Sunday, February 22, 2015

Influencing the Movement of the Ball

   As I watch the Fresno class diligently flipping through their Decisions books while taking the Open Book portion of the NCGA exam, I decided to highlight one of the classes' point of emphases worth an in-depth look: influencing the movement of the ball.
   The Rules have made a basic principle on this topic: purposely influencing the movement of the ball is prohibited. By ANYONE.  Accidentally or potentially influencing the movement of the ball is prohibited in specific instances. The general principle is that the stroke should be the only thing that has direct influence over the ball besides elements of the course and outside agencies (but we'll get to deliberate outside agency actions).

Rule 1-2 - The Ultimate Intent Rule

Rule 1-2 prohibits someone in the competition, whether it be a fellow-competitor, player or partner in stroke play (and by extension of Rule 6-1 their caddies) or an opponent (or his caddie) in match play, from intentionally influencing the movement of the ball. This Rule is a "catch all" because Exception 1 tells us that if another Rule covers the action (whether by permission or prohibition), that is the Rule that governs. But Rule 1-2 is completely intent based. If a player takes an action not covered by another Rule that influences the movement of the ball accidentally, Rule 1-2 does not apply. Note that this intent does not apply to potential influence for another group (a damaged hole repaired after completing the play of the hole so that subsequent groups may have an undamaged hole is not a breach of 1-2).

The Note to Rule 19-1

When a ball in motion is influenced (stopped or deflected) by an outside agency (OA) we have a rub of the green.  If the stroke was made form the putting green and the OA was moving or animate, then we get a cancel and replay because the putting green is a special place, close to the hole where the player should be allowed to putt without interference. But when an OA deliberately influences a ball, we get a very unique circumstance where the Committee must determine where the ball would have come to rest without that interference. The general principle above guides this ruling: something else should not be able to deliberately make the ball end up somewhere other than the stroke would have put it.

Rule 16-1b

Under Rule 16-1b a player must not lift a ball that might influence the movement of a ball in motion.  Here is the beginning of a list of several golf obstacles that must be left in place and the potential influence is the breach rather than actual influence. The intent here doesn't actually matter, the ruling hinges upon whether the movement - at the time the stationary ball was lifted - may have potentially influenced the ball in motion. Whether the ball in motion was actually influenced by the lifting is irrelevant (i.e. the ball in motion stops just short of where the ball was lifted from).

Rule 17-1

As much as this Rule drives me (and others I know) bonkers, at least one premise in Rule 17 is consistent.  A player may not move a flagstick that is unattended prior to the stroke if the movement has a potential influence on the ball in motion. As we'll see again below, the philosophy is actually clear.  Rule 17-1 gives the player the right to have the flagstick attended, removed or held-up prior to the stroke. If the player fails to take advantage of that Rule, he should not avoid penalty (striking an unattended flagstick in the hole after a stroke from the putting green) or the consequence (bouncing of the flagstick).

Rule 23-1

We get the same exact clause for loose impediments. The Rules are kind enough to let us move loose impediments (except when 13-4 applies), but we must do so before a ball is in motion headed toward that loose impediment. It is the potential influence that is a breach of the Rule, not whether the action actually influenced.

Rule 24-1

The Rules are consistent in many places, contrary to public belief.  Movable obstructions fall under the same category as a ball or loose impediments in that they must not be moved if the movement has a potential influence on the ball in motion.  But under this Rule we get an Exception to the entire general principle: the flagstick (which is a movable obstruction) and the equipment of any player MAY be moved even if there is potential or actual influence. Part of the reasoning is that it is unfair to force a player into a penalty for striking a removed flagstick or their own equipment particularly if it happens as a result of a poor stroke headed in a direction the player did not foresee (i.e the flagstick was placed in a position believed to be safe).

