Tuesday, December 24, 2013

FarbTalk's Top 10 Rulings of 2013

                With one week left in the year 2013, it is naturally a time for a whole bunch of top ten lists and all kinds of other articles and rankings to review the past year.  This year brought a lot of attention to the Rules of Golf, and most certainly all of that attention was not positive.  There were many, many notable situations, in part thanks to Tiger Woods and in part thanks to a greater scrutiny on the Rules of Golf with some major issues being in the headlines throughout the year. 
            This year FarbTalk brings you the Top 10 Rulings of 2013.  Enjoy!

10.       Tiger Woods: Round 2 at the Abu Dhabi Championship

            The year started off with a bang when Tiger Woods incurred a two-stroke penalty under Rule 18 for playing from a wrong place.  His ball came to rest in a very iffy lie in a bed of vines on the 5th hole.  After calling his fellow-competitor Martin Kaymer over to survey the situation, they agreed that the ball was embedded.  This year notwithstanding, Woods is actually one of the more well-versed players on the Rules of Golf.  He lifted the ball and dropped it in accordance with Rule 25-2 for an embedded ball.
            The problem was that the vines where his ball laid were in a sandy area.  So even though Woods and Kaymer were correct that Woods was entitled to a ball embedded through the green thanks to the Local Rule in Appendix I, they both forgot that the Local Rule carries an exception for sand. Therefore, Tiger was not entitled to relief and was not entitled to lift his ball without declaring it unplayable.  That was a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2a.  When he failed to replace the ball and played it from the new position, it became a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 18.  Officials became aware of the situation and informed Tiger of the penalty at the 11th tee.  He missed the cut by one stroke.
Read the FarbTalk article: Sandy Tiger

9.         Tiger Woods: Round 3 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship

            On the 17th hole of the 3rd round at Doral, Tiger Woods again hit the spotlight when he managed to get his tee shot stuck in a tall palm tree.  When Tiger’s ball ended in the tree, if he could not identify it himself he had only one option – return to the tee under penalty of stroke and distance under Rule 27-1.  By definition if the ball is not identified as his within 5 minutes, the original ball is lost and he must proceed under Rule 27-1.  (Note also, under Rule 28 – Ball Unplayable – he is not required to identify the ball if he proceeds under Rule 28a, which is proceeding under stroke and distance). 
If he could identify the ball as his, he would be permitted to drop the ball under Rule 28c using the point on the ground directly beneath where the ball lay in the tree as the reference point for taking relief (see Decision 28/11).
            Tiger used binoculars to identify the golf ball, which is permissible even if he didn’t retrieve the golf ball (see Decision 27/14).  Because he identified the ball he was entitled to declare the ball unplayable and proceed under Rule 28c, dropping a ball within two club-lengths of the spot on the ground directly underneath the ball in the tree under penalty of one stroke. He made bogey on 17, but ended the day with a four-stroke lead going into the final round.
Read the FarbTalk article: There’s a Tiger in a Tree!

8.         Tiger Woods: Final Round at the Players’ Championship

            The incident that became known as Dropgate II was really not nearly as controversial as it was made out to be.  On the 14th hole during the final round of the Players’ Championship, Woods hooked his tee shot left and into the water.  He and his fellow-competitor, using their best judgment, determined a point where they thought the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and Woods dropped accordingly under Rule 26-1c.  That was when the world went bezerk.
            TV viewers, announcers and everyone who could chimed in that he had in fact dropped at a wrong spot (again – but we’ll get to that later).  Everyone wanted to know if  the Tour would do something about it, if there was a two-stroke penalty to be assessed, would they miss it and Woods would be subject to disqualification?
            The correct answer was “Calm down, even if he did get the spot wrong, it wasn’t intentional and we have a Decision to cover this kind of situation.”  The Decision is 26-1/17, which actually got (in effect 1/1/14) a little makeover with the recent Decision’s changes.
            The Decision rules that if a player uses his best judgment to determine a point where the ball last crossed the margin of a hazard in proceeding under Rule 26-1 and then drops and plays with reference to that spot, he is not subject to penalty if that spot is subsequently proven to be wrong.
            I’ve actually had extensive discussions with the USGA on this exact Decision with regards to a ruling I had to make at an earlier collegiate event, and it is quite all-encompassing.  The premise is that a player should not, and is not penalized if they use all available evidence to determine the reference point under Rule 26-1 even if it is wrong.  This involves drops that would normally be considered a serious breach.  So even if Tiger gained 50-60 yards, if he picked that point using his best and honest judgment (no comments from the Tiger hating peanut gallery please), but it turned out to be wrong because he was unaware [for argument’s sake] that it had hit a tree branch and ricocheted backwards, this Decision absolves the player from penalty.  Note that this has no connection to a drop in a wrong place where the player either did not know the Rule or misapplied a Rule...ahem...
            The makeover, by the way, was the simple expansion of the question part of the Decision to re-state the situation being referenced in order to make the Decision easier to read and clearer.
Read the FarbTalk article: Time to Drop “Dropgate II”

