Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Learning Curve: Guan's Newest Penalty


            On the 16th hole in Friday’s round at the Fedex St. Jude Classic, Tianlang Guan’s ball came to rest in a fairway bunker.  He was not sure it was his, so he lifted the ball to identify it.  Rule 12-2 permits the player to lift the ball for identification, but it also has a specific procedure that the player is required to follow.
            Before lifting, the player must mark the ball and announce his intention to lift the ball to a fellow-competitor or his marker in stroke play.    After doing those two things, the player is then permitted to lift the ball in order to identify it.  When he does so, the player must also give his marker or fellow-competitor the opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement. 
            Usually this procedure looks more like a casual conversation, “Hey, I’ve got to see if this is mine,” says the player.  “Ok go ahead,” says the marker.  That simple exchange is generally enough to satisfy the requirement of the Rule.  Guan, however, failed to tell his marker or a fellow-competitor that he was lifting the ball.
            The penalty for failing to follow this procedure is one stroke, only this time the one-stroke penalty did not endanger Guan’s chances of making the cut…he was already going to miss it.  It was Guan’s marker, Steven Bowditch that brought the infraction to the youngster’s attention, and Bowditch then [is reported to have] refused to sign the score card until the proper penalty was applied.  It seems strange to apply a penalty for simply failing to tell the marker you are identifying the ball, but when viewed in line with other examples of procedural penalties it makes perfect sense.
            Rule 5-3, Rule 12-2 and Rule 20-1 all have what is commonly termed as a “procedural penalty,” or a one-stroke penalty that is applied when a player does not follow the procedure outlined in the Rule.  Rule 5-3 requires the player to announce his intention to lift the ball to determine if it is unfit for play.  Rule 12-2 requires the player to announce his intention to lift the ball to identify it.  Rule 5-3 requires the player to give a fellow-competitor or opponent the opportunity to examine the golf ball to see if it is actually unfit for play.  Rule 12-2 requires the player to give a fellow-competitor or opponent the opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement of the ball.  All three Rules require the ball to be marked prior to lifting it.  When a player fails to do any or all of the above actions when lifting the ball under one of those Rules, he incurs that one-stroke penalty.
            The reason these procedures are in place is to protect the integrity of the field in stroke play, and to protect the rights of the opponent in match play.  These procedures ensure that a player always has to inform someone that the ball is being moved, that it is being moved for a purpose and that someone has the opportunity to make sure the ball is lifted and replaced correctly.

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