golf and in professional golf.  Players will not start playing faster until penalties are enforced, so let’s not get upset every time a good Rules Official enforces the policy.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Colonial DQ, Overton and the Putting Aid

            Today at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Jeff Overton was disqualified under Rule 14-3 for using an artificial device.  While he was waiting to make the turn during his 3rd round, there was a backup at the 10th tee.  He asked a starter if he could use the practice area while he waited, and then went to the practice putting green and used a putting alignment device.  During the stipulated round that is a breach of Rule 14-3 for which the penalty is disqualification.
            There are two Rules at play here that should get some clarification before word of mouth butchers the truth.
            First, Overton was indeed permitted to practice putting or chipping on or near the practice putting green.  Some believe that the Committee is allowed to prohibit such practice, but that is not the case.  Rule 7-2 permits practice putting or chipping on or near the putting green of the hole last played, any practice putting green, or the teeing ground of the next hole to be played provided a practice stroke is not made from a hazard and the player does not unduly delay play.  Note 2 to Rule 7-2 only permits the Committee to prohibit practice putting or rolling a ball on the putting green of the hole last played.  Between holes, a player is always permitted to practice putting or chipping on or near a practice putting green provided the action does not unduly delay play and a stroke is not made from a hazard.
            However, this Rule does not permit a player to practice as they would prior to a round, meaning, training aids, alignment devices and other artificial equipment designed to assist a player are not permitted.  This includes alignment rods, weighted donuts (remember Juli Inkster) or compasses.  When Overton used his putting alignment device he was in breach of Rule 14-3, which unfortunately sends him to Dairy Queen.
            Specifically, Rule 14-3a states that a player may not during a stipulated round make a stroke with an artificial device or unusual equipment that might assist the player in making a stroke.  For those questioning an alignment guide as such a device see Decisions 14-3/10 and 14-3/10.3.

2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational At Colonial Round Two Highlights | Golf Channel

2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational At Colonial Round Two Highlights | Golf Channel

We've probably heard enough about the 2012 Rule change to 18-2b that introduced a new Exception to the Rule.  The Exception absolves the player from penalty under 18-2b if it is known or virtually certain the player did not cause the ball to move.  Just as we have a Decision to help us understand the meaning of virtually certainty with regards to a ball in a water hazard (see Decisions 26-1/1 and 26-1/1.3), we also have a Decision that helps us understand virtual certainty with regards to Rule 18-2b's new Exception.
  In Jordan Spieth's case, his ball settled down into a spike mark after he had addressed the ball.  He is certain that he did not cause the ball to move, but there was no other agency besides gravity that could have caused the movement of the ball.  Decision 18-2b/11 explains to us that in order to determine virtual certainty that a player did not cause the ball to move, it must be known or virtually certain that another agency DID cause the ball to move.  And when determining other agencies gravity is not an agency to be considered under this Rule.  Spieth was subject to a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2b and had to replace the ball.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Legal Ramifications

   I'll admit, I am no lawyer.  I do understand law, however, and I do not understand how the PGA Tour players that have formed a "coalition" think they have a case.
   Let's go over the facts.  The equipment the players are using is not being banned.  Tim Clark may still use his long putter and not supinate, he just can't hold it against his body.  Webb Simpson may still use a belly length putter, he just can't jab it in his stomach.  Adam Scott, having previously stated he would just move the putter a millimeter away from his chest, has now joined the "coalition" headed by legal firm Cooley, Manion and Jones.
   I'd now like to present some information that hasn't been discussed highly - Cooley, Manion and Jones' opponent.
   Why hasn't anyone noticed that the USGA President Glen Nager is a formidable opponent in the courtroom himself?  He's an adjunct professor at Georgetown.  In what, you ask?  LAW.  Nager has tried 13 cases in front of the Supreme Court, served as chair of the board of directors of the Office of Compliance of the U.S. Congress and in 2003 was listed as one of the top 45 lawyers under 45.  His specialty, you ask?  EMPLOYMENT LAW.
   So tell me, does anyone think that the USGA doesn't have expert knowledge of the potential legal ramifications of the new ban, in particular the case PGA Tour players may try to make about the ban affecting their employment and livelihood?  Does anyone think that this potential legal action hasn't been considered and maybe, just maybe that the ban is being enacted because the USGA and R&A know there is no legal action that will stick?
   To the nine players who are part of the "coalition," it's time to get over it.  You'll do just fine without anchoring.  You may need a few more hours on the putting green, but my guess is if you were going to win tournaments while anchoring, you'll find a way to win without it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lowest Scores Ever Likely in the Bahamas