            So Tiger Woods got us off to a great start, but it’s time to dig in a little deeper and continue the countdown:

7.         Stacy Lewis: Round 3 at the RR Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup

            Viewer call-ins did not only strike at Tiger Woods in 2013, but they managed to snag LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis as well. 
            During the 3rd round at the 16th hole, Stacy Lewis and her caddie were surveying a shot from the fairway bunker.  Both Lewis and her caddie walked into the bunker at separate times and during a conversation discussing the depth of the sand, her caddie instinctively stuck his toe in the sand and twisted just slightly.  A viewer caught the action and the penalty was dealt with at scoring after extensive review.  Was this action testing the condition of the hazard in breach of Rule 13-4?  Many in the Rules world, including myself, were not so sure.
            Decision 13-4/0.5 states that a player, and by extension her caddie, can lightly dig in to the sand as they would in preparation for a stroke.  At first glance, the light digging of the toe seems to fall under that category and therefore Lewis should not be subject to penalty for her caddie’s actions.  Unfortunately, the caddie wasn’t digging in as if preparing for a stroke, he was testing the depth of the sand with his toe.  This meant the action did not fall under the safe realm in Decision 13-4/0.5 and the caddie did in fact breach Rule 13-4 by testing the condition of the hazard and Lewis incurred the two-stroke penalty.  Lewis went on to have a stellar final round and won the event handily, making the penalty moot.
Read the FarbTalk article:  Caddie Trouble

6.         Tianlang Guan:  Round 2 at the Masters

            One of the very few pace of play penalties handed out this year, and perhaps the first ever delivered in the Masters, Guan’s penalty on the 17th hole of the second round made the most waves this year.  Consider that Guan was invited to the Masters as the Asian Amateur champion, an invitation criterion that was created this year presumably to increase the relations with Asian golf and its tremendous growth.  The teenager was in great shape to make the cut and was handed a one-stroke penalty by European Tour official John Paramour.
            Granted, Guan was warned twice prior to the penalty, but one might think that Crenshaw’s 80 might have had something to do with the group being out of position.  The bottom line is that the professionals knew how to avoid the penalty once they were on the clock – Guan didn’t.  Bravo to the Masters for issuing the penalty, the policy is the policy.  On the other hand, might there have been a better time for it?  Fortunately for all involved, Guan hung on to make the cut on the number despite the penalty.

