Monday, October 26, 2015

The 2016 Rules of Golf Are Here!

            The USGA and R & A released the 2016 Rules of Golf today and with the release came several significant changes that affect even the everyday golfer.  In addition to the major changes, one of which has been known for some time, there were also several smaller changes that will help Rules officials and gurus alike, addressing some issues that previously only had answers as USGA Staff decisions.

The Major Changes

Anchoring – Rule 14-1b
            There is no surprise here, we’ve known about the anchoring ban since 2013 and frankly it warrants very little discussion now.  The key for most golfers is to remember that this is not an equipment ban – the long putt and belly putters are still legal pieces of equipment.  However, you cannot anchor them to your body or by use of an “anchor point.”  What is key to the release of the new Rules is the introduction of several new Decisions that will help officials with various situations regarding anchoring.
           Seven new Decisions will help players and officials in dealing with issues regarding anchoring.  Most notably the new Decisions attempt to tackle the issue of "partial" anchoring, i.e, inadvertent touching, touching clothing or only part of the stroke being anchored.  In the case of inadvertent slips where the club or gripping hand happen to touch the body during the stroke or happen to touch clothing, there would be no penalty.  However, in the case of the partial anchor, anchoring is prohibited for the entire stroke (forward movement of the club made with the intent of striking the ball) so even if the anchoring stops toward the end of the stroke the player is in violation of Rule 14-1b.
          For more on Rule 14-1b please visit the USGA's informational website: Rule 14-1b Resources

Rule 18-2
            Since 2012 there has probably been no more controversial Rule than 18-2b and the Exception that was added in 2012 supposedly to alleviate unwanted penalties only added fuel to the fire.  With the 2016 Rules, gone is both the ill-advised exception and Rule 18-2b.  A play is no longer deemed to have caused the ball to move if the ball happens to move after address.  This is a move where we can see the Rules steering toward presuming the “honorable golfer” as they are intended rather than presuming a guilty golfer (keep this in mind for a later change). 
            This does not mean, however, that you can get away with causing the ball to move after address or that you are definitely off the hook once you’ve addressed the ball.  The new Decision 18-2/0.5 addresses what happens when a ball moves after a player has addressed it.  The new Decision is not in question and answer format as it is designed to give us guidance in how to determine whether the player has in fact caused his ball to move. Like other notable 0.5 Decisions, 18-2/0.5 gives us specific examples of when a player should be considered to have caused the ball to move and when the player should not be considered to have caused the ball to move.  Humorous to see (to me at least) is the example of a ball that has been addressed on a windy day falling under the "no penalty" category, showing that the governing bodies have not forgotten about the four-year adventure that was the 18-2b Exception.
            All in all, the change brings the Rule to its true intention: don’t cause the ball to move and if you do, take your stroke penalty and put it back.

Scoring and Rule 6-6d
            This may be one of the most interesting changes and may serve as a gateway to a more dramatic change in a couple years where the importance of the score card starts to be lessened.  The new Exception to Rule 6-6d provides that when a player signs for an incorrect score card due to a failure to include a penalty he did not know he had incurred, rather than a disqualification penalty, the player incurs the penalty he failed to include plus an additional two-stroke penalty for signing an incorrect score card.  This is an extremely severe penalty, which ultimately in elite competitions might as well be a DQ, but at least the player is still in the competition.
            What is unique about this change, is that the Rule is not specific to TV situations, or situations covered by the 2014 new Decision 18/4 where a player could not have reasonably discerned the penalty with the naked eye.  The failure to include a penalty could be the result of ignorance, something the Rules generally don’t look kindly upon (remember Rule 6-1 is that the player is responsible for knowing the Rules).
            This is a significant change that really affects amateur golf more than professional golf and is a sign of a friendlier Rules of Golf Committee.  An educated guess would lead me to believe the penalty for a wrong score card in any situation may eventually become a two-stroke penalty down the road (although they are quite clear that other instances where a p[layer signs for a lower score will still result in disqualification).
            Where this new Rule is quite harsh, however, is that the penalty can add up.  There is no penalty limitation. The new Exception to Rule 6-6d reads, "In such circumstances, the competitor incurs the penalty prescribed by the applicable Rule and an additional penalty of two strokes for each hole at which the competitor has committed a breach of Rule 6-6d."  For example, a player fails to include a penalty for grounding his club in a hazard because he didn’t know that was a Rule.  It actually occurred on three separate occasions.  In that case, the player incurs a two-stroke penalty on each of the 3 occasions (let’s say holes 4, 10 and 16).  He also incurs an additional two-stroke penalty for EACH of the 3 occasions of signing an incorrect card.  So in the end the player suffers TWELVE penalty strokes for his ignorance of the Rules.  This is probably where the Rules of Golf Committee can argue that they aren’t actually going soft on ignorance.