The philosophical question is why that premise does not apply to the ball in play (Rule 16-1b)? The reasoning is actually clear: players have the right to have a potentially interfering or assisting ball lifted prior to the stroke under Rule 22.  If a player fails to do so (whether the player making the stroke in the case of an interfering ball or the player with a potentially influencing ball in the case of assistance), the Rules are not going to allow the penalty to be avoided (if both balls lie on the putting green prior to the stroke in stroke play) due to this failure.  In addition, because there is no penalty other than the instance listed above, this can fall under the category of playing the course as you find it.  There is a ball in the way, and there is a Rule that gives the player the right to have it lifted if necessary. If the player does not take advantage of that Rule, the player must live with the consequences.

If you find yourself in one of these situations and need to determine whether an action "might have influenced" the movement of the ball in motion, see Decisions 16-1b/4 and 17-2/2 for further clarification.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lifting to Determine the Application of a Rule: Peg Barnard Round 1

     The tournament season has officially begun for us with the first round of the Peg Barnard Invitational hosted by Stanford.  This is my fifth Peg and I'm happy to say that we had an extremely quiet, uneventful day.  The only notable rules reminder that came from the day is the frequently overlooked yet extremely important Decision 20-1/0.7.
    This Decision is important in part because it gets forgotten so often.  When we go through Rule 21 we read about the THREE Rules which prohibit cleaning when lifted, 5-3, 12-2 and 22.  But we have to learn through a good instructor or experience that there is a FOURTH situation, a FOURTH "rule" that we can have a one stroke penalty for a procedural breach or for cleaning the ball when lifted.
   Decision 20-1/0.7 permits the player to lift a ball to determine the application of a Rule.  Traditionally the reason to use this Decision is either for a ball that might be embedded or a ball that might be in a burrowing animal hole.  The catch, in part because it is an equity Decision, is that the permission to lift the ball in this situation comes with a procedure, an "announcey marky" thing (thank you Mr. Staebler for that phrase). The player must announce his intention, mark the position of the ball, give the opponent or a fellow-competitior the opportunity to observe the lifting and must not clean the ball while doing so.  A very familiar procedure and the similarly familiar penalty statement that only applies if the player is NOT entitled to relief: if the player fails to comply with the procedure [meaning one part or all parts] he incurs a penalty of one stroke but incurs no additional penalty under Rule 20-1 or 21.
    So all in one we get a new "announcey marky" thing AND a penalty limitation (golf math 1+1=1).  There is also the possibility for the infamous 2+1=2 (or General penalty+1=General Penalty) if the player is required to replace the ball (because it is determined the relief Rule does not apply), fails to do so AND breaches the procedure.
   This came into play today on several occasions when players were not sure they were entitled to relief for an embedded ball. Fortunately for at least one player, the ball was in fact embedded and once it is determined that Rule 25-2 applies, the rest of the "announcey marky" stuff goes away and the player can proceed under Rule 25-2 as if nothing else ever happened.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Is It In the Bunker?!

Is it in or out?
So as we can all see, my days of playing golf decently are about as numbered as Tiger's.  This situation arose on the 6th hole at Silverado (North).  I ruled against myself, that the ball was actually embedded in the non-grass covered wall of the bunker and I was forced to take an unplayable.  But let's take a careful look at the Rules surrounding this situation:

Definition of Bunker
  The Definition of Bunker tells us two important things relevant to this situation:
     1) A ball is in a bunker when it lies in or any part of it touches the bunker.
     2) A wall or lip of the bunker not covered with grass is part of the bunker.

Upon review it is clear that the ball is not touching sand in the bunker, but as we can see from item 2, it may still be touching part of the bunker (as I ruled against myself).  If you look carefully you can see that the sand is fairly well-manicured to the point where there are very few points where dirt wall is present above the sand.  However, there are several points where dirt wall is visible and according to point 2, that is considered part of the bunker.  Since my ball is clearly touching the uncovered dirt wall, the ball should be considered to be in the bunker.

The situation brings up the subjectivity of some rulings.  You could very easily argue (and some very talented Rules minds did based on this picture) that the ball was embedded in the dirty roots of the grass just above the lip of the bunker.  However, upon closer viewing in person, it was clear to me that it was in fact buried in the dirt wall that by definition is considered part of the bunker.

