Sunday, March 30, 2014

Valero Texas Open and The Goodwin Final Rounds

            Today during the final round of the Valero Texas Open there were a couple of notable situations worthy of some discussion:

Kevin Na and the Bunker
            On the fifth hole, Na’s ball found the devious fairway bunker that also took its toll on Matt Kuchar.  His first stroke from the bunker went over the first lip but came to rest in the same bunker.  In frustration Na started raking the sand with his club and then slammed his club downward into the sand making a comment about the depth of the sand on the face.
            He was assessed a two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4 and some of the TV discussion was a bit misleading.  They gave the impression that his actions might not result in penalty if he had not gained an advantage.  This was not really the issue.
            Decision 13-4/0.5 gives specific examples of what constitutes testing the condition of the hazard and one example is making a practice swing that touches the sand in a hazard.  Na didn’t really make a practice swing so what was he really guilty of?
            When your ball lies in a hazard you may not touch the ground in the hazard with your club under Rule 13-4b.  There are several important exceptions under Rule 13-4, but slamming the club into the sand is not one of them (the smoothing of the sand for the purpose of caring for the course would be one of those exceptions since Na did not smooth sand on his line of play or in his area of intended stance or swing).  So Na was in breach of Rule 13-4b because his ball was still in the bunker.  Had the ball been extricated from the bunker or had been out of the bunker at the time Na slammed his club, he would not have been in breach of the Rule.

Slow Play
            Andrew Loupe was issued a warning for receiving a bad time while being on the clock.  Bravo to the PGA Tour…sort of.  I say sort of because this really should be happening more often and it’s only been under the more recent pressure to start enforcing pace of play that we have finally seen some action.  That said, I’m glad something was done because this final round was excruciatingly slow.  What was very nice was the explanation of the PGA Tour policy that a player receives a warning for the first bad time, a one-stroke penalty for the second bad time and an additional two-stroke penalty for the third bad time.  Players are timed once theyir group is deemed out of position.  The first player to play receives 40 seconds and each player after receives an additional 20 seconds.
Play moved noticeably quicker after the warning was issued.  Throughout the telecast we saw a lot more of the PGA Tour Rules Official who was timing several players and groups, including Matt Kuchar.

The Goodwin Final Round

            First, thank you to Coach Conrad Ray and Assistant Coach Phillip Rowe for another excellent event.  It’s always a pleasure working with them as I’ve been the lead official for the last four Stanford men’s events and I look forward to hopefully many more.  There were several notable rulings, but only one that I would like to highlight because it comes straight from a Decision that we rarely think much about.
            Congratulations are also in order, as for the first time in those four years the home team won the event, and handily at that.  Along with the team victory, number 1 in the WAGR Patrick Rodgers also took home individual honors with an impressive 63-69-64-196 finish (The 69 came in horrendous weather that included an 1:10 suspension of play mid-round).
            On the first hole, the official for the second group off tee #1 radioed from the green.  A player had marked his ball, tapped down the marker and walked away.  When he turned around, his marker was no longer there because it had stuck to the bottom of his putter!  Uh oh, right?  Actually, the action of tapping down the marker in this case is considered to be directly attributable to the act of marking the ball.  When a ball-marker or ball is accidentally moved in the act of marking the ball there is no penalty and the ball or ball-marker must be replaced.  Decision 20-1/6 covers this situation exactly.  Kudos to the official for remembering to use the radio instead of trying to figure it out on his own.  Whenever you use the radio you’re as smart as the smartest official on the airwaves.  If you have to dig into the Decisions book to determine a ruling, then you need to be on the radio.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Goodwin and Suspension of Play

            Running tournaments in Northern California, we rarely have to deal with suspensions of play.  Today at The Goodwin hosted by Stanford, we had a bleak forecast for most of the week and then it became even worse on Friday after round one.  We never want to suspend play, but it sometimes becomes necessary generally for two main reasons: 1) a dangerous condition is approaching or has suddenly arisen (typically lightning but in the Midwest tornadoes would also be good reason to get people off the course as quickly as possible) or; 2) weather conditions have made the course unplayable.
            Today was an instance of the second cause.  The forecasted rain did come in right on schedule, and when the heaviest downpour hit, it rendered 5 of the putting greens unplayable almost simultaneously.
            Before going into the suspension itself, it’s worth discussing the preparations beforehand that were made with the forecast in mind.

