Saturday, August 31, 2013

Recent Rulings - Associate Club Championship

            Last week during the Associate Club Championship we had a few interesting situations that occurred, not to mention some pace of play situations that led to penalties.

Wrong Ball

            In an event with handicaps ranging from 0 to about 25, you’re bound to have a few mishaps.  During the first round between the fifth and seventh holes one player accidentally played another player’s ball.  The ruling is simple, the player who played the wrong ball must correct the error by playing the correct ball and incurs a two-stroke penalty.  But now we have to get the fellow-competitor’s ball back into play.  Rule 15-3 says, “if the wrong ball belongs to another competitor, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.”  If the original spot is known and the lie has not been altered this is pretty simple, and in this case that’s what happened.

Touching the Green

            While speaking with our timing official between the 9th and 18th holes of Spyglass Hill during the 2nd round, a player walked up and stated his problem, “Before my partner’s putt I touched the putting green in pointing out a line for him.  I get the penalty right, because I touched the green?” 
            On one hand, he was correct that there was a penalty.  On the other hand, the penalty actually went to his partner, or really he should be considered the player for this situation.  Rule 8-2b states, “When the player’s ball is on the putting green, the player, his partner or either of their caddies may before, but not during the stroke, point out a line for putting, but in doing so the putting green must not be touched.”  The Rule doesn’t limit or penalize the people who touch the green, but the person who is having the line indicated for him.  So even though the partner touched the putting green, the player received the penalty.

Ball on a Rake

            Another Rules question arose while at the turn as a player wanted to clarify a situation that had occurred several holes back.  His ball had come to rest against a rake.  When he removed the rake, the ball moved.  “So I was supposed to play it from where it came to rest right?”  Unfortunately for the player, the answer is no.  He had played the ball from where it came to rest, and unfortunately that meant he incurred a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 24-1a.  Rule 24-1a states, “if the ball moves, it must be replaced and there is no penalty provided that the movement of the ball is directly attributable to the removal of the obstruction.”  In this player’s case, he had every right to remove the obstruction and when the ball moved as a result of moving the obstruction he had to put it back.  Since he didn’t put it back he played from a wrong place.  He took the penalty well and added it to his score card on the spot.

Pace of Play

            During the final round we had two pace of play penalties stick, including one to the final group of the day.  We had 6 pace of play appeals throughout the day.  The reason these two penalties did not go away is because there was nothing that warranted waiving the penalties.  They were both18 minutes or more behind the group in front of them.  They were 4 minutes and 13 minutes behind the pace of play.  Nothing occurred on the final hole or holes that caused them to miss their time.  Although we look for every reason not to penalize a group, there was nothing in the appeal that warranted rescinding the penalties.  Because of the 2 best ball of 4 format, the penalty actually had no effect whatsoever on the final pairing, and the earlier penalty had no effect on the competition as they were nowhere near win, place or show.
            (For those following this is under the NCGA Pace of Play – Two Checkpoint Policy in the Pace of Play section of the blog)
            Interesting to note is that 5 of the 6 groups that missed a checkpoint and were subject to a one-stroke penalty had caddies.  There were few other groups in the field that used caddies, if any. In net championships, it is clear that players do not know how to properly use caddies and that caddies do not care about pace of play whether they say so or not.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kuchar and the Indent

            Ladies and Gentlemen, take note.  To all NCGA officials and other officials who read this:  there is never anything wrong with getting on the radio.  If you’re watching the Barclay’s and Matt Kuchar trying to get relief for something he really shouldn’t be entitled to, Slugger White, VP of Rules and Competitions for the PGA Tour, had no qualms with getting on the radio to get a second opinion.
            The situation is simple:  Kuchar wanted to be able to repair a dent on the green made by a player leaning on his putter.  Players are not permitted to repair this kind of incongruity on the green by themselves, so Kuchar and Woodland called in Slugger White. 
            Slugger initially did not want to give relief.  Kuchar’s ball was through the green so he wouldn’t have been entitled to relief for an abnormal ground condition under Rule 25-1b even if Slugger deemed it so.  However, in such circumstances it is permissible for a member of the Committee to repair such abnormal damage which was the end result after Slugger consulted other Committee members on the radio.  For similar situations see Decisions 16-1a/6 regarding a damaged hole or 16-1c/3 regarding an old hole plug issue.  In both instances a player may and should request assistance from a member of the Committee.