How did this affect me?  Well let's take a quick look at two Rules:

Appendix I - B - 4a Local Rule for Ball Embedded Through The Green
Rule 25-2 provides relief for a ball embedded in a closely-mown area through the green.  The Local Rule in the Appendix, in effect for most competitions in the United States and even a few across the globe, extends that area and provides relief for a ball embedded through the green (except in sand in areas not closely-mown).  Had my ball been considered to be lying through the green, I would have been entitled to relief without penalty and been permitted to drop the ball outside the bunker, as near as possible to where it lay embedded no nearer the hole.

Rule 28 - Ball Unplayable
Since the ball was touching part of the bunker and therefore was lying in the bunker, I was not entitled to relief in accordance with the Local Rule and was forced to take an unplayable.  One of the toughest parts about Rule 28 is that if the ball originally lay in the bunker, in proceeding under options b or c, the ball must be dropped in the bunker.  To make matters worse, since my previous stroke had been played from within the bunker, my stroke and distance option (Rule 28a) was ALSO in the bunker.  I had no possible way to get out of the bunker, even with a penalty stroke.  So I chose to drop in the bunker within two club-lengths of where the ball lay, no nearer the hole (Rule 28c), which helped me to avoid the lip in which the ball initially plugged.

Sometimes the Rules don't seem fair, but if you think about it...wasn't it my fault for thinking I could hit the 6-iron high enough to get over that lip in the first place when an 8-iron would've left me with a simple pitch and putt to save par?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Parts of the Course and a Working Principle

            I received a question earlier today about removing loose impediments in the area in which you are about to drop a ball.  While the specific answer and question was relatively straightforward (the Rules don’t prohibit removing loose impediments in this situation unless the drop and loose impediments are in the same hazard), it got me thinking about one of my favorite working principles of the Rules of Golf: different parts of the course are treated more or less favorably.
            One of the first things we teach newcomers to the Rules are the parts of the course: The Teeing Ground, Through the Green, Hazards (Bunkers and Water Hazards) and The Putting Green. Traditionally we discuss the FOUR parts of the course, but as you can see there are really FIVE and the Rules treat all five differently.

The Teeing Ground - The Most Favorable
            Players rarely realize it exactly how much leniency is really granted to the teeing ground.  Think of the specific permissions players get:
  • Players may tee the ball when starting the hole or when returning to the teeing ground under Rule 20-5 (either under penalty of stroke and distance or for a cancel and replay).
  • Players can remove water, dew and frost from the teeing ground.
  • Players can both create and eliminate irregularities of surface within the teeing ground.
  • Part of the philosophy behind this is simple – the ball typically isn’t in play yet.  When starting the hole, a player has not put a ball into play until the stroke is made from the teeing ground. When returning under Rule 20-5, the player also does not have the ball in play yet.  It can be moved anywhere within the teeing ground and the ball still has a long way to go to reach the hole. 

            Another part of the philosophy reaches back to the traditions of the game.  Teeing the ball stems from reaching into the bottom of the hole, scooping a pile of sand and playing the ball from that pile of sand within a specified distance of the previous hole.  To remove teeing the ball from the modern game would not only demolish driver sales and make the game more difficult, but it would also leave behind one of the original traditions of the game.
            What is interesting is that some of these permissions don’t go away if a ball ricochets and comes to rest back within the teeing ground.  Rule 13-2 doesn’t say that removing water, dew and frost from the teeing ground is limited to starting the play of the hole. In fact, it’s key to note that relief for immovable obstructions or abnormal ground conditions are granted when the ball lies within the teeing ground.  The implication is that the teeing ground of the hole being played does not lose its status, and therefore Rule 13-2’s specific permissions still apply! If this isn’t the case, I need a ruling from Golf House…

