Thursday, December 3, 2015

Top Rules Situations from 2015

                As the year comes to a close, we start to see list after list of Top 10 happenings in every sport and golf is no exception.  The Rules of Golf should certainly not be overshadowed so here is a look back at the Top Rulings of 2015 at all levels.

5) Rule 19-5 – Ball in Motion Stopped or Deflected by Another Ball
Rule 19-5 just doesn’t seem to happen that often.  The ruling itself is quite simple when the ball in motion is deflected after a stroke from somewhere other than the putting green: play the ball from where it came to rest and Rule 18-5 has the other player replace the ball that was at rest.  What becomes difficult, is when you can’t quite tell where the ball at rest originally lay.

  •   During the US Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Pacific Dunes I was fortunate enough to be a walking Referee in both Stroke Play Rounds and several Match Play rounds, including the Semi-Final Match between Hannah O’Sullivan (the 2015 Women’s Amateur Champion)/Robynn Ree and Madelein Herr/Brynn Walker.  In the second stroke play round, I had to apply Rules 18-5 and 19-5 on the 18th hole.  Both players involved knew where the original ball lay and the ruling went quickly. 

  • During the semi-final match, however, on the very first hole Walker’s approach from the fairway struck her partner’s ball at rest on the green.  From 120 yards away I had to rely on my forward observer to tell where Herr’s ball needed to be replaced.  I thought this was rare enough, but 3 holes later Walker managed to strike her partner’s ball again on her approach from about 50 yards short.  This time I was close enough to see the spot clearly and this ruling went quickly. See the FarbTalk article here:

  • Just when I thought I’d seen enough colliding golf balls, during the third round of the US Senior Open at Del Paso on the 16th hole, former Champion Olin Browne’s approach from more than 200 yards away struck P.H. Horgan’s ball at rest on the putting green.  The ruling took several minutes and the testimony of a spectator in the stands about 10 yards from the collision because we had trouble agreeing where Horgan’s ball needed to be replaced.  I had to think back to high school geometry to help explain why the eventual replacement made sense and in the end we trusted the eyes of someone who was very close to the action to make sure the ruling was correct. See the FarbTalk article here:

4) Angry Golfers
                Naturally when there is some confusion regarding the Rules of Golf, players tend to forget that it is, after all, just a game.  Tensions are especially high when there is more than a title on the line and potentially millions of dollars are at stake.  Two rulings in 2015 come to mind where golfers perhaps were a little angrier than they needed to be:

  • During the Open Championship at St. Andrews, JB Holmes found his ball in a less than savory position on the 15th hole of the first round.  JB was not please when his walking referee did not offer relief and even more upset when the rover, European Tour Official and Rules stalwart John Paramour, backed up the walking referee. The confusion came from the assertion that the player is “entitled” to a second opinion, but that isn’t the case.  Rule 34-2 states that the Referee’s decision is final.  A good walking referee will offer a second opinion when there is doubt, but the player is not entitled to it.  Holmes unfortunately appeared to let the unfavorable ruling affect his round and was not off to a great start in the Open. See the FarbTalk article here:

3) Loose Impediments
                Loose impediments are natural objects that are not fixed or growing, solidly embedded or adhering to the ball.  Knowing the Definitions are everything when it comes to the Rules of Golf and a couple of times, understanding the difference between loose impediments and other defined terms (like burrowing animals) made a difference in some notable rulings:

  • Graeme McDowell had some interference by a friendly (to some) insect during the final round of the Masters. In the process of trying to gently shoo (read “violently swat”) away a bee that was near his ball-marker on the putting green, McDowell accidentally moved the ball-marker in the process.  The referee on site initially issued McDowell a one-stroke penalty for moving his ball marker and had him replace the marker.  Interestingly enough, the ruling was properly corrected to no penalty, because the movement of the marker was directly attributable to the movement of a loose impediment.  Read the FarbTalk article here:

  • Bubba Watson suffered some confusion with the definitions during the PGA Championship when he tried to get relief from an ant mound, claiming that it was a burrowing animal hole.  An ant, however, is not a burrowing animal (even though they do “burrow” as Watson pointed out). The Definition of Burrowing Animal specifically excludes worms, insects and the like, however the definition of loose impediments includes worms, insects and the like AND the casts or heaps made by them.  The difference is that a burrowing animal hole would entitle the player to relief under Rule 25-1 which would require lifting and dropping the ball somewhere else, whereas Rule 23-1 simply permits the player, through the green, to move the loose impediment so long as the ball is not moved in the process. See the FarbTalk article here:

2) To Concede or Not to Concede
During the Solheim Cup, there was an extremely controversial ruling in the match between Alison Lee-Brittany Lincicome and Suzann Pettersen-Charley Hull.  Lee, believing that she had heard on of the European players concede her 18-inch putt on the 17th hole, lifted the ball.  Pettersen then vehemently denied that the putt had been conceded and Lee was assessed a one-stroke penalty for lifting her ball in play, costing the Americans the hole and eventually the match. Decision 2-4/3 could have permitted the Referee to allow Lee to replace the ball without penalty, but after interviewing the players the Referee did not believe there was enough evidence to suggest Lee had good reason to think the putt had been conceded.  Read more and see the video at here:

1) The “One Ball” Rule, Mickelson and the Presidents Cup
                By far the most controversial ruling of the year came at the Presidents Cup.  For whatever reason, the optional Condition of Competition known as the “One-Ball” Rule, which requires the player to play the same brand and model of golf ball throughout an entire round, came into play on multiple occasions throughout the year (see the FarbTalk summary here:

               What made the Mickelson situation more noticeable was the high-profile event and the fact that the ruling was botched (for lack of a better term). The confusion surrounded the fact that the penalty for a breach of this Condition is an adjustment to the state of the match.  Unfortunately, the officials on site at first declared that Mickelson was disqualified for the hole and had him pick up his ball.  Mickelson should have been permitted to complete the hole and then the status of the match would be adjusted based on the standing of the match at the end of that hole.  By the time the correct ruling was realized, it was too late to correct the error. Due to the complexities of the ruling, many misunderstood and thought Mickelson had “lost the hole twice” but the reality is that Mickelson-Day lost the hole, and then the match was adjusted by one hole for the penalty.  It was a major swing in the match. Read my article at here:

                I hope everyone enjoyed this look down the 2015 memory lane and in the end learned at least one more thing about the Rules of Golf.  The Rules change on January 1, 2016 and in many ways became simpler and friendlier to the everyday and championship golfer.  For more on the Rules changes you can read my earlier article on FarbTalk ( and visit for more details and FAQ.