Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bubba Watson's Relief

Bubba Watson takes relief from a burrowing animal hole
   On the 13th hole during the third round of the Phoenix Open, Bubba Watson found his ball in a bush.  Normally, the measuring you see above would be to take an unplayable, but Watson was granted relief for interference from a burrowing animal hole.  Reports differ as to whether the ball was actually in the hole or Watson just had interference with his area of intended swing, but either way, he had interference as defined by Rule 25-1a.
   When taking relief from an abnormal ground condition (ground under repair, casual water or a burrowing animal hole), through the green the player must drop the ball (if immediately recoverable) within one club-length of the nearest point of relief no nearer the hole. As you can see in the picture above, Bubba is measuring from a point within the bush, which is absolutely correct.  The nearest point of relief is determined by where interference from the condition exists, and is not always the nicest point of relief.  In this case, the nearest point of relief was still in the bush, but one club-length managed to get Bubba out of trouble.
    The question that should be raised is that an Exception to Rule 25-1 exists that states, "A player may not take relief under this Rule if (a) interference by anything other than an abnormal ground condition makes the stroke clearly impracticable..."  One could make a valid argument that the bush made Bubba's stroke impracticable and that he should not have been entitled to relief.
   Given that professional golfers can do amazing things if they can get a club on the ball, it was fair to say that Bubba could have played the ball had he not been given relief and therefore the Exception did not apply.  The question to ask when applying the Exception is, "What would you do if the condition (burrowing animal hole) were not there?"  If the answer is, "Take an unplayable," then the player should not be entitled to relief.  If the answer is, "I'd take a whack at it because I can still hit it," the player is probably still entitled to relief.
    It's a bit of a judgment call, and I think the call was correct, but it's worth mentioning that the player is not ALWAYS entitled to relief if they manage to find their ball in a burrowing animal hole even inside a bush.


  1. Are you now allowed to differentiate on the perceived skill level of the player or are all players judged the same for a reasonable or impracticable stroke?

    1. Nigel,
      When determining whether or not the Exception to Rule 25-1 (or 24-2) applies, skill level absolutely matters.

      For example, if Phil Mickelson says his reasonable stroke is to play the ball right-handed, it's safe to say that he can actually play that shot. If a 30-handicapper says it's reasonable for him to play an opposite-handed stroke, it's highly unlikely that is actually reasonable.

    2. Not sure that I agree with that Ryan. I believe it is an underlying principle that the Rules should apply equally to all players at all times.

      Can you provide me with a Rule or Decision that confirms Referees should allow a judgement of the players skill level to factor into a Ruling?


    3. Nigel,

      The Rule is still being applied equally. The fact of the matter is a stroke that is reasonable for a better player might not be reasonable for a high handicap player.

      Look at 24-2b/18. If the only reason for a player to play an opposite-handed stroke is to escape the poor lie, he shouldn't be granted relief. In a situation where an opposite-handed stroke is a possible play, whether or not the player is actually capable of that kind of stroke matters, because you're trying to get to the root of this question "What would you do if the obstruction were not there?" A player who is incapable of playing an opposite-handed stroke cannot answer that question truthfully with I would play an opposite-handed stroke. A scratch or better player who can make that shot could honestly answer that he'd turn the club around and play opposite-handed.

      So it isn't that the Rule is being applied unequally, it's that the term "unreasonable" or "impracticable" can wield different results for different levels of players.

      In the end, applying the Exception to 25-1 and 24-2 is something that has to be considered on a case-by-case basis. There is no way to mandate an across the board definition of "unreasonable stroke" because each situation is so different and all factors, including ability, need to be considered.

    4. Thanks Ryan,

      I understand your reasoning, but I can't find any support for it in the Decisions. Nowhere does it say that the players ability should factor into the Ruling.

      The underlying principle is 'like situations shall be treated alike'. Please help me to find something in the Rules with regard to ability or skill level - I have failed to find it.


    5. Nigel,

      I think we're talking past each other. The application of the Rule is not based on ability. The stroke is either unreasonable or it's not. However, it is fact, not fiction that what is reasonable for Tiger Woods might not be reasonable for a 15-handicapper. Therefore, ability is a factor in determining the application of the Exception to 25-1 and 24-2.

      Remember, the question we're asking is "What would you do if the condition were not there?" Tiger Woods and a 15-handicapper may answer that question differently based on their ability (or inability) the stroke.