Gary Woodland at the Barclay's

            On the 6th hole after his tee shot, Gary Woodland’s ball came to rest in a thick and nasty lie.  When he arrived at the ball there was some doubt as to whether a marshal had stepped on the ball, worsening the lie and changing the position of the ball.
            The applicable Rule is 18-1, a ball at rest moved by an outside agency.  It was determined that they were virtually certain that the ball had been moved by an outside agency, and so Woodland was required to replace it without penalty.  Now we bring another Rule into play.  Because the exact original spot (and the original lie for that matter,) was not known, Rule 20-3c applied and Woodland had to drop the ball to get it back in play rather than replace it.  If the original spot was known and the lie had not been altered he would have been required to replace the ball on that spot.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Live from Pebble Beach: The NCGA Amateur Match Play Wrap-Up

            It was a long week at the NCGA Amateur Match Play, but it was well worth the hard work.  We crowned a very deserving champion in Ben Geyer, who became the first player in 51 years to win both the NCGA’s Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play championships in the same year.  We all wish him the best of luck as he commences his professional career.
            There are two topics to discuss: some key rulings throughout the championship and the course setup philosophy.
Not a Bad Place to Setup a Championship


            During the second round of match play there were two rulings of significance. 
            A player, in attempting to play his ball from out of the water in a water hazard, touched the water with his club while taking his stance (you can’t address the ball in a hazard without penalty).  Unfortunately, this is a breach of Rule 13-4b and the player lost the hole.  Loss of hole penalties are seemingly rare and are always a significant blow to an opponent.

            Perhaps, even more interesting was a ruling that did not cause a penalty.  During the quarterfinal matches of the Senior Amateur Match Play, Terry Foreman found his ball had come to rest on a spot that looked like it could be a filled in burrowing animal hole.
            The referee gave him permission to lift the ball in order to determine whether it might be in a burrowing animal hole (see Decision 20-1/0.7).  With the ball still in hand, the referee determined that Foreman was not entitled to relief, but before he could say anything Foreman removed some of the loose impediments that were underneath the ball, as I found out later, he did this to further see if it was a hole that was filled in.  The referee wisely called on the radio to see what needed to happen.
            He believed there could be a loss of hole penalty for a breach of Rule 13-2, but that Rule did not apply in this situation.  The ruling is actually by Decision, and can be found at Decision 23-1/7.  As the ball had not yet been replaced and played, Foreman was required to replace the removed loose impediments.  If he did not do so, in equity he would incur a one-stroke penalty.  The reasoning behind this equity ruling is better explained in the following Decision (23-1/8) which elaborates that since through the green a player incurs a penalty of one stroke if his ball moves in the process of removing a loose impediment, it would circumvent the Rule if a player could remove loose impediments while the ball was lifted under a Rule which required it to be replaced.
            Foreman was able to replace the loose impediments and continue without penalty, albeit without relief.