            The Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic is digging into the Rule book this week and is taking advantage of the Committee’s ability to define the course.  Due to heavy rains and course flooding the current plan is for three stipulated rounds of 12 holes each, to be played in a peculiar order: 10-6-7-4-5-11-12-13-14-2-3-8 according to the LPGA website.  For those of you wondering how this is within the Rules, or what Rules govern this Committee action, let’s take a closer look at the applicable sections of the Rules of Golf.
            Like most Rules situations, we must first start with the Definitions.  The definition of Stipulated Round tells us the two things we need to know: The “stipulated round” consists of playing the holes of the course in their correct sequence unless otherwise authorized by the Committee.  The number of holes in a stipulated round is 18 unless a smaller number is authorized by the Committee.  As to extension of stipulated round in match play, see Rule 2-3.
            Really, everything we need to know is in that Definition right there.  How can the Committee use 12 hole rounds?  The Committee is permitted to authorize a stipulated round of any number of holes 18 or smaller.  If we look back in history, the first 12 Open Championships hosted at Prestwick were all 12 hole stipulated rounds.  So shortened rounds actually goes back 150 years.
How about that crazy order?  The Committee may authorize players to play the course in any order they wish.  We most commonly see this with the Committee authorizing players to start at the 10th hole and continue in order from there.  Or perhaps it’s a local club event and it’s a shotgun start.  We also saw an abnormal sequencing of holes at the 2009 President’s Cup at TPC Harding Park.  There the Committee renumbered the holes to match the sequence they wanted the players to play.
            Interestingly enough, this means players must be extremely careful that they play the holes in the sequence determined by the Committee.  Given the order above, a player who proceeds from the 10th hole to the 11th hole and tees off will have played from a wrong teeing ground and is subject to penalty under Rule 11-5 and must correct the error.  Even though the 11th hole will be played, the sequence determined by the Committee requires players to play the 6th hole after completing the 10th.  Basically, players need to throw out the old numbers and just play in the order they’re told.
            Abnormal weather brings abnormal situations, so I’m sure we’ll have something come up down in the Bahamas besides more Twitter pics of the LPGA ladies enjoying the pool and beach.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Anchoring Ban, the Answer at Last

            I realize I am behind the curve in covering this major piece of news, but I was hoping to see a response from the PGA Tour quickly after the announcement and it just didn’t happen. 

            So the big news is obviously, but not unexpectedly, that the USGA and R & A will adopt the new Rule 14-1b which prohibits the anchoring of the club during the stroke.  First I want to cover the exact text of the new Rule and pick it apart a bit and then I will discuss some of the reactions and responses.  Being a PGA member and an employee for an SRGA (State & Regional Golf Association) I have had access to documents or letters that many have not.


Rule 14-1b. Anchoring the Club

In making a stroke, the player must not anchor the club either “directly” or by use of an “anchor point.”

Note 1:  The club is anchored “directly” when the player intentionally holds the club or a gripping hand in contact with any part of his body, except that the player may hold the club or gripping hand against a hand or forearm.

Note 2:  An “anchor point” exists when the player intentionally holds a forearm in contact with any part of his body to establish a gripping hand as a stable point around which the other hand may swing the club.


            So let’s break this out of Rules lingo to analyze the structure of this new Rule.  Don’t let the size of it and the two Notes overcomplicate it.  The plain and simple is that you cannot hold the club against your body, or hold an arm against your body to stabilize your grip of the club.  The two notes are simply internal definitions.  The Rule requires two new terms to be defined: directly (direct anchoring) and anchor point (indirect anchoring).  Each Note is simply a definition for these new terms so that when making a ruling about whether a club is anchored or not, there is no gray area about what those terms mean.

            The most important word in both of those Notes, however, is the word “intentionally.”  This takes 14-1b from a cut and dry Rule – do or do not – to an intent-based Rule.  This means that a player could unintentionally anchor their putter during a stroke (perhaps the player has had a few too many beers over the years) and not be in breach of this Rule.  A player must have the intent to anchor the putter in their belly or against their body to violate 14-1b, it cannot happen accidentally.  While this complicates things for officials in some ways, it simplifies most situations.  If a player is not trying to anchor and through the course of the stroke accidentally does, an opponent will not be able to watch the stroke and then say, “Hey, you anchored that one, that’s a penalty!”  The intent part of this Rule actually eliminates many potential arguments even though it can complicate rulings for officials at higher levels.

            The final part of the Rule is the penalty statement.  You may notice that a penalty statement is not prominent in any of the explanations found online or by media outlets.  You can find the answer half way down the page of Rule 14:

The Penalty for Breach of Rule 14-1 or 14-2:

Match Play – Loss of Hole; Stroke Play – Two strokes.

So before anyone goes buck-wild and tries to disqualify all the anchorers, remember two things:

1.         The penalty for a breach of Rule 14-1b is two strokes or loss of hole in match play.  A player who anchors is not disqualified.  The breach is exactly the same as if a player pushes, scrapes or spoons a ball.

2.         This Rule is not in effect until January 1, 2016.  You may anchor all you want until that date without penalty.  Someone who anchors prior to that date is NOT a cheater and should not be thought of as one.

For more information on anchoring see the USGA’s Anchoring Page and their Guidelines forPlayers and Officials.

So how about the responses?  Let’s start with the most admirable response yet – the LPGA.

            The LPGA, who remained silent during the 90 day comment period, immediately came out with a statement of full support for the USGA and their decision.  It was thoughtful, admitted there would be some disagreement and then it showed pure acceptance:

The LPGA has consistently conducted our official events in accordance with the Rules of Golf as established by the USGA and the R&A. We recognize the need for an independent governing body to maintain the rules of the game. We trust in the ability and expertise of both the USGA and R&A to make the decisions that are in the best interests of the game.

