Saturday, June 21, 2014

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.

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