Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lexi Thompson 9th Hole TIO Explanation

            On the 9th hole, Lexi Thompson’s tee shot went long in the difficult par-three.  Her ball came to rest near a curious white line.  She called in walking referee and USGA President Tom O’Toole who explained that the white line defines the limit of the Temporary Immovable Obstruction including the grandstand and television cables and its tower. 
            The Local Rule and relief procedures for TIO’s can be found in the Appendix.  Players are entitled to relief not just for physical interference, but also line of play intervention.  In Lexi’s case, she needed to determine whether or not she had physical interference because she was standing inside the white-lined area and her ball was clearly outside the white-lined area.  The answer was yes.  For all intents and purposes, when a TIO is defined in such a manner, a player can consider the white line is a large invisible wall, and if their ball or stance break the plane of that invisible wall, they have “physical interference” even if not actual part of the TIO interferes.
            TIO’s are frequently positioned in such a manner that relief no nearer the hole as the Local Rule alone would require is impracticable, and the Committee installs drop zones.  In some cases, because a point no nearer the hole that avoids physical interference could potentially move a player’s position so drastically, the Committee installs “mandatory” drop zones.  The TIO on 9 is one of those situations.              As we heard on the telecast, it was not mandatory for Lexi to take relief, however, if she decided to take relief she was required to use the nearest drop zone.  Lexi opted to take relief and unfortunately her ball rolled into an old divot in the drop zone and it seriously affected her play and she ended up making bogey.  Sometimes golf is a game of breaks, and as a mentor of mine likes to say, “Bad luck starts somewhere.”

The Double Setup: One Plan, Two Opens

Karen Stupples Notes Comparing Round 1 Hole Lcations

            Just how similar is the course the women are playing to the men’s U.S. Open?  Well, if you go by the hole locations alone, they are playing basically the exact same U.S. Open.  The comparison was clear after Karen Stupples tweeted her notes of how similar the round 1 holes for the women were to the men’s hole locations.  But as you can see throughout rounds 2 and 3, there are very few hole locations that are more than 2 paces different, and all  are in the exact same quadrant.  This was clearly the USGA plan to give the exact same amount of healing time to the areas of the greens between rounds.
Round 1 Women Hole Locations
Round 1 Men Hole Locations

 And then Round 2:

And of course Round 3:

And for all the ladies in the Open, if I were a gambling man, I'd start making a game plan for hole locations pretty similar to these tomorrow:

Pinehurst: Women's Open Notes

            For me, Pinehurst is one of the most special places in the country.  The restoration to the golf course raised it on my own personal list from an already high position and the resort and town itself have always been at or near the top.  So it has been a bit bothersome to me that after all the hype about the double Opens, the Women’s Open has gotten the shaft when it comes to coverage.  Fortunately (actually somewhat unfortunately) an injury sidelined me to my bed yesterday afternoon and I was able to watch the entirety of the coverage, including two very interesting Rules situations.

Lucy Li’s Unplayable

            For those who don’t know, I was the staff in charge that ran the Half Moon Bay Women’s Open Qualifying and had the honor of sending Lucy Li to Pinehurst in the first place.  When she walked into the scoring area after her second round she stared at my summary board, - which at the time had 149 as the lowest number - and she turned to me and said with that 11-year-old giggle, “Oh, I’m way lower than that!”
            So it was a true delight to see how well she handled herself at the Open, and a pair of 78’s, while I’m sure not as well as she would’ve liked, was very respectable and a sign of greatness to come.
            During her second round, on the 13th hole she pushed her drive right into the natural sandy area.  It happened to be on a tongue of natural sandy area that stuck into the middle of some bunkers.  She and her caddie tried to choose the best pitch out option and her first attempt stayed in the thick weeds.  She decided to take an unplayable.
            USGA President Tom O’Toole was the walking referee and carefully gave Lucy her unplayable options:
            a) She could keep the point where the ball lay unplayable between her and the hole and drop anywhere on that line as far back as she wants.  What was interesting about this, is that O’Toole reminded her caddie to watch his step in the bunker because she had the option of dropping in the bunker if she wanted to.  This might have confused some viewers so I’ll clarify:

If the ball were in the bunker, under the option listed above (Rule 28b) she would have to drop the ball in the bunker, however, the natural sandy area is not a hazard, it is through the green.  Therefore, she can drop the ball ANYWHERE on the course that is on that line created by the original position of the ball and the flagstick. 
It is important to note, a player can declare the ball unplayable anywhere on the golf course except in a water hazard.  If the ball was in a bunker, unless the player proceeds under stroke and distance, the ball must be dropped in the bunker.  If the ball starts through the green, however, the player can drop it anywhere on the course.
b) Lucy’s other option would have been to drop the ball two club-lengths from where it lay unplayable, which would have either been in the bunker or in nasty bushes of the natural sandy area. 
What about her third option?  Stroke and distance?  Yes, the player always has the option to proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.  Unfortunately for Lucy, because she made a stroke at the ball that failed to move it, stroke and distance would have been a drop at the spot where the ball was already lying unplayable.