“Rainy Day” Hole Locations
            If you have a bleak forecast, it is smart to choose your hole locations in places that are at the highest ground and away from drainage.  On even the rainiest of days, play can continue as long as it is possible to take relief for casual water intervention on the line of putt and still get to the hole.  It is only once the hole becomes surrounded, or relief can only occur by moving the ball significantly that play must be stopped.  With this in mind, we did not physically dot the hole locations until after the first round until we had the most up to date information about the incoming weather.  Then using a Break Master (digital level designed for golf), we made sure we selected hole locations on high ground but that all had less than 2 degrees of slope.  This ensured fair (albeit some were still quite tucked) hole locations that were away from drainage and gave us the best possibility for playing through the rain as long as possible.
            The hole locations we selected did last longer than a normal set would have, but eventually the rain won out.

Forward Tees
            While we didn’t change many, we did select a couple tees that needed to be moved forward to account for the lack of roll and would better facilitate pace of play.  Always consider the forecasted winds when setting your tees if trying to get a round played in nasty weather.

Advance Communication
            We had multiple conversations with the host Coaches and the course staff to be prepared for what might be necessary in case we either needed to suspend or needed maintenance assistance.  At the beginning of the day we made sure squeegees were available so we could take care of some greens either to prepare for a restart or to attempt to stave off the inevitable.  We knew in advance how long a suspension we could sustain before we would be unable to complete the round and discuss a potential morning restart or plan Z, cancellation of the third round (fortunately we didn’t get to this point).
            The scoring area was condensed into one central scoring area that was covered and sided so that both players and officials could deal with scoring in a dry, secure place.

            Even the most prepared can be caught off-guard when a suspension becomes necessary though, and today was no different.  The rain today was fairly steady from the start of play but was also reasonably light.  As it started to get heavier I immediately radioed to officials to start checking our “problem” greens, that is – the greens that were most prone to flood and become unplayable the quickest.  The sudden downpour came around noon, just as forecasted and within 10 minutes I started to hear a call or two about standing water.  Relief was still available and holes were not surrounded but I was on alert.  As I grabbed the squeegees to try and stave off the impending suspension, it began to rain even harder and the dreaded call came that the fourth green was surrounded.  The carefully selected hole itself was fine and about 5 feet around it was fine, but the drainage lines had left the hole completely surrounded by standing water for putts of more than 8 feet.  Then another green radioed in, then a third. 
At this point I had grabbed my air horns and quickly briefed the officials on the procedure for suspension of play.  I had them tell their players the suspension was coming, that it was for a non-dangerous situation and they would be permitted to complete the hole had they started it.  If they wished to discontinue they should mark their golf balls, preferably with multiple tees to avoid the possibility of the marks being moved and let them know we would not be holding the players in place.  Then I gave the countdown and blew the horn – three short blasts for a non-dangerous suspension.
Of course, Mother Nature likes to mock the golf administrator, so immediately after the suspension and despite the bleak radar, the rain began to lighten as the players walked in. The troublesome greens quickly started to absorb the lighter rain and by the time I got down to see the 8th hole, it had become nearly playable again (see picture).  After taking a look at several of the trouble greens I went inside and started discussing the plan with the Committee.  We recognized 5 specific greens that needed to be squeegeed to prepare for a restart as it looked like we were going to get a break in the weather.  The host assistant coach sent a group text that an announcement would be made at 1:10 (35 minutes after the suspension). 

The 8th Green about 20 minutes into the suspension.

After viewing the radar and forming a plan with my Committee and the assistance of the host coach and facility, I was able to announce at 1:10 that we would resume play at 1:45.  This allowed enough time for all players to get back into place, for us to squeegee the problem greens and let players hit some putts or chips on the practice short game areas, finish drying off or finish eating lunch (as everyone had gathered in the buffet tent and grabbed a bite). We did not open the driving range for use as it was not located in a position to permit players to use it and still get into place on time.
Prior to the resumption I gave a quick briefing to officials about resuming play (always place the ball) and some reminders about casual water in bunkers and maximum available relief.  I ran the countdown and we resumed play at 1:45, without incident.  Again to mock me of course, the rain started as soon as we began but it never came down as hard as the earlier downpour until the final group was on the 18th green (that didn't stop number 1 ranked amateur Patrick Rodgers from draining a 30 footer for a 69 and a three-stroke lead).  We managed to complete play with time to spare and now have sunshine in the forecast for tomorrow.
All in a day’s work…

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Morgan Pressel and the Exception to 24-2 and 25-1