The Putting Green – Still Pretty Favorable
            On the putting green, because the ball is so close to the hole and the precision of the stroke is so important, where tiny variances and imperfections can dramatically impact the result of the hole, players are granted many special provisions:
  • Players can mark, lift and clean their ball on the putting green.
  • Players can repair ball-marks and old hole plugs on the putting green, even if the ball doesn’t lie on the green.
  • If a player accidentally moves his ball in the process of removing loose impediments, the player is not penalized when the ball lies on the putting green.
  • Sand and loose soil are loose impediments that may be removed when the sand and loose soil are on the putting green.
  • If a ball in motion after a stroke from the putting green is stopped or deflected by an outside agency or another ball, the stroke is canceled and replayed.
  • If the ball lies on the putting green, relief is also granted for interference on the line of putt by an immovable obstruction or abnormal ground condition on the putting green.
  • When the ball starts on the putting green, when taking free relief under a Rule, the ball is placed rather than dropped.
However, with all these specific permissions the ball is in play (obviously except when it’s been lifted and not replaced) and the putting green is also a playing surface. With that in mind there are some prohibitions that happen on the putting green that don’t occur on the teeing ground:
  • Dew, frost and water may not be removed from the line of putt or other area protected by Rule 13-2.
  • Players are not permitted to test the surface by rolling a ball, roughening or scraping.
  • Irregularities other than ball-marks or old hole plugs may not be repaired if it might assist the player in his play of the hole (or other players if done with intent).
  • Players cannot make a stroke while standing astride their line of putt.  This Rule was implemented to eliminate the croquet stroke.  Interestingly enough, this only applies when the ball lies on the putting green.
  • Players cannot make a stroke while another ball is in motion after a stroke from the putting green.  Practically, this is in place to help eliminate the likelihood of a cancel and replay situation under Rule 19-5.

Through the Green – The Standard
            Once a player’s ball lies through the green, the player is not entitled to as much freedom as is granted on the putting green.  Generally, shots from through the green are much longer strokes and a player is subject to the main principles of the Rules of Golf – play the ball as it lies and play the course as you find it.
  • Players may still remove loose impediments, however a penalty is incurred if the ball is moved in the process.
  • Players may not remove any irregularities of surface, including ball-marks, if in one of the areas protected by Rule 13-2.
  • The ball may not be lifted without permission from a Rule, and may not be cleaned unless lifted under one of those Rules (except the three covered by Rule 21).
  • Players are entitled to relief from immovable obstructions and abnormal ground conditions, however line of play relief is not included and the ball must be dropped, not placed.
  • Sand and loose soil are not loose impediments through the green and may not be removed from an area protected by Rule 13-2.

Bunkers – Don’t Hit it Here, but Still Not the Worst
            Many of the prohibitions under the Rules don’t differentiate between bunkers and water hazards.  They are both hazards and, for example, Rule 13-4 places the same prohibitions on both.  On the other hand, the Rules still give a little bit of leeway to a player in a bunker over someone in a water hazard.
  • Players can no longer remove loose impediments, touch the ground or test the condition of a hazard.
  • Players are still permitted relief from immovable obstructions and abnormal ground conditions in a bunker, however the relief must be taken in a bunker if the player wishes to take relief without penalty.
  • Players may still declare the ball unplayable in a bunker, but unless proceeding under stroke and distance, the ball must stay in the bunker.

Water Hazards – You’re Just Not Supposed to Hit it Here
            Water hazards are treated the least favorably under the Rules.  The prohibitions of Rule 13-4 apply but there are also some further prohibitions when a ball lies in a water hazard rather than a bunker:
  • No relief is available for interference by an immovable obstruction or abnormal ground condition.
  • The player may not declare a ball unplayable in a water hazard, he must proceed under Rule 26-1 in order to get the ball out.
Because water hazards are so severe compared to other parts of the course, the Rules do give two slight concessions to a player whose ball has come to rest in a water hazard in specific situations:
  • Rule 26-2 exists to help a player get out of the water hazard if he’s played a ball from within the hazard and failed to get it out (or hit it out of bounds or into an unplayable lie).
  • If the ball happens to be moving in water in the water hazard, a player is permitted to play the moving ball (prohibited elsewhere) and is not penalized for playing a wrong ball moving in water in the water hazard (because Rule 14-6 requires to player to play the moving ball without delay and without stopping to identify it in this rare situation).

