Tuesday, July 21, 2015

US Amateur Qualifying and the Missing Tee-Marker



                Those who have worked events with me know that I am extremely particular when it comes to course setup.  Notably, I have a very specific manner in which I want the tee-markers to be placed that is different from the common practice.  A little background is necessary:
                Dotting teeing grounds is done for several reasons depending on the championship and timing of the dotting.  In major championships like the Opens, dots are placed behind the marker so that if one is displaced the Committee knows where to replace the marker, but also so that the player can see the markers are placed where they are supposed to be.  Since the markers are placed by staff on the morning of play, the dots do not have significance as far as alignment toward the landing area.
                In qualifiers and other championships at the SRGA level, in many cases the dots are placed in the days leading up to the championship and are placed so that SRGA volunteers or course staff can properly place the markers aligned appropriately to the landing zone.  Once the marker is on the dot, the dot then can be used to replace the marker in the proper spot.
                But funny things happen at SRGA tournaments or qualifiers, and markers sometimes go missing.  So I always place tee-markers with the front outside corner of the marker on the dot, leaving just enough of the dot for Committee to see.  For me, the dot serves a third purpose: the replacement marker when needed.
                I contend that the tee-markers should be placed with the leading outside edge on/touching the dot so that if a tee-marker goes missing and a player estimates the teeing ground using the dot, the teeing ground dimensions have not changed.  Perhaps the Committee doesn’t have a replacement marker once the missing marker is discovered, and needs to use the dot to define the teeing ground.  If the markers have been placed as I describe, the dot is an exact replacement and the teeing ground has not changed.
                My neuroticism is typically met with some contention because it is against the common practice. However, at US Amateur Sectional Qualifying yesterday, my specific placement came into play.
                The 17th hole at Bayonet Golf Course is located not only near the entrance road, but also near a teeing ground for the other golf course on the facility.  Our third to last group played significantly ahead of the maximum pace leaving a decent gap behind them.  During that gap, someone decided that the nice USGA tee-marker would make a great souvenir and when the penultimate (all you Senior Open officials can chuckle) group arrived they found only one tee-marker.  We had a very small group of officials and the group knew it might be some time before they could find an official, so they found the dot and played from the estimated teeing ground using the dot as the second tee-marker.

Decision 11-4b/2 covers this situation exactly:
Q. In stroke play, competitors in a group, finding one tee-marker missing from a teeing ground, determine for themselves the area of the teeing ground based on the position of the remaining tee-marker and the shape of the tee.  What is the ruling?
A. The correct procedure is to discontinue play until the Committee resolves the problem.
                However, if the Committee is satisfied that the competitors did not gain an advantage by playing from the place they judged to be the teeing ground, it would be appropriate for the Committee, in equity (Rule 1-4), to accept their scores, without penalty.  Otherwise, they incur the penalty prescribed in Rule 11-4b.

Since the dot was placed at the exact corner of the actual teeing ground and the players used that to estimate the teeing ground, it was extremely simple to determine that they gained no advantage.  If you place the markers in any other manner and try to use the dots, then it is possible for the players to play from a different spot than the original teeing ground depending on the size and shape of the marker.  There may be no advantage involved, but why not set up in the first place so that the teeing ground doesn’t change?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Spieth's Line of Putt Relief



                On the 5th hole, Jordan Spieth’s ball came to rest on the putting green in such a position that a sprinkler head lying off the green (through the green) intervened on his line putt.  Under Rule 24-2 alone, he would not be entitled to relief unless the intervening obstruction was also on the putting green.  However, during the Open Championship the Local Rule in Appendix I for relief for immovable obstructions close to the putting green is in effect.
                This Local Rule provides relief for intervention on a player’s line of play when an immovable obstruction that is within two club-lengths of the putting green AND within two-club lengths of the ball.  When the ball lies through the green, the ball is dropped at the nearest point no nearer the hole where there is no longer intervention.
                However, since Spieth’s ball was on the putting green, the Local Rule also provides relief when an immovable obstruction within two club-lengths of the putting green intervenes on the player’s line of putt.  This was the case for Spieth, and since his ball was on the putting green relief was to place the ball at the nearest point no nearer the hole where there is no longer line of putt intervention.
                See Appendix I-B-6 for more on this Local Rule.