5.         Simon Dyson: Disqualified at the BMW Masters

            This DQ ended up with far more press than I thought it ever would.  Dyson was disqualified for signing an incorrect score card.  He failed to include a two-stroke penalty for touching his line of putt when not permitted in breach of Rule 16-1.  The video and the picture show him tapping a small spot with his ball directly on his line of putt.  Some reports say it was a spike mark or perhaps some other irregularity (other than a ball mark or old hole plug), but the bottom line is that it was a penalty and he didn’t include it in his score.  The end result was that he was disqualified.
            Apparently, that wasn’t enough for the European Tour, who announced there would be an examination of the incident and other penalties that could include expulsion from the Tour.  This seemed a bit harsh considering Dyson was already disqualified and lost any money he would have earned. 
            The bigger issue is an unspoken epidemic of similar breaches on all the major tours.  It is unspoken, so no players are agreeing to waive the Rules, but they overlook or purposely fail to notice the types of repairs players make on putting greens.  “Ball-marks” are really spike marks and other irregularities are frequently fixed without batting an eye.  One of the more common breaches is that players are frequently leaving balls in place that might assist other players in their play of the hole.  The unspoken Rule is to just not say anything and leave the ball alone until you have to mark it. In that case, no one is agreeing to waive the Rules, but they are also failing to exercise the provisions of Rule 22-1.  If it weren’t for these issues, I doubt Dyson’s breach would have amounted to anything but the disqualification.
Read the FarbTalk article:  Stanford Intercollegiate and Simon Dyson

4.         Tiger Woods:  Round 2 at the BMW Championship

            Forever, this incident will now be associated with the new Decision 18/4, despite the new Decision having been created and approved prior to the Tiger Woods violation.  On the first hole, Woods started to move a loose impediment and when the ball wiggled, he stopped.  He then played the ball from that spot and moved on.  He was later informed that he incurred a two-stroke penalty for failing to replace the ball that had moved.  Woods was adamant that the ball had just oscillated and had not changed its position, although the video evidence clearly showed that the logo shifted downward and had changed its spot.
            Decision 18/4 it seems would now give the Committee the right to exempt Woods from penalty in such a situation where the ball’s movement was not reasonably discernible by the naked eye.  It would also give the Committee the right to say, “You know what, you could see that, the penalty stands.”
            Because the footage was brought to the attention of officials prior to Woods signing his score card, he was never in danger of being disqualified, however he was assessed the two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place after failing to replace a ball that had been moved by the player in breach of Rule 18.  Woods remained adamant that the ball only oscillated, but with the current Rules in place, there was very little “wiggle room” available to the Committee.
Read the FarbTalk article: BOTH World #1’s Penalized UnderRule 18-2

3.          LPGA Tour Official: The Solheim Cup

            There was enough press about players getting in trouble with the Rules this year, but the Solheim Cup blunder was a blemish against the Rules, showing even the best can get a bit confused.  The Rules of Golf are complicated, and even the best of us make incorrect rulings.  But this should've been an easy one.  This was relief from a lateral water hazard.
            On the 15th hole, Europe’s Ciganda wanted to take relief from a lateral water hazard.  Her ball had last crossed the margin at a spot that made it feasible to exercise her right under Rule 26-1c of dropping within two club-lengths of the equidistant point on the opposite margin.  But that’s not what happened.
            The Rules Official made a strange combination of Rule 26-1b and 26-1c and permitted Ciganda to use the equidistant point and drop the ball on a line keeping the equidistant point between where the ball was dropped and the flagstick.  This gave Ciganda a big advantage as to where she could drop and play the ball from.  Stacy Lewis claims she tried to protest but the protest fell on deaf ears.  Not a good moment for the Rules of Golf.
Read the FarbTalk article: Solheim Cup Incorrect Ruling

2.         Nicolas Colsaerts: Volvo World Match Play

            This is by far the least publicized rules incident on the countdown, but is by far the most entertaining.
            During the match between Colsaerts and Graeme McDowell, Colsaerts hit his ball well right into a lateral water hazard.  The point where his ball last crossed the margin of the hazard meant that if he was going to drop under Rule 26-1c, two club-lengths would put him in a bathroom.  We all know that relief would be granted for interference from the bathroom.  It’s an immovable obstruction and he’s entitled to relief under Rule 24-2, but he was not permitted to skip the formalities and take relief from both the lateral water hazard AND the bathroom in one step.
            The official on site correctly had Colsaerts drop in the bathroom under Rule 26-1c first, and then they found his nearest point of relief from the bathroom under Rule 24-2b and dropped accordingly. Was it a little silly? Yes.  Did they do it right? Yes.  Did the European Tour have to edit and re-post the original video because Colsaerts was swearing during the procedure?  Yes.  But it was done correctly in all its hilarity and so it made its way to the top of my Top 10 countdown for the year 2013.