            Certainly if you hunt through the Decisions or into some other Rules you may find other examples highlighting this principle or even some rare situations that appear contradictory, but those are main examples of how the Rules treat the various parts of the course progressively with less favor.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reference Points in the Rules

    When taking relief under the Rules, in order to get the ball in the right place you must operate using the correct reference point.  There are various reference points used throughout the Rules, and they are frequently misused in casual golf discussions.  Following is an overview of the reference points used and how they function in the Rules of golf.
     How various reference points are used can also be grouped into three categories: areas, lines and spots.  After reviewing the types of reference points we'll go through how those reference points fit into the three categories.

The Nearest Point of Relief:
     The nearest point of relief is the only reference point that is actually a defined term under the Rules of Golf.  The nearest point of relief is the reference point for relief under Rules 24-2 (Immovable Obstructions), 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions) and 25-3 (Wrong Putting Green). Those are the ONLY three Rules where the nearest point of relief is used.

The Last Crossing Point:
     The point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard is the reference point for relief under Rules 26-1b or c (Relief for Ball in Water Hazard). When taking relief from a water hazard the line of flight is never used, nor is the place where the ball first crossed the margin.

Where the Ball Originally Lay:
     Where the ball originally lay is the reference point for relief under Rules 28b or c (Ball Unplayable) and also the penalized relief options under Rules 24-2b and 25-1b.

The Original or Estimated Original Position:
     When proceeding under stroke and distance or under any Rule where the stroke is cancelled and replayed from the previous spot, the original position (if known) or estimated position will be the reference point. 

Where the Ball Lay Embedded:
     Another incarnation of where the ball originally lay, the reference point for relief under Rule 25-2 (Ball Embedded) is where the ball lay embedded.

Point of Maximum Available Relief:
     As an additional option for relief when complete relief is not available from an abnormal ground condition in a bunker or on the putting green, Rule 25-1b allows the player to drop or place (as applicable to the part of the course) as near as possible to (or at) the point of maximum available relief.

Each of these various reference points are used in a variety of ways depending on which option of a Rule a player decides to use. (The drop must always be no nearer the hole than the reference point).

When taking relief through the green or in a bunker (or on the teeing ground if it ever happens) under Rules 24-2 and 25-1, the player must drop the ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief.  Relief for a wrong putting green is also a drop within one club-length of the nearest point of relief.  This is the most well-known relief procedure (cart path relief) but players rarely realize they are entitled to drop the ball anywhere within the entire area that is within one club-length of the nearest point of relief.

When taking relief form a lateral water hazard under Rule 26-1c or for a ball unplayable under Rule 28c, the player is permitted to drop within two club-lengths of the applicable reference point. Anywhere in that two club-length area no nearer the hole than the reference point is fair game.

Under several Rules the player is permitted to drop the ball on a line created by keeping the reference point directly between the point where the ball is dropped and the hole.  This is frequently referred to as the "flagline."  Dropping on the flagline will always be penalized relief.  Under Rule 26-1b the relief must be taken using the last crossing point as the reference point and must be dropped behind the hazard.  Under Rules 24-2b, 25-1b and 28b, the reference point is where the ball originally lay.  What is unique here is that the flagline option under Rule 24-2b and 25-1b is used to help get a player OUT of the bunker, whereas under Rule 28b if the ball originally lay in the bunker, when dropping on the flagline the ball must be dropped IN the bunker.

Although the previous options are probably the most well-known, the most abundant form of relief is to drop or place as near as possible to or on a spot.  When taking relief under Rules 24-2 or 25-1 when the ball was on the putting green, the ball will be placed at the nearest point of relief.  There is no one club-length leeway.  Under those same Rules, when invoking the maximum available relief option, the ball is dropped or placed (as applicable to bunker or putting green) as near as possible to (or at) that point, not within one club-length.

When proceeding under stroke and distance (whether under Rule 27-1, 26-1a or 28a), the player must drop the ball as near as possible to the original spot (or estimated original spot).