JB Holmes' Second Opinion at the Open and Rule 34-2



                Yesterday at the Open Championship there was an interesting exchange regarding a situation with JB Holmes on the 15th hole.  JB Holmes was looking for TIO relief out of a very difficult lie.  The walking referee called a rover for a second opinion and European Tour official John  Paramor did not grant the relief.  Holmes was not happy with the decision and let it affect his play and discussed the situation after the round.
                The situation and wait caused a tremendous backup on the course and the discussion in the TV booth ensued.  The booth first asserted that a player is entitled to the second opinion.  JR Jones from the R & A then came on and correctly stated that a player is not entitled to a second opinion, however, a wise Rules Official will always offer to obtain a second opinion in doubtful situations.  Paul Azinger then foolishly decided to debate that statement by saying that in the States, a player is entitled to a second opinion.
                Azinger’s statement is 100% wrong.  Rule 34-2 is clear: “If a referee has been appointed by the Committee, his decision is final.”  This means that a referee’s ruling is the final decision, a player does not have the right to a second opinion, it is merely the best practice to get a second opinion when asked (and we always instruct officials that they absolutely should offer to obtain a second opinion). So please note, there are not two sets of Rules for Europe and the United States.  JR Jones correctly stated that a player is not entitled to the second opinion. When watching championships on television, please make sure to take any Rules statement from an announcer with a grain of salt. I'm hoping that Jones corrected Azinger in the booth off the air after that exchange.
At major championships a senior Rules official or staff member from the hosting organization is usually present in the booth to offer the correct ruling. When an announcer disagrees with that ruling, the announcer is usually wrong.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The "One Ball Rule" in the Spotlight



Over the past month or so there have been several interesting rulings involving the “One Ball” Condition.  The NCGA does not use the “One Ball Rule” in its competitions, but this time of year we are running a lot of USGA Qualifying sites and so issues with the “One Ball” condition come up.
For those who are unaware what the “One Ball” condition is, it is an optional Condition of the competition that requires the player to play the exact same model and brand as detailed by a single entry on the List of Conforming Golf Balls (see Appendix I-C-1c).  This means that you could not use a Top-Flite distance ball on the par-5 holes and then switch to an ultra-spin ball for the par-3 holes. (Or as you'll find out, it means you can't use a yellow ball to start, and then a white version of the same ball).
I’m going to work backwards in time starting with the most recent situation

Breach on the Final Hole
                During US Amateur Sectional Qualifying at Diablo Country Club, a player breached the “One Ball” condition on the final hole of the second 18-holes.  He had hit his last ball of the correct model out of bounds and lost, and knowingly put into play a different model ball to finish the round.  The player came into scoring convinced that he was disqualified. But that’s not what the Rule says.  The penalty for a breach of the condition in stroke play is two strokes for each hole at which the breach occurred with a maximum of four total penalty strokes per round.  Moreover, the Condition does not require the player to abandon the ball immediately; he must make sure to play the proper ball from the next teeing ground.  Well, there is no next teeing ground in this case.
                So when the player came into scoring, he had already written the letters DQ in on his final hole.  When I asked him if he holed out with the incorrect model ball, he said yes and he was shocked when I told him he was not disqualified, but had to apply a two-stroke penalty to the final hole.  He laughed because he played the hole so poorly that he had to ask his marker to help determine his score for the hole.  Needless to say, the very nice gentleman did not qualify.

Hale Irwin at the US Senior Open
                While we do run into breaches of the “One Ball” condition regularly at qualifying stages, it is incredibly rare to see a breach at the championship level.  On the 16th hole at the US Senior Open (I was walking down the adjacent 8th with my group), I overheard on the radio a call that I couldn’t quite believe. The referee was confirming the penalty for a breach of the “One Ball Rule” by Hale Irwin.  Irwin had hit his ball into the water hazard and had to drop another ball.  His caddie grabbed a ball from the bag, Irwin dropped and played.  When Irwin marked his ball on the green he realized he had a problem.  Irwin told the referee with his group who confirmed the two-stroke penalty and he had to play the correct model of play at the next teeing ground. 
                I was penalized under the “One Ball” Rule once in US Amateur Qualifying and I never carried more than one model of ball in my bag ever again.  I’m still amazed there was even another kind of ball in the bag.

