Saturday, January 18, 2014

Live from Rules School: Los Angeles Edition

            To those who have followed the blog from the start will remember last year’s segment “Live from Rules School.” Well, this year due to both time constraints and technical difficulties I was unable to provide a running blog of the proceedings from Rules School. 
            Needless to say now, Rules School is complete and yet again I must wait a year to attempt to complete the Road to 100.  Congratulations to all of my peers who achieved this feat in the class.  I won’t name anyone, but you know who you are, and while we all have heard that once you cross that 92 threshold the difference between a perfect score and not is more about reading and silly mistakes than knowledge, a perfect score is a great achievement worthy of praise.  So job well done!
            I, of course, managed to spin myself out of the correct answer on both of my misses.  Also, of course, I will not share any details beyond that about the exam itself, so do not ask.  For those who will take it this year, trust your instincts and take your time.
            What I will talk about, are the new and interesting things I learned and will take away from the workshop.  This was my first Advanced PGA/USGA Rules Workshop.  Attendance is limited to those who have achieved a score of 85 or better on the exam within the past four years.  Because of this, the types of questions that are asked are of a more philosophical level, both to the instructors and during breaks amongst ourselves.  Below I will go through some key points I think will help everyone trying to better grasp the Rules.
            First, however, I must give my thanks to David Staebler and Larry Startzel for their wonderful presentation and expertise.  It was my first workshop with both of them and I was delighted by their insights, “aha moments,” and delivery.  I look forward to communicating and hopefully working with you both in the future.
“Authority Trumps Prohibition”
            In many places throughout the Rules of Golf, certain Rules seem to contradict each other.  It leads to confusion as to which Rule applies and what a player can actually do.  A recurring phrase that arose during the workshop was that “authority trumps prohibition.”  This means that if a Rule specifically authorizes a player to do something, that authority overrides the prohibition of another Rule.  Here’s a perfect example:  Rule 13-4 specifically prohibits the player from touching or moving loose impediments in a hazard when his ball lies in the same hazard.  This is in conflict with Rule 12-1b which specifically authorizes the player to remove loose impediments in a hazard when searching for a ball believed to be covered by loose impediments in the hazard.  Well, authority trumps prohibition.  Because Rule 12-1b specifically authorizes the player to move loose impediments in that specific situation, the penalty under Rule 13-4 does not apply. 
            This phrase has also been interpreted as, “the specific overrides the general.”  Again, the general Rule 13-4 prohibits moving loose impediments in the hazard, but the more specific Rule 12-1b permits the player to move the loose impediments in the specific situation of searching for the ball believed to be covered by loose impediments in the hazard.

Smart Phones
            We’ve been searching for clarification on the use of smart phones as distance-measuring devices now that compasses and weather applications are now permitted.  We received that clarification.
            First, remember that a smart phone may be used as a phone at any time, so long as you are not using it to breach the Rules (calling your swing guru for advice, recording your swing to see your flaws during the round, using the level to measure the slope on a green, etc.).  The specific issue has been whether or not distance-measuring apps were permitted.
            Previously, because the use of a compass during the round was prohibited, all the smart phones that had a compass installed on the phone (and were not removable) could not be used as distance-measuring devices.  After the Decision change, the new concern became the level application that could not be removed.  I will try to best explain the correct logic and interpretation now:
            The level is an app that yes, could be used to breach the Rules.  But it could also be used legally.  What if you just wanted to see if the ball-washer was level?  That is not a breach of 14-3.  So step one is that as long as the smart phone does not have the capability to directly measure or gauge conditions which might affect your play, it is legal for use as a distance-measuring device. So if your phone has an actual thermometer or anemometer (wind gauge), or application to that effect, it is not legal for use as a DMD. Step two is that the distance-measuring app you choose must also not be able to measure or gauge conditions that might affect your play.  Specifically, if the distance-measuring app can calculate or measure slope/gradient, that distance-measuring app is in breach of the Local Rule in 14-3/0.5 and may not be used.
            The general Rule of thumb is to now think of the app itself as the “device.”  This of course comes with the exception that if your phone breaches step one above, it still isn’t legal even if the DMD app itself is legal.  It took a while to get to this position, but there are a whole bunch of smart phone users who will be very happy.  This definitely beats, “if you can afford a smart phone that has a DM app, you can afford to buy a legal DM rangefinder.”
            Clarification is still necessary though.  This does not change the previous stance on DMD lasers/rangefinders that have slope functions available.  Those devices are designed to specifically measure distance and must be held entirely to the standard of the Local Rule.  If the laser has the ability to measure slope at any time, whether through use of a Mode button or removable face plate, the device is not legal for use as a DMD. The same would apply to a PDA device.  If it has a slope function, the device is not legal even if that function is turned off or not used.  Is it possible the ruling there may evolve and change in the future as it did with smart phones?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  That’s for the Rules of Golf Committee to decide, and they’ll tell us if it does.

