Sunday, May 24, 2015

Why?! Why the Tour Used a Rule They Shouldn't Have

            Today we witnessed something I hope we never have to see again (but I’m sure we will).  The PGA Tour implemented a local Rule that is technically against the Rules of Golf by implementing “Preferred Lies” through the green.  There are several reasons I want to draw attention to this:

1) This Local Rule is not permitted.

The Local Rule in the Appendix of the Rules of Golf does not allow for such a wide area to use “Preferred Lies” in.  Specifically, it states, “A ball lying in a closely-mown area through the green (or specify a MORE RESTRICTED area, e.g., at the 6th hole) may be lifted, without penalty, and cleaned. “ The Tour (and other entities over the years) decided to ignore that specific clause that states the Rule is not to be used more widely than closely-mown areas through the green.

2) There is an acceptable alternative.

The Local Rule in the Appendix IMMEDIATELY before “Preferred Lies” would have allowed the Tour to implement a similar rule anywhere through the green (technically anywhere on the course).  The difference is that this local Rule requires the ball to be Replaced, rather than allowing a specified area the ball could be moved and placed within.  This is a far better Rule to use because it requires the player to stay in the spot and lie that his previous stroke earned.  It does not permit the player to improve their situation by moving it out of a birds-nest lie, or slightly muddier spot.  This Rule could be legally used through the green and would have been a much better alternative.  Frankly, even when only applying this to closely-mown areas I use “Lift, Clean and Replace” rather than “Preferred Lies” because it solves the issue (mud balls) without allowing players to improve their lies.

3) It sets a bad example.

I will now have to answer questions from many of our officials and others about this situation.  If the Tour did it, why can’t we?  I will be clear, just because the Tour did it, does not make it right.  And while “the Committee is always right even when they’re wrong,” by implementing this Local Rule they basically had the Tour playing something other than golf.  Remember that a Local Rule is not whatever the Committee decides they want to do.  Rule 33-8 states that, “The Committee may establish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions if they are consistent with the policy set forth in Appendix I.” The second part of Rule 33-8 also states, “A Rule of Golf must not be waived by a Local Rule.” By using “Preferred Lies” through the green, the Tour not only waived a Rule of Golf, but implemented a Local Rule that was not consistent with the policies in Appendix I.

4) It let players get away with bad shots.

We heard constantly throughout the telecast how players were getting out of bad lies because of the ability to move the ball around.  This is why lift, clean and replace should have been used (and frankly should always be used in these wet, muddy type situations in my opinion).  Players were able to escape the lies that their wayward shots placed them in.  That’s not what golf is about.  “Play the ball as it lies and play the course as you find it.”

So why did they do it?

While clearly I do not condone what the Tour decided to do, I understand the reasoning.  (And I am not a mind reader so this is my best educated guess) The course had taken on a substantial amount of water, rendering large portions of it close to unplayable.  Getting four rounds of golf in is extremely important and even the Tour VP in charge of this event stated that the course could not take on much more or else the rest of the round would have to be suspended or even cancelled.

By using “Preferred Lies” through the green, the Tour was able to have the course playable for a potentially longer period of time and more quickly by not having to squeegee or clean up large areas in the rough that would otherwise have been slightly more penal than intended.  It also allowed them to skip mowing in areas where the mowers would have destroyed the turf because it was so wet.  The “Preferred Lies” was used in large part because they were not able to prepare the course to normal standards rendering some areas in the rough far more penal than intended.

I’ve seen “Preferred Lies” through the green used once before, but only because the course was in such poor condition it was not possible to differentiate between closely-mown areas and areas that were not closely-mown.  In those two cases, again, I don’t condone it, but I understand the reasoning.

My last message would be to our officials in the field who read the blog and may be serving as tournament chairs for our qualifiers in the future:  it isn’t permitted, don’t do it.  If you feel something like it must be done, see the acceptable alternative above and make sure you are in contact with the staff person in charge of the championship.  That kind of decision must not be made without staff knowledge and approval.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Women's Amateur Four-Ball Wrap-Up: Great Week at Pac Dunes

                I realize this comes a bit late, especially in an instant gratification kind of world, but the end result of my whirlwind of assignments at the Women’s Amateur Four-Ball was a nasty cold that took a few days to get over, all the while preparing for tomorrow’s Women’s Open Sectional.  That said, from a Rules perspective, I didn’t have a terribly exciting set of matches.  From the Referee’s perspective…that’s a good thing.
Outside Agencies
                I forgot to post a little picture of this guy who visited us on the 11th tee during the second round of stroke play.  All the while we were watching whales in the distance.
This guy was not afraid of us...He'd been fed before...