            We had two rulings during the final match, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  The first ruling actually reminds us how important it is to get all the facts. 
            On the sixth hole, Geyer found himself short in a greenside bunker.  His opponent then played a stroke to the green, leaving a pitch-mark on Geyer’s line of play.  The referee did not see this, so when they arrived at the green and Geyer asked if he could repair the pitch-mark (which was through the green), he immediately responded no.  Sure enough, Geyer’s bunker shot flew right to the pitch-mark and skidded sideways.
            His caddie, who is an accomplished player herself, then said to the referee that the pitch-mark was made by the opponent’s stroke and was not there when Geyer’s ball had come to rest.  Decision 13-2/8 tells us that a player is entitled to the line of play he had when his ball came to rest, and in this very situation he would be permitted to repair the pitch-mark if it was made after his ball had come to rest.
            The referee later noted he should have asked the question whether the pitch-mark was made before or after Geyer’s ball had come to rest.  It was a tough one that he got wrong, but remember, if you haven’t made a wrong ruling, you haven’t been officiating very long.
Observer John LoFranco Assists Andrew Morgan With Drop on Final Hole of the Match
            The second incident occurred again on the sixth hole, but this time during the second 18 holes of the match.  Geyer again found himself in a greenside bunker and this time he left his first stroke in the bunker.  He played another stroke from the bunker and extricated the ball to the collar and proceeded to concede the hole to his opponent who had a short putt left for birdie.  While the referee was walking to the 7th teeing ground, Geyer raked the ball back into the bunker and made a stroke from the bunker to the green.
            Because we require that referees confirm all loss of hole penalties, I received the radio call and stated that indeed, a player is not permitted to make a practice stroke from a bunker between holes and the penalty applies to the next hole (Rule 7-2).  Geyer, who was 6 up prior to the 6th hole, suffered a two-hole blow in a span of a minute.
            Later in the round, the question was raised as to whether Geyer might have been continuing the play of the hole.  And had Geyer left his second bunker shot in the bunker and he then played it from that position, it would not have been a practice stroke (Strokes made in continuing the play of the hole, the result of which has been decided, are not practice strokes – Rule 7-2). We then double-confirmed that Geyer had extricated his ball from the bunker prior to raking it back in to play a practice stroke.
We Don't Mind So Much When These Spectators Get in the Way

Course Setup

            Unlike the State Amateur, where I was able to have a little extra fun with the signature 14th hole and use every teeing ground available for that hole (and the 15th hole), all players teed off from the teeing ground designed for its own hole this week.  But the setup philosophy was very similar and had to keep many factors in mind.
            For stroke play, I wanted as balanced a setup as possible with opposite locations for holes on the two days.  If I used a front location the first round, I used a back location the second round and vice versa.  This ensured that players would play each hole in both an easier setup and a more difficult setup.  For holes that don’t have significant front or back differences I would go with right and left locations.  The first two rounds had 6 front, 6 middle and 6 back locations (give or take 1), with 6 right 6 center and 6 left locations.
            For the match player portion I then got tough.  The hole locations were significantly more tucked and thought provoking, but I also made sure to leave plenty of scoring opportunities and risk-reward situations.  It was also important that I matched hole yardages with the difficulty of the hole location.
On the 3rd Hole, I used a friendly hole location with the difficult back tee
            On the 13th hole, for example, I used a back left hole location which was previously forbidden by former Director of Rules & Competitions Roger Val.  The 13th hole is capable of playing as long as 460-465 yards.  Playing the tee all the way back and using that hole location would have been unfair.  So the tees were moved to about 420 yards, giving the players an opportunity to have a short to mid-iron into the difficult hole location.
           Some of the more interesting course setup choices involved moving tees up to create drivable par-4 holes.  On Thursday for the quarterfinal and semifinal matches I moved the tee on the 17th hole up as far as it could go.  It played 266 yards.  Too short, you say?  There was a catch.  I introduced a rarely used hole location at the front right of the green.  It was a struggle for par if you went for the green and missed in the wrong spot, but the yardage was such that it was incredibly difficult to talk yourself into laying up.  The only regular match that made it to 17 ended with 2 birdies.  One player laid back, pitched to 5 feet and made the putt.  The other player went for it, ended up in the back bunker, pitched back to forty yards short of the green and holed the pitch for birdie!  That's excitement.
        The most fun move I made had to be on the second hole for the afternoon portion of the final match.  I moved the tee on the 2nd hole to the forward-most tee at 242 yards.  Way too short you say? Well, the 2nd hole plays straight uphill and was probably more of a 260-270 yard shot.  Both players took the bait and Geyer ended just short of the green.  He pitched up and made birdie.  His opponent, however, took dead aim and actually hit the flagstick on the fly!  Unfortunately his ball ricocheted into the lie you see below.
Andrew Morgan's Ball After Hitting the Flagstick on Hole #2 in the Finals