Yellow vs. White
                During qualifying for the US Senior Open, there was a unique non-penalty situation that occurred with one of the eventual qualifiers.  One of our prominent senior amateurs typically plays a yellow golf ball.  On one hole, he needed to hit a provisional and hit a white golf ball of the same make and model as his provisional. 
                The problem was, the white and the yellow versions of that same golf ball are actually listed as separate entries on the List of Conforming Golf balls meaning that if you start with a yellow ball, you need to play the yellow ball all the way through the round.  The player found his original ball within five minutes of beginning to search for it and continued with the yellow ball for the rest of the round.
                But had he breached the “One Ball” condition by playing the wrong kind of ball as the provisional?  The answer is no.  Since the provisional ball never became the ball in play, he was not in breach of the “One Ball” condition (see Decision 5-1/3 for support).  Everyone exhaled and the player went on to qualify and play in the US Senior Open.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

US Senior Open Championship in Review



                This year I was fortunate enough to be invited to serve as a Rules Official in the U.S. Senior Open at Del Paso Country Club.  My assignment was as a walking official with a group on each of the first three rounds (I was unable to serve in the fourth round due to course setup for an event immediately following the Open).  From a Rules perspective I had a very quiet experience.  In the first round, the only two rules situations that occurred, the players handled themselves (one used a drop zone for a ball in the water hazard and another took relief from a sprinkler head).
                 
          During the second round I had two rulings with the same player.  The situations were actually quite straightforward but to my delight the player asked for the whole explanation and procedure.

  • On the 16th hole, the player hit his ball into the water crossing the hazard margin where it was marked as a lateral water hazard.  He called me over and first we determined where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard as his options would revolve around that point.  I explained he could drop within two club-lengths of that point, no nearer the hole (Rule 26-1c).  That would’ve resulted in playing from a side-hill lie.  He could also drop on a line, keeping the point where the ball last crossed the margin directly between where the ball was dropped and the hole (Rule 26-1b).  I also told him he could play from the previous spot, which happened to be an awkward side-hill lie from the rough (Rule 26-1a). The opposite margin option was not feasible or practical and he was interested in using 26-1b. I stood behind and made sure the drop was directly on the “flagline.”  The drop rolled slightly closer (about a foot) to the hole, but as he was a good 15 yards back of the reference point, the ball was properly in play

  • On the 6th hole (our 15th), the player called me over near the putting green.  His ball had come to rest in a unique position such that he had two sprinkler heads directly on his line and a third  nearby.  He wanted relief for the sprinklers on his line of play.  The local Rule providing relief for line of play intervention for obstructions within two club-lengths of the putting green and within two club-lengths of the ball was in effect, however the USGA had implemented the Note that relief was only available if BOTH the ball and obstruction lay in a closely-mown area.  His ball was not in a closely-mown area (by an inch or two) so I explained relief for the line of play intervention was not available.  He started looking at the third sprinkler and I asked how he would play the stroke and he said he would like to putt it. I had him demonstrate his stance with the putter and sure enough, he had physical interference from the third sprinkler and was entitled to Rule 24-2 relief.  We determined his nearest point of relief and he measured one club-length actually over the sprinkler.  He asked if that was ok and I explained that yes, you can measure in any direction you wish, no nearer the hole, BUT the dropped ball must first strike the course at a spot that has no interference.  That spot happened to be on the fringe.  Two drops rolled onto the putting green, so I had him place at the spot where the second drop first struck the course and we went on our merry way.

            During the third round there was only one ruling and it was a bit of a doozie.  On the 16th hole, a 470 yard par-4 with water on the left and guarding the green, Olin Browne’s ball was at rest on the putting green.  PH Horgan hit his approach shot from 215 yards or so and sure enough, struck Browne’s ball at rest on the green!  We don’t get these collisions very often and yet I’ve had 4 in the last 2 USGA Championships I’ve worked.
The ruling was simple: the moved ball had to be replaced (Rule 18-5) and the striking ball was played as it lay, no penalty (Rule 19-5). The tricky part was determining where to replace Browne’s ball because we were all well away from the collision.  The forward observer had a look, but from a weird angle and still about 50 yards from the collision.  He pointed to the spot he thought he saw but the geometry didn’t make sense to me or the players.  Fortunately we had a spectator in the stands about 10 yards from the collision who helped us point to the exact spot where the ball needed to be replaced and that made perfect sense geometrically with where the two balls ended up.  Browne replaced the ball on the spot and again we were on our merry way. While we were walking to the green, Horgan joked with me, “One-stroke penalty for me right?” I laughed, but he said it so straight-faced I double-checked that he knew there was no penalty.
It was a great experience and as hot as it was (I was with late afternoon groups the first two days) I enjoyed getting experience walking with groups in a high-spectator, television viewing environment. Thanks to all the USGA staff involved for a great Open.