Karrie Webb’s Bunker Questions

            For nearly two weeks now I’ve been waiting to see this discussion take place.  I know it’s happened, but it was finally caught on camera.  On the 18th hole, Karrie Webb’s ball came to rest in a position where it was questionable whether it was in or out of a bunker.  The referee took a close a look and made the determination the ball was in the bunker.  That wasn’t enough for Karrie, and with good reason.  She wanted to know where through the green started so she could take practice swings that touch the ground.  The referee determined a safe area for her to touch the ground with her club, but that didn’t satisfy Karrie completely.  She wanted to know the line of the bunker. 
            One of the interesting things about the new Pinehurst is how the natural sandy areas truly blend into bunkers and the forest floor alike.  Prior to the championship I was extremely curious as to how they would define the bunkers.  In general, they are defined as the prepared areas of sand, and walking referees with every group are to make the judgment call on any close cases erring on the side of bunker.  After some thought, the referee was able to point to a line in the sand that would separate natural area from bunker in Webb’s case.  Whether or not every referee would agree with it does not matter, her referee (and I believe a rover eventually as well) made the call and erred on the side of hazard, just as instructed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Busy Day at the Open

            It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year…U.S. Open Week.  And this year the Open is at a place that is very close to my heart, having played in three North & South Amateur Championships (one was a Junior in which Webb Simpson was the defending champion).  I truly do love Pinehurst, the place, the course, the Village, and the restoration has made it an absolute gem of a golf course.
            Another reason I enjoy U.S. Open week is because the USGA is constantly on hand to explain some of the more interesting or unique rulings.  I think we actually saw several things happen today that we almost NEVER see happen in professional golf, (albeit fairly common occurrences at the amateur level):


            On the 18th hole, Hunter Mahan’s caddie made his way to two balls in the fairway.  Mahan and his fellow-competitor Jamie Donaldson were using the same brand golf ball with similar markings.  Mahan’s caddie didn’t look very closely and the end result was that both Mahan and Donaldson ended up playing each other’s ball.
            They realized the mistake on the putting green where exchanged balls and headed back down the fairway to play from the correct spots.  Rule 15-3 is one of the “must correct or DQ” situations in stroke play, so when a player plays a wrong ball, they receive a two-stroke penalty and also must go back and play the correct ball (or in some cases it may mean going back to a previous spot under stroke and distance because the original is lost).
            In this situation the other competitor had moved the correct ball.  In this case, the Rule requires that the owner of the ball place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was played.  Neither player was exactly sure of the exact spot, so another Rule comes into play –Rule 20-3c Spot Not Determinable.  When the spot where a ball is to be placed or replaced is impossible to determine, the player must through the green, drop the ball “as near as possible to where it lay” meaning at the estimated spot.  Both players did so under the instruction of the walking Rules official.  Mahan ended up missing the cut by one stroke.
            Rules official’s hate to have this happen in their group because it seems so preventable, but at this level when golf balls are so close together and the caddies and players make no fuss about which is which, there is no way to catch it.  We feel bad anyway, believe it or not, we don’t want to issue penalties we’re there to help prevent them.


            On the 16th hole, Matt Kuchar came across a unique problem:  he had a short putt left and noticed his ball move before he addressed it.  Or at least he thought it was before he had addressed it.  Kuchar said that he and his fellow-competitor Lee Westwood believed he had not addressed it.  The difference being that if he had addressed the ball and then it moved, Rule 18-2b would deem the player to have moved the ball under penalty of one stroke and then the ball must be replaced.  If he had not addressed it and did not cause the ball to move, he was required to play the ball where it came to rest.
            He called the Rules official over who, in order to expedite play, had him invoke Rule 3-3 and Kuchar played two balls (actually the same ball, but for all intents and purposes in this situation it was acceptably two balls).  He played one ball where it came to rest and one ball he replaced behind the original ball-marker.  After review, they determined that he had not caused the ball to move and had not addressed it, so the ball played from the new spot counted for his score without additional penalty.
            Had Kuchar not invoked Rule 3-3 and had replaced the ball, because he had not addressed it and was supposed to play it from the new spot, he would have incurred a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place.  By invoking Rule 3-3, he ensured that the worst-case scenario would be the one stroke under Rule 18-2b for moving his ball at rest after address.
            I was recently discussing this Rule with some officials at an event and mentioned how much I would “Love it if a professional used Rule 3-3” and explained how rare it is for it to occur on Tour.  Leave it to U.S. Open week to see something we should probably see more often.


            Phil Mickelson did not have his best day, but he did have an interesting Rule situation. On the 15th his ball embedded into the steep slope fronting the putting green.  He was entitled to mark the ball, repair the pitch-mark and replace his ball, only it wouldn’t stay at rest.  Since the ball embedded, it had done something an un-embedded ball would not have done at that spot.  The applicable Rule for this is Rule 20-3d Ball Fails to Come to Rest on Spot. 
            Phil’s ball had a spot on the golf course, exactly where the repaired pitch-mark was where Phil had marked and lifted the ball.  Since it would not stay put when replaced, Phil had to find the nearest spot where the ball would stay at rest not nearer the hole and not in a hazard.  In the replay you can see the Rules official pointing to each new spot for Phil to try placing the ball until he finally found a spot where it stayed at rest.
            It looked strange to see a player moving the ball so significantly from the original spot but it was all done correctly and in accordance with the Rules.