Thank You
                I say it a lot to our own volunteers, and I hear it a lot when working a USGA Championship, but I also want to say thank you to a few people that made the Championship a wonderful experience. First to the SIC Rachel Graves, thank you for the invite and the trust to give me such great assignments.  Great first championship!  To David Staebler for the bits of wisdom during setup and elsewhere along the way, always a pleasure working with you. To Shannon, Tracy and Pam it was fun working with you, sorry you had to spend so much time watching my groups (you too David).  To Ken Dunphy who had to put up with me sending him extra stuff to look at during a championship and Peg, the true magician making sure everything was in its right place.  To the rest of the USGA staff on site, you all did a wonderful job.
                To Bandon Dunes, I’m just going to name Jeff Simonds although I know he’s the leader of the pack of a whole bunch of well-trained staff that assisted in making the experience great.  I’ll be back there soon enough!
My Assignments
                My assignments did change slightly since the initial post.  I was the referee for the medalists in round 1 of match play.  The medalists won, and I was then asked to step-in to be the referee for the second round as well as the original referee had to cancel. I went around again in the afternoon as an observer with the medalists again, but that time they lost. I finished off the week with the semi-final match between O’Sullivan/Ree and Herr/Walker which ended on the 16th hole. So for the week I walked 36 holes in stroke play (plus 9 holes setup), 14 holes as referee in the round of 32, 18 holes as referee in the round of 16, 15 holes as an observer in the quarter finals and 16 holes as referee in the semi-finals.  All in all 108 holes in 5 days and at Pacific Dunes -  I’d gladly do 108 more.
13th Green during the Quarter-Finals with the camera boom in the back