The USGA provided ample time and opportunity for us to not only educate our players, but also to solicit input, concerns and feedback surrounding Rule 14-1b. While we know that not every one of our members is in favor of the rule change, the LPGA will continue to respect and follow the Rules of Golf which includes the implementation of Rule 14-1b in January of 2016.

It would have been lovely if the PGA of America and the PGA Tour would have taken the news this well.  It showed class and wisdom, another win for Commissioner Mike Whan who has been nothing but a superstar since he took over as head of the LPGA Tour.

            Let’s also keep in mind that this issue is prominently an American issue.  The major global tours all came out in support of the R&A prior to the close of the comment period.  The only major opposition is the PGA of America and the PGA Tour.

            Those naysayers have definitely spoken though.  PGA of America President Ted Bishop fired off a letter shortly after the announcement to his 27,000 professional members again emphasizing his disappointment and disagreement with the ruling:

We are very disappointed with this outcome. As both we and the PGA Tour have said publicly and repeatedly during the comment period, we do not believe that 14-1b is in the best interest of the game and we are concerned about the negative impact it may have on both the enjoyment and the growth of the game.

Bishop suggests in the letter that the PGA has not made a final decision about the implementation of the Rule for its own championships, “At this point in time, The PGA will digest the USGA and R&A's decision to proceed with Rule 14-1b and discuss this matter with our Board of Directors, PGA Sections and, of course, our 27,000 Professionals throughout the country.”  My information from the insider track is that the PGA Board and Rules Committee generally support the USGA and it is highly unlikely the PGA will not adopt the new Rule for its championships.

            So how about the Tour?  The PGA Tour via Commissioner Finchem has not made a statement yet, but two big names have made big statements.  Tim Clark, who has a medical condition that prevents him from pronating his wrist for a traditional stroke, has announced his intent to use his legal counsel and fight the ban if the Tour adopts the Rule.  Webb Simpson, who maintains that he practices with a short putter at home (and beat me personally in several junior tournaments with a regular putter), was extremely vocal on Twitter in his argument against the decision.  Both players, however, maintained that any further action on their part would wait until they have a decision from the Tour.

            My view, which has morphed into a stronger, slightly argumentative view is simple: DEAL WITH IT.  I’m sick and tired of hearing the players complain about how they need different Rules because they’re so special.  Guess what?  The Rules are good enough for millions and millions of other golfers around the world, if you’re really the best in the game, the less than 1% of you at that level can live with it.  I don’t hear Adam Scott whining, or Ernie Els.  They both opposed the ban but have taken the view of “Whatever, we’ll manage.”

            So now we all await the final word from the PGA Tour, who has the ability to change the course of golf forever.  For one, I hope they decide not to bifurcate.  I think it’s the wrong way to go and players just need to get over it and move on.  By 2016, this won’t even be a story.  It is interesting to think about the predicament that Tim Finchem is in.  He must keep the best interests of his players at heart, his job is not the best interests of the game of golf.  So it is certainly plausible that he may defy the powers that be and break from the USGA on this one Rule.  The question is how slippery is that proverbial slope?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dropping INSIDE a Bathroom - Volvo World Match Play

Nicolas Colsaerts Drops Inside a Bathroom
(Thanks to Craig Oliver for Telling Me about this Situation)

The Rules of Golf entered the bathroom joke business today at the Volvo World Match Play at Thracian Cliffs Resort and Golf Club in Bulgaria.
            During the match between Nicolas Colsaerts and Graeme McDowell, Colsaerts hit his tee shot well right and into the lateral water hazard.  Because it was a lateral water hazard, he had the additional options of Rule 26-1c available, which includes dropping two club-lengths from where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, no nearer the hole.  Because he last crossed the margin of the hazard near a bathroom and he could not drop closer to the hole, his two club-lengths put him inside the bathroom, somewhere between the toilet and the sink.  The Referee did it absolutely correctly by having Colsaerts drop INSIDE the bathroom first.  Once the ball was properly in play inside the bathroom, he was then able to take relief from the immovable obstruction.
            The procedure was very cool from a Rules perspective.  When taking relief in any situation it is not permissible to take relief from two separate situations in one drop, even if it is clear that interference will occur from a second situation after dropping from the first.  This applies for two separate immovable obstructions, two separate abnormal ground conditions, relief from a hazard and then an obstruction, etc.  Decision 1-4/8 helps players deal with two situations when relief causes them to bounce back and forth between them, but even then the player must put a ball in play once for each situation before taking relief from both at once. 
            Decision 24-2b/9 tells us that a player who has interference from an obstruction after taking relief from the initial obstruction is then entitled to relief again.  Again, the same applies if when taking relief from a water hazard an obstruction then interferes.  Nothing in the Rules of Golf, however, permits a player to take relief from both the water hazard and the obstruction in one step.
            Colsaerts was required to drop inside the bathroom (immovable obstruction).  His drops both rolled closer to the hole so he then placed the ball.  He was then permitted to take relief from the obstruction.  Colsaerts found the whole procedure a bit absurd, and perhaps it was, but the Rules required him to go through the entire procedure and he did so correctly under the advisement of the Referee.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Decision of the Day - 24-2b/3.5 (And 3.7)