        A good setup for me creates a mix of shots, long and short, left and right, risk and reward.  Sometimes I will set a hole location just to tempt the player.  The smart player will play 5 yards into the heart of the green and make a putt.  The greedy player will take on the hole, miss just slightly and end up with bogey or worse.  I like to make players think.  Judging by the champions I got in both divisions (Ben Geyer for the Amateur and Casey Boyns for the Senior Amateur), I think I got it right.  I'll see you all next year!

Solheim Cup Incorrect Ruling

  There has been quite a bit of coverage on this incorrect ruling so I'll make my own article brief.  First, however, let me state that you have not been a Rules Official very long if you haven't made a wrong ruling.  That said, this ruling was not a complicated one and combined with the fact that it took an absolutely unacceptable amount of time, it's pretty poor.  Even the least experienced of qualified officials should not have made this mistake.  I ask, did he use the radio?

   Europe's Ciganda had hit her ball into the lateral water hazard on the 15th hole.  The nature of the hazard made it feasible for her to use her option under Rule 26-1c to drop within two club-lengths of the point on the opposite margin that was equidistant to the hole from the original point where her ball last crossed the margin of the hazard.
   The official, however, permitted Ciganda to drop keeping the equidistant point in line with where the ball was dropped and the flagstick, with no limit as to how far back the ball could be dropped.  Ciganda dropped nearly 40 yards back on that line, and therefore nearly 40 yards from where her ball should have been dropped. The problem is that option under Rule 26-1b is only available with reference to the original point where the ball last crossed the margin and may not be used with reference to the equidistant point.  I don't know what took so long, I don't know why this awkward combination of correct options was used, but I do know that they got it wrong. Ouch.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Live from Spyglass: 110th Amateur Match Play Round 1

                It’s not every day we get a ruling straight out of the Decisions book.  But sure enough in the first wave of the first round of the 2013 NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship, we had a doozy.
            On the first hole, a player hit his tee shot left and he believed it could be lost, so he hit a provisional.  They searched for the original and he found a ball that he thought was his.  He hit that ball and picked up his provisional.  His fellow-competitor then mentioned that it could have been his ball.  Sure enough they went to check and the player had hit his fellow-competitor’s ball.  Since his original ball was lost, we were staring at a four-stroke penalty situation, and the reasoning can be food directly in Decision 27-2b/9.
            The player hit his original ball from tee.  Because it was lost, he incurred a stroke and distance penalty under Rule 27-1 and the provisional ball was the ball in play lying 3.  He then hit a wrong ball incurring an additional two stroke penalty under Rule 15-3b and the error had to be corrected.  But he had to correct it by playing his provisional ball, which he had lifted.  Since he lifted his ball in play without reason to do so, he incurred an additional one stroke penalty under Rule 18-2a and the ball had to be replaced.  It gets better.
            We’re done with the penalty strokes, but now we have to get the ball back into play.  Since the exact original spot was not known, Rule 20-3c applied and a ball had to be dropped at the estimated spot no nearer the hole.  Once he did so he had a ball back in play and was hitting his 7th stroke.  That’s why we have Rule 12-2 so you can always make sure it’s your own ball.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

