Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Week in the Life of a Rules Official...

            It’s been a bit of a whirlwind week for me and there’s plenty to cover and discuss.  I went from the 48th Annual NCGA Four-Ball Championship, to playing (if you can call it that) in US Open Local Qualifying at Pasatiempo, straight to the NCAA West Regional in Eugene and am now in Half Moon Bay after setting up for US Women’s Open Sectionals tomorrow.  During all that, life still went on and I’ll cover the best of the best from the past few weeks.

The Four-Ball
            One of the best events and one of our biggest majors is the Four-Ball Championship.  A double-wave, 54-hole event held at Spyglass Hill.  It is incredibly fun to setup, but also an incredible grind to run.  Days run from 5:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night and this year the wind gave us a special surprise, blowing about 25 constantly and gusting around 40 (at one point I had 5 stakes in a four-post tent and still had to take the tent down unless I wanted to go parasailing).
            My notable ruling was an unfortunate two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place.  I was sitting in scoring with a fellow staff member and he pointed and said the guy on the 18th hole just dropped three times.  I ran out of the tent and started waving and giving the “stop” signal but he didn’t see me and played.
            I drove up and first asked, “I just have to check, what were you dropping for?”  He told me he was taking relief for his ball in an aeration hole (one of the down-sides of our schedule at Spy is we do bump against their aeration schedule and this week the fairways and intermediate cuts were aerated but not sanded).  I asked him how many times he dropped and he answered, “Three.”  The alarms in my head were already off and I asked why he dropped three times and the wrong answer came out, “It kept rolling into aeration holes.”
            The local Rule for aeration holes is a “drop at the spot” relief procedure, meaning there is no club-length for relief, you drop at the nearest spot to where the ball was at rest in the aeration hole, no nearer the hole (the flagstick’s hole).  On our hard card we clarify that all aeration holes in a given area are considered the same situation, meaning that if a ball when dropped under this Rule rolls into a different aeration hole, 20-2c applies and it’s a re-drop.  So when it rolled into an aeration hole the second time this player should have placed the ball at the spot where it first struck the course on the re-drop.  Since he didn’t do that and then played from a different spot than required he incurred a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place.  The good news was, it didn’t apply to his partner who made par on the hole.

The “Animal House” Regional
            What a great crew we had at Eugene and an absolutely amazing course!  We had US Open like conditions (in a good way) and a great field.  Four of the top five seeds and the host school all advanced and the #1 ranked amateur (for now) in the world won by seven.  Congrats to Stanford and Patrick Rodgers on yet another win this year.
            It was actually one of the quietest events I’ve ever been to from a Rules perspective, although there were several wrong place penalties.
            On the 5th hole, two drop zones were in play: one on the teeing ground side of the water for a ball in the water hazard and one on the putting green side as an additional option for a ball unplayable near an area of cart path defined as an integral part of the course.  Unfortunately we had a player who at first crossed the water then bladed a shot from the back bunker into the water hazard use the putting green side drop zone, incurring a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place.  Because he was required to go to the other side of the water hazard, this was deemed a serious breach and fortunately Missy Jones was on-site to help the player correct the mistake before playing from the next teeing ground.  Sadly, he made an 11, but managed a 78, meaning he was even the rest of the way around.
            On the 7th hole, a drop zone was provided for a ball in the water hazard and we had a player whose ball was dropped correctly in the drop zone but rolled outside the drop zone and nearer the hole, yet it stayed within two club-lengths of where it first struck the course.  Thinking he needed to re-drop because it rolled nearer the hole, he picked up, dropped again and played.  In the Appendix we get some special rules for dropping zones that clarify that a ball can actually roll nearer the hole when using a dropping zone.  This clause exists because dropping zones can and frequently are closer to the hole than where the normal relief procedure and reference point would permit.  He also received a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place and we informed the player of the special rules in the Appendix to be familiar with in the future.
            One of the more interesting rulings came before the round and because the coach and player asked before the round, no penalty occurred.  A player had been struggling with his putter and so he put a piece of adhesive tape on the top and extended the line from the back of the putter so that the line went all the way from the front to back (mallet-style putter).  It was a little stumper at first, because the Decision regarding adhesive tape asks a question about adhesive tape for the purpose of reducing glare or for club protection.  However, that Decision (4-1/5), actually addresses the issue of adhesive tape in a very general manner, stating that adhesive tape is not permanent and if affixed to a club would render the club non-conforming:  “An adhesive bandage or tape added to the clubhead is considered an external attachment rendering the club non-conforming.”  There are exceptions, however the decision goes on to state, “but an adhesive bandage or tape does not fall under that exception because such items are temporary and easily removable.”  He removed the tape and no penalty was incurred.
            A huge thanks to Dean Wormer (Jim Moriarty) for the invitation.  It was an exceptional event, a testament to his preparation and expertise and I hope to work many more.  It was also fantastic to work with such a great group including Missy Jones, Reed MacGregor, Keith Hansen, Kent Newmark, Bob Planansky and our very own Tyler Tharpe, Ted Antonopolous and Lee Gidney.  We had fun with the event and the theme (fyi, Animal House was filmed at the University of Oregon).  I also want to thank Casey Martin and the University of Oregon team and staff for the wonderful hospitality, as well as Eugene Country Club for the same.  A special note of recognition for Chris, the superintendent who obviously knows what he is doing.  Prior to the practice rounds I had trouble finding divots, let alone imperfections with the course! See below for yourself.

The Beautiful Par-Three 5th Hole.  No, those aren't 6 bunkers, but a crystal clear reflection...

A nice shot to the devious final round hole location on the 15th hole. It was listed as 18.5 paces on the hole location sheet for precision.

Our very own VP Lee Gidney starting groups in the final round on the cathedral-like 1st hole.  The trees give the effect that the hole might be a long par-three but is in fact a 400-plus yard par-four.

Whoops! Decision 18/4 and Justin Rose
            We all know the situation so I won’t re-hash it too much.  Rose was issued a two-stroke penalty when he noticed a slight wiggle of his ball after address, but after agreement from his fellow-competitor and a review of the movement on the jumbo-tron he determined it did not move.  However, upon further review in the booth under 50x magnification the Tour determined it did move and since Rose failed to replace the ball, he got two-strokes for a breach of Rule 18-2b.
            Enter Decision 18/4.  The new Decision introduced in 2014 was designed exactly for a situation of this kind, however, PGA Tour VP of Operations and Head Rules Official Mark Russell, at first determined the new decision did not apply because Rose did notice some sort of movement.  The text reads, “When the player’s ball has left its original position and comes to rest in another place by an amount that was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time, a player’s determination that the ball has not moved will be deemed to be conclusive, even if it is later shown to be incorrect through the use of sophisticated technology.”
Why Russell thought the Decision did not apply I’m not sure.  Rose used all available evidence and conferred with a fellow-competitor and didn’t think the ball moved.
There are some murmurs in the Rules community that there is some ambiguity in the new Decision where the Committee has to make a judgment call whether the player could have reasonably determined that the ball had moved with the naked eye, “On the other hand, if the Committee determines, based on the evidence it has available, that the ball changed its position by an amount that was reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time, the ball is deemed to have moved.”  This clause, I believe, is more for a situation where the ball moved enough to be seen clearly and the player wasn’t paying enough attention, not for situations where the player notices oscillation but determines the ball didn’t change its position.
            I’d love to know who at Golf House made the call to the Tour to inform them that the Decision did apply to this case, because the next morning they Tour rescinded the two-stroker, which gave Rose a decent chance and run at the title.

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