   At CGA Qualifying this past Tuesday, there were no truly notable rulings to share.  I did have one question from a competitor whose slight misunderstanding of the Rules leads me to today's Decision of the Day.
   The player in question invoked Rule 3-3 and played two balls.  He was unsure of his nearest point of relief from an immovable obstruction (in this case a sprinkler control box).  He dropped one ball at his nearest point of relief in the rough and one ball at his actual nearest point of relief which happened to be in a gravelly area.  He was unsure whether the Rules permitted him to drop off of the grass and in essence "change cuts."
   The player had gone through the 3-3 procedure correctly, and in this case, it did not matter which ball he had selected because only one was played in accordance with the Rules.  The ball played from the gravelly area would count.  In this player's case, it ended up helping him as he had scored better with the gravel ball.  He ended up as the fourth low qualifier of seven.
   But his misunderstanding was both reasonable and unreasonable from various perspectives.  Potentially the gravel area could be deemed an obstruction or even part of the same obstruction and then his nearest point of relief would not have been on the gravel.  This player was confused by the terminology of 'through the green' and what that meant for his area to drop in.
   The definition of "Through the Green" tells us that through the green includes the whole area of the course except the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played and all hazards on the course.  This means that everything else is through the green.  So when Rule 24-2b says the ball must be dropped through the green, this does not mean that it must be dropped on grass or even in a playable situation.
   Decision 24-2b/3.5 highlights this scenario quite well.  In the decision, the player is unable to physically determine the nearest point of relief because the nearest point of relief would actually be inside the middle of a tree.  While this doesn't seem like "relief" to most people, the decision tells us that the point in the middle of the tree is still the nearest point of relief, regardless of whether the player can actually play the stroke or not.  The same applies if a boundary wall obstructs the player's ability to determine the nearest point of relief.
    It is important to remember that the nearest point of relief is not always the nicest point of relief.  When officiating, I like to have the player keep the ball in its original position until the player is absolutely sure he wants to take relief.  That way, if he sees his options and does not like them, there would be no penalty for moving his ball in play.
   For a picture representation of Decision 24-2b/3.5, go no further than Decision 24-2b/3.7.

Decision 24-2b/3.5

Q.  In proceeding under Rule 24-2b(i) or Rule 25-1b(i), the Definition of "Nearest Point of Relief" provides that to determine the nearest point of relief accurately, the player should use the club, address position, direction of play and swing (right or left-handed) that he would have used from the original position had the obstruction or condition not been there.  What is the procedure of a player is physically unable to determine the nearest point of relief because, for example, that point is within the trunk of a tree or a boundary fence prevents the player from adopting the required address position?

A.  The nearest point of relief in both cases must be estimated and the player must drop the ball within one club-length of the estimated point, not nearer the hole.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time to Drop "Dropgate II"

            It’s been a very busy couple of weeks here, and the tournament season is definitely in full swing.  In between sending players off and then bringing them in I want to follow up on “Dropgate II” made a slightly larger issue thanks to Johnny Miller, notably not my favorite announcer.

            On the 14th hole in the final round of the Player’s Championship, Tiger Woods hooked his ball high and left into the lateral water hazard.  With the help and consultation of his fellow-competitor Casey Wittenberg, they determined the point they believed that the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and Tiger dropped accordingly (and correctly).  And overhead shot from the blimp caused Johnny Miller and many on Twitter to question the location of the drop, thinking that the ball must have crossed the margin several yards further back.

            The PGA Tour released a statement quickly thereafter citing Decision 26-1/17 regarding the drop.  Tiger had used his best judgment to determine the point where the ball last crossed, including consulting with his fellow-competitor.  The Decision states that if a player uses his best judgment and afterward it is determined that the point is actually incorrect, the player does not incur a penalty for playing from a wrong place, otherwise a player would always be subject to that penalty when they use their best judgment and are afterward found to be incorrect (see entire text of Decision below).

            There are several important things to say about this Decision and proceeding under 26-1 in general.  Remember that ANY time you are proceeding under 26-1 and determining the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, unless an official or marshal was close enough to see the exact crossing point, you are always estimating the spot.  When proceeding under this Rule (specifically 26-1c for lateral water hazards), it is not an exact science.  Tiger did everything correctly.  He had a general idea of where it crossed.  He consulted with his fellow-competitor and his fellow-competitor’s caddie to see if there was agreement about the point and there was.  He dropped using his best judgment with all available knowledge.  The drop was correct, and even if the blimp showed he gained a few extra yards, Decision 26-1/17 tells us that he proceeded correctly.

            This situation is NOTHING like the original “Dropgate.”  Tiger was not in breach of a Rule and did not drop in a wrong place.  Even if it is argued that he did drop a few yards closer than the actual spot where it last crossed, he proceeded correctly.  He estimated the spot where it last crossed and dropped accordingly.  End of story.