DQ at the Web.Com Price Cutter Charity Championship

            What follows is one of the more incredible DQ stories you may hear this year.
Matt Bettencourt was disqualified from the Tour event for signing for a score lower than he had actually received.  Since Bettencourt is a Northern California guy we were able to dig and find out the details.
            Bettencourt went into the scoring area and signed a scorecard for a 72, which gave him a 139 which was good enough to make the cut.  He returned his card and left the scoring area.  His fellow-competitor, Matt Davidson called him back into the scoring area to correct a score for the 13th hole.  Davidson had made a 3 and Bettencourt had written a 4.  Since Davidson had not left the scoring area or returned his card it could be corrected.  The volunteer scoring official handed Bettencourt a card back and he changed the 13th hole from a 4 to a 3, initialed it and left again.
            Bettencourt later looked online only to see that his score was listed as a 71 and not a 72.  He called and then returned to the course to find out what had happened.  It turned out, that the volunteer had handed him his own score card to be corrected instead of Davidson’s.  Both of them being a Matt, the volunteer had made an error in the card and as the scores were very similar, he failed to notice which Matt the score card belonged to.  The end ruling by the Tour officials was that Bettencourt was disqualified for signing for a lower score and Davidson (who actually shot 65) was stuck with the 4 he originally signed for.
            There are several issues with this ruling: first, if ever there was Committee error, this was it.  He came back to correct Davidson’s card, was handed a card by the scoring volunteer and corrected it.  He was not supposed to be correcting his own card.  But we can overlook that, perhaps Bettencourt should’ve checked the name twice. 
What I cannot overlook is that Bettencourt had returned his card to the Committee and had left the scoring area.  He had returned his card - and left the scoring area.  Rule 6-6c states specifically, “No alteration may be made on a score card after the competitor has returned it to the Committee.”  Furthermore, Decision 6-6c/1 tells us that a player “is considered to have returned his score card when he has left the scoring area.”  The alteration that Bettencourt made should not have been permitted and it should have been declared null and void.  He had signed and returned a correct card to the Committee, and the alteration should not have mattered.  In my opinion, (which believe it or not is decently respected), he should be playing this weekend. Ouch.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Woody With Too Many Woods...

             It’s very rare that we witness four penalty strokes dealt out in a major championship, but it happened today.  It wasn't actually extra woods that did him in, but he did have too many clubs...
            Woody Austin received four penalty strokes for carrying more than 14 clubs.    He had been debating between a 3-iron and a 21-degree hybrid prior to the round and both he and his caddie neglected to remove the un-chosen club from the bag prior to starting the round.  Austin noticed the extra club on the third hole of the round and summoned a Rules Official.  The bad news for him was that he was subject to a two-stroke penalty for each hole the Rule was breached with a maximum penalty of four strokes for the round.  Since the breach was discovered on the 3rd hole, he received two penalty strokes on the first hole and two penalty strokes on the second hole.  Austin shot 75 and missed the cut by one stroke.
            Rule 4-4a is a fairly clean-cut Rule and it is rarely breached by professionals.  It is also a unique Rule in that it has a maximum penalty per round.  Regardless of the hole the breach is discovered on, the penalty is applied to the first hole or holes of the round at two strokes per hole with a maximum of four strokes (or two holes worth of penalties).
            Had this been match play, the penalty is even more unique.  It is what we call an adjustment to the state of the match penalty.  Rather than a player losing the first two holes (which would result in a four hole negative swing had the player originally won those holes), the match is adjusted by two holes when the breach is discovered.   For clarification of the match play penalty see Decision 4-4a/9.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Changing the Facts and the GPS Reality

   Over the last week I had two particularly interesting Rules situations occur, either in one of my events or via an email question.  The first is an extremely important revelation that occurred during the Associate Club Sectional Qualifying at Poppy Ridge last Thursday.