Fine Print: Committee’s Decision and Rules of Golf Committee Referral
            I used to misinterpret the fine print under Rule 34-3.  First, it states that the Committee’s decision is final.  The following paragraph explains that a player or players may request that a statement be sent to the Rules of Golf Committee for their opinion as to the correctness of a ruling.  I used to think this meant that if the Rules of Golf Committee came back and said the ruling was incorrect, that it would be overturned.  This is not the case.  The statement means exactly what it says.  The player can request a statement for their opinion as to the correctness of the ruling.  Meaning, they can find out if the tournament’s Committee was right or wrong, but regardless of the result, the ruling will stand.  The real lesson from this mini “aha moment” is that the text means exactly what the text says: the Committee’s decision is final. 

            At the first multi-day seminar I taught, the introduction question that was asked of participants was, “What is your least favorite Rule?”  I answered Rule 4, Clubs.  And why shouldn’t it be my least favorite?  It’s one of the few Rules with a maximum penalty and adjustment to the state of the match penalties, if you breach the Rule between two holes, some of the Rule 4 sub-rules apply the penalty to the next hole and some apply to the hole just played, and there is never any explicit clarification between wear and tear and damage.  It’s a perfect storm for confusion, but a deeper look at the Rule reveals an even deeper logic and clarity with some interesting points as well.
            1.         It is impossible to breach Rules 4-3a(i) and 4-3a(ii).  I’ve never tried to apply a penalty, but it’s good to know that I never will have to either.
            2.         The difference between applying the penalty to the next hole or the previous when a breach occurs between holes is whether or not a player could gain an advantage.  Under Rules 4-4a, 4-4b and 4-3a, a breach cannot assist a player until they have started play of a hole. Also, when you boil it out, breaches of 4-4a, 4-4b and 4-3a are all the same thing.  You’ve added a club when not permitted.  What good is an additional club until you’ve had the opportunity to choose from the additional clubs for a stroke? So if the breach occurs between holes, it could only have helped the player on the previous holes.  But under Rules 4-1 and 4-2, a breach could potentially assist the player on the next hole (if you carry a medicus – a non-conforming club – you could swing it between holes to work on tempo). 
            3.         The difference between wear and tear and damage.  Rule 4-1b tells us that a club that was conforming as new is deemed to conform through normal use, even if it has been worn to a point that would normally be non-conforming (a face so worn that it is actually concave in a spot).  However, if a club has been damaged in the normal course of play rendering it non-conforming you could use it for the rest of the round, but if you start a new round with it you would breach 4-3c because what you’re doing is carrying a non-conforming club in breach of Rule 4-1 (remember the penalty statement to 4-3c says “See Penalty Statement for Rule 4-1 or 4-2”).  If it was damaged in the normal course of play how is that not wear and tear through normal use?  Well damage is a violent, abnormal action, whereas wear and tear is a gradual and incremental change in the club’s characteristics.
            While these are certainly not the only lessons learned this week they come to the forefront of my mind and stick out the most.  Again, thank you to the wonderful instructors and I look forward to next year.

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