            Under Decision 26-1/17, a player could even use his best judgment and drop in a place that could be considered a serious breach of playing from a wrong place.  The key to remember is whether the player has used all available information and used honest judgment as to where the ball has crossed the margin of the hazard.  If that is the case, then the ball is in play and the player has proceeded correctly. (To cover all the bases, if you drop and before the ball is played it is discovered that the point used was incorrect, you must correct the error under 20-6, but if the ball has been played there is no need to correct the mistake).

            Let’s use some common sense here.  If a player uses all the available information (and no, don’t tell me the blimp view is available knowledge to Tiger, if you do you’re an idiot) and determines a point that later turns out to be incorrect should he really be penalized?  Of course not.  How else should a player proceed?  What happens when you can’t see the point where it last crossed but you have knowledge that the ball is in the hazard?  Do you have to get it exactly right or suffer a two-stroke penalty?  Of course not.

            So let’s bite this “Dropgate II” in the bud right now before misinformation takes over.  Tiger did it right.  If it turns out the ball crossed a few yards further back, it’s not a penalty because he used all available information to determine the point and used his best judgment.  There was no ill-intent and there was no attempt to gain an advantage and he dropped correctly according to the Rule.  So Johnny, when it comes to the Rules, just keep quiet.

Decision 26-1/17

Q. In the circumstances described in Decision 26-1/16 [a player has dropped under 26-1c and it is then discovered that the point was not correct], what is the ruling if A, having dropped a ball in a wrong place, plays it before his error is discovered?

A. A must continue play with the ball played from a wrong place, without penalty.  Applying the penalty under Rule 26-1 for playing from a wrong palce (see Rule 20-7) is not appropriate.  Otherwise, a competitor would risk incurring a penalty every time he makes an honest judgment as to the point where his ball last crosses a water-hazard margin and that judgment subsequently proves incorrect.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Four-Ball and the GX-4

Earlier this year the USGA announced that it will run national Four-Ball Championships for men and women amateurs starting next year, and the Amateur Public Links championships for men and women will cease in 2015.  The NCGA has been running its Four-Ball Championship for 47 years now.  In its current form it is a three day championship with a cut after two rounds.  There are 92 teams in this year’s championship held at the infamous and wondrous Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach, California.

The NCGA has run so many of its championships at Spyglass over the years (having had a large hand in the creation of the course itself), that we have the Local Rules situations down nearly to a science and we are only rarely blind-sided by confounding Rules situations out here as a result. 

So when a DQ went up on the board yesterday many players came in to ask what had happened.  Unfortunately, this was not a rare Rules situation, nor was it an advantageous breach nor did the player know he was in breach of a Rule.  So this article is more a warning to tournament players across the globe.

The DQ was for the use of an illegal distance-measuring device.  We should all know that when distance-measuring devices are permitted by local Rule, the device itself must not have the capability to measure anything that could affect the player’s play of a hole except for distance.  This applies to devices that can turn this capability off (See Decision 14-3/0.5 and Specimen Local Rule at App. I-B-9). 

Last year, Leupold introduced a DMD with a yellow face plate.  When the yellow face plate is on the device, it could measure distances factoring in slope/gradient which is against the Rules.  When the yellow face plate is not attached, the device turns off that capability.  The player in question had actually lost his device on the course and had returned to scoring to give me his number to contact him if someone turned in the device.  On the card he had written that it was a Leupold and the alarm bell started ringing in my head.  I asked him if it was the GX-4 and he said he didn’t know the model, and I asked if it had a yellow face plate.  He said it did, but he left the face plate at home because he knew that the device could not measure slope during the event. 

I wasn’t 100% this was the illegal device yet, because it was plausible that another device with a yellow face plate had been introduced that did not have slope capabilities, but the situation didn’t look good.  Sure enough, players had found the device and returned in a cart with it in hand as we were speaking with the player.  It was the GX-4.  I explained to him that because he had used a distance-measuring device that has the capability of measuring slope he was disqualified under Rule 14-3.  Even worse, is that under Rule 31-7, a breach of Rule 14-3 is a disqualification penalty that takes the whole side down and not just one player.  So because of the misunderstanding about the Rules regarding this specific device, his whole team was disqualified.

I give this example more as a warning to all players because this device is not always advertised correctly.  Leupold has posted on its site that the device is not approved for tournament play, but if you try and buy it online at, the description still claims that it is a legal device.  You could potentially purchase the device and use it without ever knowing its use is a breach of the Rules regardless of whether the face plate is on or off. 

There is nothing wrong with the device itself and Leupold makes great products, but if you do purchase the GX-4 or any device that has slope capabilities that can be turned off, know that the device is not approved for tournament play.

US Open Local Qualifying and Wet Weather

            At Monday’s U.S. Open Local Qualifying at Butte Creek, we got a taste of what the PGA Tour has been facing all year long – weather.  On the Saturday night prior to the event, a nasty storm with tornado watch came through and covered the course in debris, including a downed tree on the fifth hole.  The grounds crew did a spectacular job cleaning up for the qualifying and few of the players could have known how nasty the winds had been just two days before.  Nor was that their concern, however, as a batch of rain and wind of their own came through that Monday morning, increasing the pro shop profits significantly due to players and spectators who were caught completely off guard by rain in Chico in May.