Rule 14-3 and the Distance-Measuring Devices
            Another significant change for the everyday golfer is Rule 14-3.  There are two parts to this change, both the penalty statement, and the application.
            The penalty statement is changing to a two-step process.  A player in breach of Rule 14-3 incurs a two-stroke penalty for the first violation.  This would have been nice for Juli Inkster and the club donut, Jeff Overton and the putting device and any number of players I can think of that were disqualified on the first hole of Open qualifying for accidently using a distance-measuring device.  Now if you’re silly enough to breach the Rule again during the round, then it becomes a disqualification.
            I think just as important as the penalty statement change is that the application of this Rule with regard to distance-measuring devices is changed significantly. Two very small changes to verbiage show that the Rules no longer (as of January 1st of course) care if your distance-measuring device has an illegal slope function (or other illegal function) so long as you don’t actually use the illegal function.  First, the Note to Rule 14-3 that permits the Committee to make a local Rule allowing distance-measuring devices no states simply, "The Committee may make a Local Rule allowing players to use a distance-measuring device."  Formerly, the Note read, "...allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only." Then, when you go to the Appendix to get the proper verbiage for instituting such a Local Rule in the part that used to prohibit what functions could also be performed by the DMD, it now reads, "If, during a stipulated round, a player uses a distance-measuring device to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect his play (e.g., elevation changes, wind speed, etc.), the player is in breach of Rule 14-3." So yes, your new laser range finder is legal, even if it has slope.  Just don’t use the slope feature during the round.

Changes for Gurus

Definition of Ball in Play
            The definition now clarifies the status of a ball that has been marked but not lifted, or a ball that has been marked, lifted and replaced is back in play whether or not the marker has been removed.  This draws out a ruling that has been in place for some time and just puts it right in the definition where it’s easy to spot.

Definition of Equipment
            The Definition of Equipment has been re-worked to be more understandable to the casual reader, drawing out the "exceptions" (things that are not equipment) into bullet points.  The new Note 2 clarifies the status of rakes when held or carried by a player's side and the new Note 3 takes care of the status of both shared golf carts AND now covers other shared or borrowed equipment.  A little bit of common sense came into play here so a player doesn't get penalized if he lends his towel to a fellow-competitor who then turns around and leaves the towel in a very bad spot and his hit by the original player's stroke.

Rule 25-2

            Along the theme of drawing rulings to the forefront, three new Notes have been added to Rule 25-2, all of which draw out rulings or information that were previously "hidden" somewhere else in the Rules or Decisions.  Note 1 clarifies when a ball is "embedded" which was previously only clarified by Decision 25-2/0.5.  Note 2 takes the internal Definition of "closely-mown area" out of the text of Rule 25-2 and separates it so that it is easier to find.  Note 3 is a new "Committee Note" taking the Local Rule in the Appendix and putting it right under the Rule itself.  The Local Rule permitting relief for an embedded ball through the green is so widely used that this seems to be a USGA/R&A compromise.  The R & A does not want to make through the green the Rule, but having the Local Rule in the Note brings it to the forefront.

Rule 3-3
            Rule 3-3 has been completely re-written to make the important Rule much more friendly for the casual reader and much clearer for Committee application.  So much clearer, in fact, that Decision 3-3/0.5, formerly the ultimate guide to which ball must count, has been withdrawn. The re-write accomplished several goals in making the Rule clearer:
  1. By changing "must" to "should" in the initial procedure, it better separates this Rule from other procedural Rules where a penalty is incurred if the procedure is not followed.
  2. The re-write uses bullets (a theme in the changes this year) to pull out the recommended procedure for players invoking Rule 3-3 to clarify what the player should do when he decides to use Rule 3-3. 
  3. Two new Notes pull out the most confusing parts of the old Rule and better clarify what the original intention of that specific verbiage was, a) Note 2 clarifies that if the original is not one of the balls used, the first ball put into play has the status of the "original" ball, and b) many of us questioned what the meaning of "permit the procedure used" was and the new Note 1 clarifies that for us.
  4. The re-write of Committee Determination of Score for Hole does a couple great things: a) by labeling it "Committee Determination" it further emphasizes that the player may not make a determination of which ball will count, only the Committee does that; b) it completely eliminates Decision 3-3/0.5 by making it clear what the Committee needs to do in various situations.

Rule 26-2
           The re-write of Rule 26-2 brings the Rule to its original intention.  Let's get you out of the water hazard.  What made the old Rule really was starting with the player operating under stroke and distance.  Then it required an "additional" penalty stroke for use and players and officials alike had trouble determining whether one or two penalty strokes were incurred.
           You can throw that all away now. The Rule is simplified to deal with the situation at hand alone.  If you play from within a water hazard into another water hazard, you can get the ball out for one penalty stroke.  They took the confusing stuff and put it into a note that clarifies if you first are silly enough to try the stroke again under stroke and distance, but after dropping realize your mistake and decide to get out of the hazard, you will incur two total penalty strokes.  Part B to Rule 26-2 has also been re-written for further clarity.

