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!

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