                Everyone remember the relief from a bush that Bubba Watson was granted in Phoenix?  Well, we’re back in Phoenix (Phoenix area) for the LPGA Founders Championship, and this time we have a different result.
                Morgan Pressel was on a roll in her first round.  Through 11 holes she was -9 and on the 3rd hole (her 12th) she found her ball nestled comfortably in a desert bush.  She called over the official to ask about potential relief for a burrowing animal hole.  In Watson’s situation about a month ago, he was granted relief because a burrowing animal hole interfered with his area of intended swing for a reasonable, albeit difficult, stroke from within the bush.  In that case he was granted relief and didn’t have to pull off the would-be miraculous punch out.
                Pressel, seeing burrowing animal holes in the vicinity, wondered if she might be entitled to relief as well.  The official on site wisely asked the appropriate questions.  He asked how she would play the stroke, and she answered a left handed shot.  The official stated that would be a reasonable stroke, however for the left-handed stroke there was no interference from the burrowing animal hole.  Yes, her right-handed impracticable stroke might have her standing on a hole, but the stroke she intended to play was left-handed and did not have interference from that burrowing animal hole.  She had to take an unplayable and she dropped within two club-lengths of where the ball lay, no nearer the hole with a one-stroke penalty in accordance with Rule 28c.
                This exchange between Pressel and the official brings about some important tips for applying the Rules and determining whether or not relief is available.
                -First, determine what the intended stroke is.  The same Exception comes in both Rules 24-2 and 25-1 that states, “A player may not take relief under this Rule if (a) interference by anything other than an immovable obstruction/abnormal ground condition makes the stroke clearly impracticable or (b) interference by an immovable obstruction/abnormal ground condition would occur only through use of a clearly unreasonable stroke or an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play.”  The intended stroke must be reasonable and the player can’t be using an abnormal stance in order to achieve interference.  In Pressel’s case, her right-handed stroke that had some interference was clearly impracticable due to the bush.  Her left-handed stroke was actually reasonable; however no interference occurred for that stroke.
                -Then, if there is interference for the intended stroke, the player must be able to play the stroke.  Is it reasonable?  If so, determine relief for THAT stroke, not the stroke the player wants to be able to play but can’t.
                -Once relief is taken for the intended stroke, if the player wishes to then turn around and play normal-handed, that would be ok (see Decision 24-2b/17).
                -Generally, if the player would take an unplayable rather than play the stroke, it should be considered impracticable.
                Hope that helps you when trying to determine if relief should be available in particular dire situations.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Outside Agencies at Work on Tour Last Week

            Last week on the PGA Tour we had two very interesting outside agency situations, one for each tournament.  This first is my favorite, right up there with the “cheeky monkey” that got a little randy with a golf ball in a bunker on the European Tour a few years ago.

Iguana Attack in Puerto Rico

            During the Puerto Rico Open, Andrew Loupe’s ball met with a very unfriendly (or perhaps overly friendly) reptile after coming to rest on the putting green.  The applicable Rule here is 18-1 which requires the player to replace the ball, without penalty.  If the iguana had successfully attacked and stolen the ball he would have been able to substitute a new ball.  For those who are afraid of iguana germs, Andrew was permitted to clean the ball when he replaced it (Rule 21 permits a player to clean the ball any time it is lifted except under Rules 5-3, 12-2 and 22 or Decision 20-1/0.7).

Fan Walks Off With Luke Donald’s Golf Ball

            The situation at the WGC-Cadillac Championship was just a bit more involved, albeit not quite as entertaining.  A zealous fan saw a stray golf ball, picked it up and walked off with it.  A cameraman caught up to her and had her put it back.  The applicable Rule again is 18-1 but it is interesting that we can see the full procedure that Slugger White went through with the spectator and Luke Donald.
            Luke was required to replace the ball in the correct spot (actually, under Rule 20-3 that spectator could have replaced it as well if she knew the exact spot).  As we can see in the video we have a couple of potential scenarios develop.  It appears that she knows the exact spot from which the ball was lifted.  In that case, Donald simply needed to place the ball on the spot.  However, when she points out the spot she uses her foot and roughens the grass a bit, perhaps altering the lie.  When the lie of a ball to be placed or replaced is altered, Rule 20-3b applies.  Luke would then place the ball in the nearest most similar lie not nearer the hole and not more than one club-length from the spot.  If the spectator was not able to determine the exact spot, Rule 20-3c (Spot Indeterminable), would apply and Donald would be required to drop the ball as near as possible to the estimated spot no nearer the hole.
            In Luke’s case, it appears that Slugger was satisfied that the spectator knew the exact spot and the lie had not been altered by her actions, so Donald replaced the ball and it was back in play, without penalty.