The Rulings
                I really had very, very few rulings of note. I will discuss three (2 ½ really).
Three Rules for One Sprinkler Head:
On the second hole a player’s ball came to rest on a sprinkler head. The nearest point of relief was clear and she measured the one club-length from there.  She dropped within the one club-length and Rule 24-2 was done.  The ball rolled closer to the hole than the nearest point of relief so Rule 20-2c took over and she re-dropped.  The re-drop rolled closer to the hole and so 20-2c required a place.  When the ball was placed it would not stay at rest, so Rule 20-3d took over and the ball was replaced where it finally came to rest and the ball was properly in play. It felt good running the rules through my head as I was working with the player in this situation.
Collision Course (x3):
                Typically, golf balls colliding is a fairly rare ruling to get.  I had 3 during my 108 holes.  Two of which, occurred in the first four holes of the semi-final match. On the very first hole, Walker’s approach from the fairway one hopped directly onto her partner’s ball that was at rest on the putting green.  It was actually unfortunate because without the collision the side would’ve had two chances at birdie from about 10 feet, and instead had one shot at birdie and a really difficult pitch.  I called the observer who had a good eye on the spot where Herr’s ball was moved from and the ruling was fairly simple.  Rule 18-5 requires the ball that was moved to be replaced.  Rule 19-5 requires the other ball to be played as it lay.
                Three holes later, Herr’s approach was short and at rest below the slope on the 4th putting green when Walker’s pitch failed to reach to the top of the slope and the ball slowly started rolling back down and sure enough collided once again with Herr’s ball.  We had just been through this and their opponent was very near the collision and able to point to the spot.  Moved ball replaced, other ball played from its final spot.  Rule 18-5 and 19-5 tend to trip people up on exams, but in reality the rulings were quite easy and quick. (The third collision was on the final hole of stroke play when Lila Barton’s ball after a pitch collided with a member of the other side’s ball on the putting green. I had the spot and again the replacement was quick and easy).
The Lessons
Pace of Play:
While I didn’t have many rulings I did get to learn a lot about match play pace of play.  All three of the matches I refereed were on the clock at some point in time.  Truth be told, none of the players were particularly slow themselves.  Their routines were normal. What killed their pace was not being ready to play.  I remember watching one side take more than the permitted 40 seconds just trying to decide which partner would play first!  We only run one championship where match play pace of play really comes into effect and we haven’t had any issues that required timing recently so seeing it in action was fabulous (except that it was my group on the clock…) 
The lesson learned was the proper application because of the subjectivity of timing.  The group was informed they had a hole to regain position. When they did not, they were timed. Everything was included in the given 40 seconds – caddie discussion, club decisions, routines, partner discussion.  It didn’t matter, they had 40 seconds to play. The warnings were issued immediately and in most cases the timing worked.  The groups regained position or at least played more quickly (my first match was on the clock from the 7th hole to its conclusion without a warning issued).  One of the most interesting aspects of this process was the four-ball impact.  Even though it is four-ball, individuals are timed and individuals are issued warnings.  This means that two individuals one the same side could both receive a warning.  If, however, only one member of the side receives a second bad time, the side loses the hole.  So a side as a whole might actually get 3 total bad times before losing a hole, but an individual still only gets the one warning before costing the side a hole in the match.
Who’s Away:
                I carry a Gotcha. For luck (thanks JVB I still carry the one you gave me). Unless you’re within several feet of the hole it is generally a waste of time to use the Gotcha. I was complimented on my quick determinations of who was away when asked.  I say this not because I took the job lightly: order of play is important in match play and can play a huge role in a match.  I say this in part because of what you saw above…pace of play is important too.  If I need to pace off to make a call, I will.  If I’m within 5 feet and need the Gotcha, I’ll use it.  But my first call is to stand halfway between the golf balls in question, face the hole and see which ball is farther. I don’t say, “I think you’re away,” or “it looks like you’re away,” I point and say, “That ball is away.” If the player asks for a measurement I’ll give it to them, but it’s usually not necessary.
                This came into play when the TV cameras started rolling.  One reminder we tell players when match play begins is that it is their show, not ours.  We stay out of the way as referees.  We don’t go on the putting green unless asked, we stay only close enough to be reached if needed and we don’t stand in the camera shot whenever possible.  The player is the focus, not the referee.  So if I’m called in to make a determination and the camera is rolling, I want to take only as much time as is necessary to make the proper call and get back out of the show.
Long Drive:
                The final lesson is that 11 hours is a long drive when you’re fighting a cold…
Because, well... Just because

Sunday, May 10, 2015

1st US Women's Amateur Four-Ball Notes

For those of you who were looking for a wrap-up of the US Amateur Four-Ball at Olympic Club, there was no more to share.  I worked checkpoint #9 on day 2 and had absolutely no groups miss the checkpoint.  I then followed as a second observer in Nathan Smith and Todd White’s first round match on their way to victory, but nothing notable occurred relating to my role as the observer.  So I decided to skip to Amateur Four-Ball Wrap-Up and we’re on to the US Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Pacific Dunes.
Two rounds of stroke play are now in the books and I made it 35 holes before there was a notable ruling.  Despite that, it was an eventful first couple of days with some very unique Rules situations that I will share.

The Drop Zone You Never Want to Need
From the Blue Stake Up the Left Side of #11

                On the 11th Hole the left green-side bunker has about a yard or two between its left edge and the cliff down to the beach.  For half of the bunker there is room for a player to drop when the ball crosses the margin of the lateral water hazard.  However, as you can see in the picture, past a certain point, there is really no available area to drop in.  So a dropping zone has been provided with the catch that it may only be used for a ball which crosses the margin of the water hazard beyond the blue stake. If you want my opinion, it’s probably an easier shot to use stroke and distance.
From the Blue Stake to the Drop Zone You Never Want to Need

Blue Drop Zones
                Fox Sports will be televising some of the match play portion of the championship.  And with television coverage comes – TIOs.  The USGA has done a wonderful job of making the relief situations from the TIOs incredibly easy to handle by providing mandatory drop zones anytime a ball is in, on, under or has physical interference from the TIO.  This is not a revelation in the Rules.  The use of the blue drop zone to correspond to the blue lines used to define the limits of the TIO is, however, a wonderful stroke of genius that I had to share below.
The Blue Drop Zone near the TIO (TV Tower) behind the 14th Green

Defining Bunkers
                There are several occasions out here where the line between bunker and sand dune are quite blurry.  In those instances they have installed blue dowel rods to define the margins of the bunker.  The stakes are inside the bunker and the margin is defined by the outside edges at ground level, stake-to-stake.  Another very bright move, but also something that requires a very poor shot to come into play.