(This little guy came prepared with pint-sized umbrella and all)

            The rain didn’t cause much havoc with the Rules, but it did bring up one interesting situation that we hear about in Rules School and on Rules Exams across the country.

            The 17th hole at Butte Creek Country Club is a long par three over water.  The teeing ground side of the water hazard is low-lying and with the rains the club received the water overflowed the margin of the hazard.  Fortunately, I knew this and was able to prepare my crew of volunteer officials for the possibility of an equity situation.

            First, we have to remember what the status of that overflow water is.  Decision 25/2 tells us that water overflowing from the water hazard is casual water.  Only the water within the margin of the water hazard is in the hazard.  So if we can see the ball in the casual water portion of the overflow, the player is entitled to relief under Rule 25-1b.

Once the ball is in the water, however, it is not always possible to tell whether it is in the casual water or the water hazard.  Fortunately, one of the most commonly used Decisions to describe Equity is Decision 1-4/7 where a ball is lost in either a water hazard or casual water overflowing the hazard.  This Decision tells us that if the ball is not found, the player may not proceed with free relief in accordance with Rule 25-1b, because it is not known that the ball is in the casual water.  So if the player cannot find the ball, but we know the ball is in the water somewhere, the player must proceed under Rule 26-1 with a one stroke penalty.

With the caliber of players we had in the field, this situation did not come up, but the potential was there and that is exactly why we have Equity.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Saucer Pass is for Hockey Only...

    Reported via Golf Channel from Vancouver is that the Saucer Pass chipping method is suitable only for hockey...  I took some time to read the comment section to see what people are thinking and I think that the story deserves a little more explanation.
    Rule 14-1 states, "The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned."  The powers that be, (USGA, R&A and in this case Golf Canada) have now decided that this method is a scrape.  I might've gone with push, but I agree whole heartedly with the ruling.
    Some of the arguments in the comment sections revolved around the fact that he does use a small backstroke and accelerates through the ball.  The key is all about momentary contact.  "If a ball is fairly struck at there is only momentary contact between the clubhead and the ball or whatever intervenes between the clubhead and the ball" (Decision 14-1/4).  In this case, the 18 inches of turf the club scrapes along could be considered "whatever intervenes between the clubhead and the ball" and therefore the clubhead has more than momentary contact.
   Decision 14-1/4 tells us that it is possible to make a legal stroke with only a 1/2-inch backswing, but it also says that in most cases the player would be pushing the ball.  I suppose because the clubhead scrapes the ground prior to the push this stroke is better considered a scrape.  
    To the revisionists in the comment sections, just like with the potential anchoring ban, the stroke was legal when he used it and he won his NCAA Championship fair and square.  He just can't use the method from here on out.  No asterisks allowed.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Phil Mickelson and Rule 20-2c

   On the 15th hole of the third round at the Wells Fargo Championship, Phil Mickelson pulled his tee shot to the right.  His ball ended up near, but without interference from the cart path.  He proceeded to pull his next shot out of bounds.  The next part is slight conjecture but he proceeded to drop a provisional ball(we think he announced a provisional first), that eventually ceased to be a provisional before he ever played it because officials determined his original was out of bounds.  But a curious thing happened on that drop...
   When proceeding under stroke and distance for a ball that is out of bounds or when playing a provisional, the player must drop a ball as near as possible to the spot where the previous stroke was last played from (remember Tiger and stroke and distance under Rule 26-1a?).  He did so and the ball rolled a significant distance away from the spot where it first touched the ground along the cart path.  Phil waited for an official before going any further and here's why:
    Under Rule 20-2c if a ball rolls more than two club-lengths from where the ball first touches the ground the player must re-drop the ball without penalty.  Phil had not measured anything in his procedure yet and had 3-wood in his hand.  The ball was within two 3-woods of where the ball first touched, but more than two shorter clubs.  He asked the official if he could measure using a putter to which the answer was no.  Decision 20/1 tells us that a player must continue to use the club originally used in measuring for all measuring purposes in a given situation.  However, Phil had not done any measuring in this situation at least in what was seen.  It is arguable that he could have used a putter to measure and then been required to re-drop the ball.  Had Mickelson already measured with the 3-wood prior to the official's arrival, he would be stuck with that club.
   Regardless, the Committee's decision is final.  He was told to measure with the 3-wood and the result was the ball was in play.  He was then given relief from the cart path for interference with his area of intended swing.  He found the nearest point of relief and measured (with the 3-wood) one club-length in which he could drop.  He made double-bogey on the hole.
   I was informed that Phil had already measured with the 3-wood prior to the official's arrival.  This is why he was not permitted to change clubs as he was requesting.  Even though Phil had not done any previous measuring in this situation as we see in Decision 20/1, he had selected and measured the two club-lengths with the 3-wood and from that point on he was stuck with the 3-wood for measuring purposes.

One Ball, Preferred Lies and Sergio...And Sergio...