1.         Tiger Woods: Round 2 at the Masters

            At this time of the year in 2012, little did we know the most iconic and publicized picture of the year would be of a drop.  The Masters incident was one of the most bizarre and also discussion igniting happenings of the year.  Not only was there a potential disqualification of a player in contention, but it was Tiger Woods – and it was the Masters.
            After a spectacular shot that was unfortunate to strike the flagstick and ricochet into the water, Tiger Woods took his drop under Rule 26-1.  To most observers, it appeared he was dropping under 26-1a or stroke and distance.  To David Eger, a former Champions Tour official, something seemed off.  He called in and notified a friend he knew was working the event who passed on the potential breach to Masters Committee Chair Fred Ridley.  Ridley decided it would be splitting hairs to take any further look at the drop and let it be.
            Then Tiger opened his mouth.  He explained that he dropped at the spot of his previous stroke PLUS a couple yards to make the yardage a little better.  Well, that’s not what the Rule means by proceeding under stroke and distance.  That is clearly not dropping the ball as near as possible to where he last played from.  Picture and video evidence later showed it was probably more like two feet than two yards, but the wrong place wasn’t the main issue.
            The problem was they discovered it wouldn't have been splitting hairs to review the drop after Tiger had signed his score card.  By the Rules, Tiger needed to be disqualified for failing to include a penalty even though he did not know he had incurred it.  But the Masters Committee came to another conclusion.  They decided to apply the two-stroke penalty, but they used Rule 33-7 to waive the disqualification penalty because they as a Committee had the ability to prevent Woods from being in the position to be disqualified.  They knew about the questionable drop and did not question him at the scoring table. It was a huge blunder and the debates raged on and on.
            Not too long after the USGA issued a statement on the incident that explained the ruling, which most of us in the Rules world did not expect.  To me, the important part of the statement was that the ruling would not even be remotely correct had it not been for the tremendous blunder of the Committee in failing to ask the player about the drop when they knew about it.  Some still think Tiger should have been disqualified.  While it is impossible to turn back the clock and see alternative outcomes, Tiger ended up losing the Masters by four strokes.  Tiger’s ball hitting the flagstick in essence cost him – four strokes.  Make your own inferences.

            So who knows what we can expect from 2014.  For sure, there will be more viewer call-ins and possibly some questionable applications of the new Decision 18/4.  For sure, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Mr. Woods – but then again when are we not?  For sure, there will be too many announcers trying to talk about the Rules and confusing the average golfer more than necessary. And for sure, someone will be happy with a major Rules incident and another person will be very angry with that same incident.  You can’t win ‘em all. 

Honorable Mentions  
Here are a few that deserve some attention even though they didn’t make my top 10:

Rule 14-1b

            Why does the new anchoring Rule only get an honorable mention?  Well, it doesn’t take effect until 2016!  Arguably the hottest topic of 2013 except for the Masters incident, the entire golf world was divided over the issue of whether anchored putting should or shouldn’t be permitted.  A new word entered households across the world: bifurcation.  The PGA made threats, the Tour made threats and in the end the USGA and R & A did exactly what everyone thought they would from the beginning.  Then the PGA and the PGA Tour did exactly what everyone knew they would from the beginning.  The ruling bodies will ban anchored strokes come 2016 and the Tour and the PGA of America will go along with it.  End of story…Maybe.

Because It Just Never Happens
Carl Pettersson at the U.S. Open – When was the last time you saw a player mid-swing over a ball in the fairway have his ball struck by a ball from a different group off an adjacent hole's tee?
Read the FarbTalk article2013 US Open Comes to a Close

Sergio’s Shining Moment (Until he won a few weeks ago)
Just because it was fun to watch.  Most players just seem to be looking for ways that they don’t have to play the ball as it lies.  Sergio said, “To heck with that, I’m just going to play the ball…from a tree…back-handed…and I’m going to climb the tree to do it."
Read the FarbTalk article: Sergio Climbs a Tree to Hit One Handed Second Shot

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