Defining Putting Greens
                The most frequent question over the first two days was, “Is this on the green?”  For those of you who have played Pacific Dunes, or any of the Bandon Dunes courses, you know that the line between putting green and through the green is quite blurred.  For the championship, it is actually quite clear where the putting green starts and fairway stops, but not when standing directly over it.  You actually have to take a few steps back and it’s usually fairly easy to see the mow line.  There are a few areas where even a few steps back is not enough and we’ve been told to give the player the benefit of the doubt if it’s not 100% clear.

Course Setup
                Ask and you shall receive.  When I received the invitation to work the event I told the SIC (Staff in Charge) to put me to work, and if any help was needed with setup I would be there.  Sure enough I was asked to help with setup this morning and it was an incredible experience for a number of reasons:
1) It’s always fun for me to do course setup, and even more fun for a USGA Championship.  Getting up early to be able to use the tape and go out with the hole cutter in the morning is just the way to do it.
2) Pacific Dunes is my favorite course in the world.  To pass up the opportunity to do setup on my favorite course (including my favorite hole seen below) would have been idiotic.

Setting the Tee Markers on My Favorite Hole in the World, #11 at Pacific Dunes
3) The setup plan for this championship is unique due to the normal maintenance rotation, layout and cart restrictions.  So we did not set up 1-9 or 9-18, but rather 4-12 in a crazily-ordered loop that I cannot re-create from memory.  Much to my enjoyment I was assigned to the “coastal” nine with David Staebler who is always a joy to work with and has been great to learn from.  So not only was the rotation unique but we also walked the course setup.  The maintenance truck carried the tee markers, we carried the tape measure, paint, putter, level, golf balls and hole markers, and then we walked the coastal setup which included holes 4-12, but started on 7 and ended on 9.  You figure that one out! 
Running the Tape and Testing Hole Locations on the 11th Green

My One Ruling
                So after 35-holes of relative calm (ok just about absolutely nothing but players playing golf and tracking hole finish times), the final hole of the day was simply nutty.  Between 17 and 18 Barton asked how they were doing for time (they had made the first three checkpoints and as the first group following the starter time without catching the group 24 minutes ahead of them, staying ahead of pace was all they had).  They had put the flagstick in 3 minutes over pace, so with that info Barton told the group they needed to pick it up and unfortunately rushed through the 18th hole. 
This lead to one provisional ball and a brief search on the tee shot, another slightly longer search on the approach/lay-up and then a ball collision after a stroke from off the putting green that was as simple as it gets.  Rules 18-5 and 19-5 applied, Barton, whose ball struck the other, played her ball as it lay and her fellow-competitor put the moved ball back. No penalty, phew! What was nerve racking was I saw the fellow-competitor start to reach down for her ball while Barton’s ball was motoring toward it and I was about to shout “Don’t touch that ball!” when she stopped on her own and let the collision happen.
So I finally had an incident for the Rules Incident card…

My Assignments
Lila Barton and Marissa Mar Surveying Putts on the 10th Green
                The championship had us walking with groups for the first two rounds of stroke-play, and today I was lucky enough to have Marissa Mar and Lila Barton as one of my two sides. They played incredibly well and it was fun officiating for the two of them outside of collegiate events at Stanford.
The schedule for the rest of the week (subject to changes by the SIC): I’m off in the first match tomorrow, so I’ll have the 1 and 32 seeds.  I’ll observe two matches on Tuesday and then I will be the Referee for a semi-final match on Wednesday before I head back for home and prepare for Women’s Open Qualifying a week from tomorrow.
                It’s been an honor working this championship and I look forward to more to share over the next few days.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