When taking relief for an embedded ball under Rule 25-2, the player must drop the ball as near as possible to where the ball originally lay embedded.  There is no one club-length leeway.

Local Rules will also frequently use spots for relief rather than giving a specified area.

So once we see what the reference points are and how they function in various ways, it is easy to see why it is important to know which reference point applies to your situation.  But there is one more reason: Rule 20-2c.  The seventh and final event requiring a re-drop under Rule 20-2c is if the dropped ball rolls closed to the hole than.... the reference point.

There are various scenarios where the ball can roll closer to the hole and a re-drop is not required:
 - Dropping under Rule 26-1b well behind the last crossing point.
 - Dropping under Rule 28b well behind where the ball originally lay

There are also scenarios where the ball could not roll closer than where it originally lay, but a re-drop is required because it rolled closer to the hole than the reference point:
- The ball rolls closer to the hole than the nearest point of relief, but not nearer than where it originally lay.
- The ball rolls closer to the hole than the last crossing point, but not nearer than where it came to rest in the water hazard.

Knowing which reference point applies is key to understanding whether a re-drop is required when the ball bounces forward.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Rules School 2015: Another One(Two) Bites the Dust

I've received a lot of comments over the past few months wondering when I would start writing again...  I apologize for the delay, it has been a very busy time and I've been focused on creating Rules materials  used for my profession as the Manager of Rules Education for the NCGA and, well, life.

As I am just starting back up I will start with one person note worth mention... I'm now engaged to the love of my life Amanda and I have spent many of my days enjoying my time with her and setting work aside to do so.  That said, she's taken up my interest in golf and the Rules (she got mad at me when I started answering practice quiz questions too quickly without her!) and so this is the perfect time to start talking Rules with everyone out there again.  I will make a concerted effort to continue with the regularity I once posted for both purely educational purposes and for the Rules situations that occur on TV or in the golf world regularly.

So the best way to start is to talk about Rules School 2015. I attended the advanced class in Dallas with two great instructors, David Staebler from the USGA and Brad Gregory from the PGA.  First and foremost thank you both for a wonderful class.  And a tongue in cheek thank you for a wonderful exam, David! (Actually it really was, nice work!)  I say that because he got me twice out of my own sheer forgetfulness of my main Rule for the exam: Definition > Rule > Decision.  Lew Blakey says it best, "What does the Rule say?"  On two occasions I forgot to start with the Rule and it bit me in the butt.

Obviously, I can not talk about the exam itself.  What I can talk about are some key points that I think are great for all levels of Rules enthusiasts:

  • Clearly, always remember, "What does the Rule say?" If you start with the Decisions, you increase your chance of making the wrong call.
  • The phrase, "the virtual certainty four" sticks with me.  For those having difficulties remembering how many instances you need to have virtual certainty, this at least gives you a start.  Rule 26 for proceeding under the water hazard Rule.  The Ball not found Rules, 24-3, 25-1c.  And then 18-1, the "ball stolen" Rule (when it is known or virtually certain that an outside agency has moved your ball).
  • Rule 18-0: Ball Moved by Wind/Water or No apparent cause covered by Rule 18-1 thru 18-6=Ball played as it lies. I'm dubbing this a "Staeblerism" and the philosophy is a point of emphasis for NCGA instructors but had not been put in that manner until now.
  • Brad Gregory explained something about caddie restrictions that hasn't really applied to any of my events, but struck home as a key point.  Tours or other Competitions frequently prevent caddies from going on the competition course prior to a competition round.  If a caddie does so, the Rules of Golf cannot touch the player.  The player is only responsible for the caddie during the stipulated round. However, the Rules permit the Committee to restrict a player in his choice of caddie, and this can include a caddie that does not follow the posted caddie guidelines. 
  • A final quote that will stick in relation to applying the exception to Rule 18-2b or "Rule 18-0": Have you ever experienced a gust of gravity?
Thank you again to a great class. To those of you whom I do not see on a regular basis, it was great to catch up.  To those whom I had not met, it was nice to meet you.  To those of you I work with and see on a regular basis.... =)

Thanks for reading, it's great to be back!