            Ok, so we’ve had a few events happen in the past few days so here’s an overview of what’s happened at Quail Hollow during the Wells Fargo Championship and on the LPGA Tour at Kingsmill:

The “One Ball Rule”

            Erik Compton called a penalty on himself for a violation of the “One Ball Rule" on Thursday during the first round of the Wells Fargo Championship.  The so-called “One Ball Rule" has always been just slightly misnamed – it is actually a Condition of the Competition and not a local Rule.  Found in the Rules of Golf at Appendix I-C-1c it states, “During a stipulated round, the balls a player plays must be of the same brand and model as detailed by a single entry on the current list of Conforming Golf Balls.”
            Compton realized that he had inadvertently switched from one of the brand-new prototype 2013 models of the Pro-V1x and had put a 2011 model Pro-V1x into play.  This seems relatively minor but as we all know, technology moves fast and those two golf balls have two separate listings on the current list of Conforming Golf Balls.
            The “One Ball” Condition has one of those maximum penalty per round penalty statements, meaning Compton could only have been subject to four total penalty strokes had he used the ball for multiple holes.  One interesting note is that this breach does not need to be corrected immediately.  Upon discovery of the breach, the player may finish the hole with the incorrect ball, so long as he does not play it from the next teeing ground.  The player may also elect to substitute a correct ball immediately by placing it on the spot where the incorrect ball originally lay.  If, however, the player does not put a correct ball into play from the next teeing ground, the p[layer is subject to disqualification.
            The discussion came up earlier in the year about a player who notices the breach on the final hole of the round.  This is not a situation where the player needs to go back and correct the mistake (like playing from outside the teeing ground or playing a wrong ball).  If the breach is noticed on the final putting green, the player incurs a two-stroke penalty for each hole where the breach first occurred with a maximum of four penalty strokes.  No correction has to be made at that point.  So if you realize the incorrect ball was put into play at the 13th hole, you would incur two penalty strokes at the 13th and 14th holes, but no further penalty is incurred. 

Sergio’s “Putt”

            This wasn’t so much a Rules situation, but it could use some clarification.  Remember that the Rules of Golf do not differentiate between the club used for a stroke when trying to define it.  Although Sergio “chipped” the ball from the putting green, because the stroke was made from the putting green it is considered a “putt.”  In the opposite situation, if Sergio uses a putter from through the green (like the fringe), it would be a “chip” and a line of putt would not be applicable only a line of play.  This difference typically comes into play when determining performance statistics, but a relevant Rules situation would be when there is interference from an immovable obstruction (like a sprinkler head).
            If a player’s ball lies through the green (more specifically not on the putting green) and a sprinkler interferes with a stroke using the putter, without any local Rules in effect, the player would not be entitled to relief.  Line of putt is not applicable.  If, however, the ball and obstruction lay on the putting green, a player would be entitled to relief for interference by an immovable obstruction on the line of putt, regardless of whether he is using a putter.

Sergio – again.

            After the Tiger Woods incident at the Masters, a lot of questions have been raised about viewer call-ins.  At the Wells Fargo on Friday, a viewer called on to question Sergio’s marking and replacement of his ball on the 17th putting green.  He had apparently marked the ball from the side and when replaced the viewer thought he was putting it back in the wrong place.  After television review, Tour officials ruled that there was no breach.  Sergio was honorable in the situation and declared, “If people are going to think I’m a cheater, I’d rather get a two-stroke penalty and move on than not get a two-stroke penalty and people think I’m cheating.”
            There are many ways to correctly mark a golf ball prior to lifting it.  The Note to Rule 20-1 and Decision 20-1/16 tell us that a mark SHOULD be placed immediately behind the ball, but nothing in the Rules of Golf requires that the mark be placed behind the ball.  There was nothing wrong with Sergio marking the ball from the side or at an angle, so long as the ball was replaced at the same spot.  According to the Officials' review, he did exactly that.
            It was recently revealed that Tiger’s call-in viewer was actually a former Rules Official who had the number of one of the officials working the Masters.  I personally believe that the controversy surrounding viewer call-ins is blown slightly out of proportion because it is highly likely that the majority of these calls are coming from Rules Officials that have the phone number and ability to call working officials.  I am in the industry and don’t have the first clue how I would contact somebody in a call-in situation.  Whoever is doing the calling, has an in and likely the knowledge to know what they’re actually calling about.  Remember that the Tour or body in charge of the event does not have to consider the phone calls, they only do if there is some merit behind the information.