The GPS Reality

   For the past few years, the issue with distance measuring devices and smart phones has been a relatively simple one.  If you're using a smart phone later than the iPhone 3GS, there's a compass app on your phone that makes the device illegal for use as a DMD.  In particular, it was understood that you  were not able to remove that app from an iPhone.  So if a player used an iPhone as a DMD with a golf GPS app or otherwise, it resulted in disqualification.
   At Poppy Ridge, I found out that the app can indeed be removed.  I received a radio call that a player had been using his cell phone as a DMD throughout the round.  He had misunderstood the directions from the starter and believed it was ok.  When he came in I began to explain the problem with using a smart phone as a DMD.  I was going to show the player the problem by showing him the compass app, but when he handed his phone to me and I opened the utilities folder only to not find the compass app.  I asked him where it was and he said he had removed it.  Baffled, I asked him how, because I was under the impression that it could not be removed.  A simple enough task, when hooked up to your computer and iTunes it's actually easy to delete.
    This completely changed my view of how I need to handle smart phone GPS use.  It use to be an almost assured DQ.  But after reviewing the applications he had on his phone (without prying too far, I wasn't trying to find a problem but rather reassure myself and the player that there was nothing that did cause a breach) it turned out that the player was using his smart phone as a DMD legally.  This was especially good because in the format we were playing, his use of the smart phone, had it been illegal, would have taken his entire team down with him (four-ball stroke play takes the partner and the other side had X'd out on a hole taking out the team for not having enough eligible scores in a two best-ball of four format).
    This now means that every smart phone DMD situation must be thoroughly sorted out.  If the player has removed the compass app, and does not have any other apps on the phone that might affect his play (general temperature apps like Weather Channel have generally been accepted as they do not give precise information measuring immediate surroundings) the use of the phone as a DMD is acceptable.  Wow.


Deleting the compass app is not as easy as previously described, but it is still possible.  Golfers across the web have come together and figured out how to do it.  The process involves "jailbreaking" the phone so that you can view the internal files as you would in Windows Explorer.  Then you can delete whatever apps you want by deleting the file folder.  However, I don't recommend doing this unless you know what you're doing...

Changing the Facts

    I received an email question with a situation worded exactly as follows:

"I played in a match play tournament and called out my opponent for having 15 clubs in his bag.  I pointed this out on the 17th hole.  The penalty is the loss of 2 holes and he must let me know what club he is going to remove from his bag.  I was down 4 holes on the 17th hole but with the two hole penalty that put me down 2 holes with two to play.  My opponent did not remove the 15th club from his bag nor did he tell me [which club was out of play].  My question is, is he disqualified for not removing the 15th club?  I would appreciate your response."

    As you can tell, there are some important details to sort out.  The glaring one of course...4 down on the 17th hole?  Umm...I think we all see the problem there.  If he's 4 down on the 17th the match was over either following the 15th hole (4 & 3) or 16th hole (4 & 2).  However, a review of Rule 2-5 would reveal this possibility:
   If they had completed the match and continued playing prior to the result of the match being announced (playing their way in as is common with club matches) and he first became aware of the 15th club on the 17th hole, his claim was valid if made prior to the result of the match being announced.
    And although he misstated the penalty for such a breach (it is an adjustment to the state of the match penalty, not loss of hole), he had adjusted the match standing correctly.  The breach of 4-4a for having more than 14 clubs would have resulted in a 2 hole adjustment, and the match would need to be resumed at whichever point the opponent had originally won the match (either from the 16th tee or 17th tee - see Decision 2-5/5.5).
    Then, if the opponent did fail to remove the 15th club or declare which club was out of play, he would be disqualified for a breach of Rule 4-4c.  This slightly off email question might actually be on to something!  But if the facts change...
    I emailed him back stating that I needed a few questions answered before I could make a final ruling.  When did he become aware of the 15th club?  When was the match won, after 15 or 16 holes?  And when did he not remove the club, after being told of the breach or was he referring simply to the fact he hadn't removed it from the start?
    Only the first question required an answer:  he had become aware of the 15th club on the 10th hole.  Whoops.
    Going back to Rule 2-5, if the circumstances giving rise to the claim were known at the 10th hole, a claim would only be valid if made prior to starting the 11th hole.  Because he tried to hold on to the information, his claim was not valid. The match stands as played with the opponent winning 4 and 3.
    If nothing else, these two situations highlight the need to gather all the facts prior to making a ruling.  Each and every detail could have a significant impact on the ruling.