There are certainly a number of other notable changes (particularly in Decisions) and not nearly enough time to cover them all.  I do want to point out two new Decisions that Rules Officials should shout for joy at:

1)  33-8/32 - Finally, FINALLY we can handle random deer hoof damage (or other hoofed animals) appropriately.  This new Decisions permits the Committee to make a Local Rule that gives players permission to repair damage to the putting green that is clearly identifiable as having been caused by animal hoofs. Unfortunately for me, this goes into effect 2 1/12 months too late to help me with the dancing deer we had last week at the Stanford Intercollegiate.

2) 33-8/32.7 - How many times have you been told that dung is a loose impediment and may be moved provided the ball is not moved?  And how many times have you been disgusted that you are being forced to touch a big old cow-patty?  The new Decision provides that the Committee may make a Local Rule declaring dung prevalent on the course to be ground under repair, providing free relief.  It should be noted, that Rule 25-1 does not permit substitution so you're still going to have to retrieve the ball from the middle of the dung...

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Phil Mickelson at the Presidents Cup

   Just a little while ago there was a confusing incident at the Presidents Cup. What happened is actually very simple, but not easy to understand because it involves a Condition of Competition that is only used at the highest levels of competition.  The every day golfer has likely never been subject to the "One Ball" Condition.
   The Rule/Condition in question can be found in Appendix I-C of the Rules of Golf.  What is making the understanding of this ruling more complicated is that the Condition involves an adjustment to the state of the match penalty for a breach.  But before I cover that, let me just state what the Rule actually is.
   The "One Ball" Condition requires each player to play the same model/brand/type golf ball throughout an entire round.  This means if you start the round with a Pro-V1 you may not switch to a Pro-V1x at any point.  Phil Mickelson was carrying a second model of Callaway golf ball and put it into play on the 7th hole believing the "One Ball" Condition was not in effect (it was not in effect for the Foursomes competition the previous day).
   The penalty in match play for a breach of this condition of competition is an adjustment to the state of the match penalty, NOT a loss of hole.  The verbiage is here: "At the conclusion of the hole at which the breach is discovered, the state of the match is adjusted by deducting one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred; maximum deduction per round - Two holes." This type of penalty also occurs in Rule 4 (carrying non-conforming clubs, having too many clubs, etc) or in Rule 6-4 (having more than one caddie at a time).
   What this means is that when a breach of this condition is discovered, the player should complete the play of the hole and determine the status of the match, not including the penalty.  At that point, you deduct holes, or "ups" (or add "downs") to the status of the match.  In the Mickelson situation, the status of the match after completing the 7th hole was International 1 Up (USA 1 Down), therefore the status of the match was then adjusted to make the International Team 2 up (or Mickelson/Johnson 2 Down).
  Some of the interesting kinks to the ruling:
  Why did the whole side incur the penalty? - The whole side incurs the penalty because of Rule 30-3d.  Because the format of play is Four-Ball match Play, according to Rule 30-3d when either member of the side breaches a local Rule or Condition of competition for which the penalty is an adjustment to the state of the match, the entire side incurs the penalty.  The reason for this is simple: in four-ball there is no other way to apply an adjustment to the state of the match penalty because the match applies to both players.  This also applies with breaches of Rule 4 (too many clubs, carrying non-conforming clubs, etc) or 6-4 (having more than one caddie).
   Where the Presidents Cup went wrong, was having Phil Mickelson pick up and not continue playing the hole.  In many situations in four-ball, one partner might end up simply disqualified for the hole and the other partner must try to play out the hole on his own.  The referee made the mistake of thinking the breach was a disqualification for the hole situation (and was incorrectly confirmed over the radio) and had Mickelson pick up his ball when in fact he should have continued the hole.  In fact, he could have continued the hole with the incorrect ball if he so desired because the "One Ball" Condition only requires the player to start playing the correct ball by the next teeing ground after the breach is discovered.
   I understand this appears to be a complicated ruling, but really it was made much more difficult by the Committee error in having Mickelson pick up on the hole.  If nothing else, I hope everyone who reads this article takes away a better understanding of adjustment to the state of the match penalties. Mickelson/Johnson did not suffer a double loss of hole penalty, only a one hole adjustment that happened to occur after completing a hole they had just lost. Check out Decision 4-4a/9 for a clarification of how the adjustment to the state of the match penalty works.
    Also check out my post from earlier in the year The "One Ball Rule" in the Spotlight.