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.

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