Lift, Clean and Place – sort of

            Most country club members are familiar with “preferred lies” more commonly known as “lift, clean and place.”  On both the PGA and LPGA Tours this week, officials decided to use the Rule selectively.  Lift, clean and place was only in effect on certain holes in both events due to conditions on the course.  Some viewers may be wondering how this is possible.
            In the Rules of Golf at Appendix I-B-4c you will find the recommended Local Rule for “Preferred Lies.”  The first sentence reads, “A ball lying in a closely mown area through the green (or specify a more restricted area, e.g., at the 6th hole) may be lifted, without penalty, and cleaned.”
            This recommended verbiage clearly permits the Committee to restrict the Local Rule to a specific hole or holes in cases where the conditions of the course do not warrant using the Local Rule throughout the entire course.
            Christina Kim admirably called a penalty on herself when she lifted and cleaned her ball on one of the holes not specified by the LPGA Tour.  She admitted that she was playing quickly and thought that hole 6 was hole 7.  If she replaced the ball in the exact spot she was subject to a one-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 18-2a (Ball at Rest Moved).  If she placed the ball on a different spot than the original and played it she was subject to a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 18-2a which required her to replace the moved ball.
            Much to her credit she tweeted about it later, “I’m too quick for anyone to catch.  It’s my own fault.  I thought 6 was 7.” And then in response to a Twitter follower who wanted to place some blame on the caddie, “not a chance. Was all me. I was faster than anyone realized.  Why blame anyone but myself, since I knew the rule.”
            Always a class act.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Who's Your Caddie?

                Besides having an absolutely gorgeous day at the site of last year’s U.S. Open, Monday’s CGA Amateur qualifying at the Olympic Club's Ocean course went off virtually without a hitch.  As far as rulings go, there were no difficult rulings to be made with the exception of several players having to drop on the cart path when obtaining relief under Rule 26 or 28.  There was, however, a very interesting “non-ruling” that occurred along with an interesting discussion that went back to the USGA for a verdict.

                Due to a mishap with some caddies assigned through the club, a player with an injured neck looked to be left carrying his own bag.  The player in question was physically unable to carry the bag for the entire 18 holes and had been specifically warned by his doctor not to do so.  Through no fault of his own, the caddie did not show up.  Before deciding to withdraw he said he would try a few holes while carrying the bag on his other shoulder and see how it would go – perhaps the caddie would show up by the third hole which ended up near the clubhouse.

                At that time, his fellow-competitor offered to sling the bag for those few holes to help the player out.  We had a conundrum and it led to the question of the day – could a fellow-competitor be a caddie?

                The easy part of the answer is yes, with some stipulations.  Decisions 6-4/8 and 6-4/9 tell us that it is permissible for a fellow-competitor in the same competition to be a caddie for another player.  In 6-4/8, the players are playing at different times, presumably a morning and an afternoon time, and one is permitted to caddie for the other.  In 6-4/9, the player’s marker withdraws midway through the round and then proceeds to caddie for the player as well as continuing as the marker.  This decision is important for two reasons: 1) it permits a marker to also be a caddie and, 2) it is one of several Decisions that give us precedent for when a person becomes a caddie, “A became B’s caddie as well as his marker when he started carrying B’s clubs.” 

                The definition of caddie states:

A “caddie” is one who assists the player in accordance with the Rules, which may include carrying or handling the player’s clubs during play.”

Nowhere in the definition does it state that carrying clubs makes a person a caddie, only that a caddie’s duties may include doing so.  It is not until Decision 6-4/4 and Decision 6-4/9 that we have instances where a person is considered a caddie solely because he is carrying clubs.  In 6-4/4 the young boy is doing nothing but carrying clubs, however he is considered a caddie.

                There is one small loophole that could have helped our earlier friend with the injured neck – Decision 6-4/4.5.  This Decision states that the casual act of assisting the player or his caddie do not constitute a breach of Rule 6-4, meaning that a casual act of carrying clubs does not necessarily make another person a caddie.  In this instance, the fellow-competitor only carries the clubs for a brief amount of time, half of a hole perhaps.  It begs the question whether the Committee could consider a fellow-competitors compassion and generosity a casual act if he were to carry the clubs for an extended period of time?  I think the answer is no, there must be a limit.  I don’t know what that limit might be.

                So if we’ve determined that the act of carrying another player’s clubs would make a fellow-competitor a caddie.  Show me where in the Rules it says that a fellow-competitor cannot be caddie?  Well?  I’m waiting… Found it yet?  I bet you haven’t, because there is no place in the Rules that specifically states that a fellow-competitor cannot serve as a caddie while playing.  So why then, after discussion, would our source at the USGA state that it is not permissible?

                It takes a roundabout explanation but it makes sense.  Rule 8-1 states a player must not give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner.  A caddie is specifically someone who is permitted to give advice to a player.  Therefore, a player must not serve as a caddie to anyone else playing on the course other than his partner (and if you think about it, it is irrelevant whether a partner is a “caddie” because all relevant Rules would include both partner and caddie in lockstep).

                Someone brought up Rules 18 and 19 to me as a possible bar to a fellow-competitor as a caddie.  It’s a fair argument but really, that doesn’t prevent it the same way as 8-1.  Basically, the fellow-competitor would no longer be an outside agency which would mean the player himself would incur penalties under 18-2 or 19-2 for breaches by the fellow-competitor (if he were the caddie) but it really doesn’t affect the fellow-competitor because he would not incur penalties for those breaches.

                So the bottom line is that a fellow-competitor cannot play and caddie at the same time.  Why? Because 8-1 would not permit there to be such a person who is both permitted and not permitted to give advice at the same time.  Could he simply carry the clubs?  No.  The extended act of carrying clubs for the entire round would make the fellow-competitor a caddie by Decision. 

                Interesting stuff, right?