1st US Amateur Four-Ball Round 1 Notes

     For those who follow the blog and have been curious about my championship schedule this year - the real fun started today.  I have been lucky enough to be invited to work both of the inaugural US Amateur Four-Ball championships, starting with the men at Olympic Club.  What has made this event so special is not just the fact that it is the first of an era and an incredible venue, but that I have been able to share it with so many fellow NCGA volunteers and staff.  It has also been a slight blast from the past as former NCGA employees John van Der Borght and Ryan Magee are on site USGA staff for the championship, both of whom have had a significant impact on my development as an official and Rules instructor (sorry for implicating you guys).
   My assignment for this championship is the Checkpoint Official for hole #9 on the Lake course.  So, yeah, I'm not complaining about where I have to spend my days.  The USGA uses the four check-point system and has begun utilizing tablets to coordinate check-point information.  Without tablets, the four check-point system requires regimented radio communication between the check-point that frequently sounds like, "Checkpoint 9 copies - This is Checkpoint 13, could you repeat please? - Checkpoint 18 did you copy?"  The tablet not only simplifies the communication by tracking all warnings and potential penalties, but also simplifies the timing process itself by turning the job into a simple push of the button.  When the flagstick goes into the hole, simply push the 'Hole Completed' button and all the stats for the group show including the script for any messages that need to be given to the group if necessary.
    For me, it was a relatively uneventful day as there were only two groups that missed my checkpoint.  One of them, however, was a second miss and they were liable to a one-stroke penalty.  It was clear to see the miss was coming and I watched them play the hole to see if anything notable occurred.  Nothing of note, they neither appeared to play the hole slowly nor with any extra effort.  I will find out tomorrow how the appeal resulted, but I suspect the penalty stood.
    Since there wasn't much on the Rules front to report (my job is the checkpoint, other officials had hole assignments in the area), I'd like to add some notes on successful checkpoint officiating that I noted today:

-  Stick to the script like glue.  There is a reason checkpoint officials are provided a script, there is no reason to deviate from it, no matter how well you know the policy.
-  Only radio the necessary information/radio announcements.  Calling in more information than  than is asked for only clutters up the airwaves and will likely result in some details being missed or overlooked.  SIC's (Staff In Charge) like to call unnecessary extraneous information "weather reports," and while frequently it is decent information, we'll call you for it if we need it.
-  Hold on to that extra information, because the Rovers or SIC will come to you for it.
-  Have someone designated to cover checkpoint timer breaks specifically.  The only thing worse than someone stepping in for a timer who isn't prepared for the task is a timer who misses a group because they had to go to the restroom.
-  Inform the following group when a group misses a checkpoint.  The group that missed will take off and leave them in the dust otherwise.  In NCGA Championships we ask that you inform the two groups following.
-  Inform groups when the "barely" make a checkpoint.  In this championship, "barely" means that they were behind pace and in their final 59 seconds of allowance for their interval (14 minutes behind the group in front of them).

   The only other interesting note I have from today can only be told from what was heard on the radio (triple emphasis that the radio as used appropriately and at the right time by one of our own):  Karl Rodefer was heard dealing with a wrong ball situation.  When the player played the wrong ball he altered the original lie.  The owner of the wrong ball had to place a ball in the nearest lie most similar within one club-length of the original spot and not nearer the hole in accordance with Rule 20-3b.  Meanwhile, the player who played the wrong ball incurred a two-stroke penalty and had to correct the error by going to play his own original ball.  I don't have the specifics, but in the event that the wrong ball was his partner's ball (this is four-ball after all), the partner would not incur a penalty even if the act in some way assisted his play (Rule 31-5 and Decision 30-3c/1 for reference). Nice one Karl!  I did not hear of much else but fairly benign days from other officials, but I will be sure to pass on anything if I hear it.
    To come on FarbTalk: I have one more day at the Olympic Club, a few days helping to prepare for the NCGA's own Four-Ball Championship, and then I will make my way to Oregon and my favorite course in the world - Pacific Dunes - for the inaugural US Women's Amateur Four-Ball Championship where I have a slew of wonderful assignments that I am very much looking forward to.
    For those looking for comments on Keegan Bradley/MAJ or other WGC incidents, I haven't seen the video so I have very little to say.  I've been informed of what appear to be some incorrect rulings given, including Rory receiving a re-drop due to interference by area of intended swing for a wrong putting green (interference under Rule 25-3 is for the lie of ball only, swing and stance are not included), but again, I did not witness it and have not seen the video so I cannot officially comment (that said, from the sounds of it, the Bradley ruling was correct and simply a situation where TIO relief subsequently led to obstruction relief).