Monday, March 7, 2016

JB Holmes and the Serious Breach

                On the first hole during the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, JB Holmes found some early trouble and went afoul of the Rules, resulting in a rare “must correct” situation.
                Holmes had pulled his tee shot on the first hole left of the fairway into the adjacent water hazard.  Under Rule 26-1c, one of his options for relief, under penalty of one stroke, was to drop within two club-lengths of a point on the opposite margin of the hazard that was equidistant to the hole from the point where his ball last crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard.  However, that is not where Holmes dropped a ball.  He correctly identified the equidistant point on the opposite margin, but instead of dropping within two club-lengths, he dropped the ball about 25 yards back on a line that kept the equidistant point between where he dropped the ball and the hole.  This is a hybrid between two options of the water hazard Rule and unfortunately when he played the ball that meant he had played from a wrong place.
                Holmes played two more strokes before he was approached by officials at the putting green who informed him of the incorrect drop and that the Committee considered it to be a serious breach of playing from a wrong place.  This is where the ruling gets interesting.
                When Holmes played from the wrong place, he incurred a penalty of two strokes, regardless of whether the Committee deemed it to be a serious breach.  The difference is that a serious breach of playing from a wrong place (see Rule 20-7c) must be corrected prior to playing from the next teeing ground or the player would be disqualified. Officials had Holmes return to the hazard and drop a ball correctly under Rule 26-1c and play the hole.  The stroke played from the wrong place and strokes continuing play of the hole from the wrong place do not count his score.
                The most interesting part of the ruling is figuring out why this was considered a serious breach.  How to determine whether a payer has played from a wrong place is given to us in Note 1 to Rule 20-7c, which states that a serious breach of playing from a wrong place has occurred when the “Committee considers he has gained a significant advantage as a result of playing from a wrong place.”  We get two examples in the Decisions on the Rules of Golf to guide Committees in making this determination:

1) Decision 26-1/11 states that if a player treats a regular water hazard as a lateral water hazard by dropping in a place that allows the competitor to avoid negotiating the hazard, he has committed a serious breach.

2) Decision 26-1/21 states that a player who drops 50 yards or more closer to the hole than where the Rules require is guilty of a serious breach of the water hazard Rule.

In Holmes’ case, he actually dropped 25 yards further from the hole than where the Rule required, so why was it a serious breach? We have to go back to Note 1 from Rule 20-7c: the Committee considered that Holmes had gained a significant advantage by dropping further back at a spot that allowed him to play a 3-wood over the trees.  The spot where he was required to drop would not have permitted him to do so. Ultimately, whether a played has committed a serious breach is the Committee’s decision, not the player’s. In this case it is perfectly plausible to state the ability for a tour pro to use a 280 yard club, rather than a 180 or 200 yard punch shot club was a significant advantage. In the end, Holmes made a 7 on the hole, including the two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of the water hazard rule (Rule 26) and the one-stroke penalty for taking relief from the water hazard.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Rory McIlroy's Driver

            On the 18th hole at the WGC Cadillac Championship we saw a unique event that raised a few eyebrows, but was actually perfectly within the Rules.  To setup the situation, in recent years we’ve been introduced to adjustable drivers with heads that are screwed on. This has brought about a few questions regarding the Rules concerning driver adjustments.
            Today, Rory McIlroy was seen tightening the screw on his driver on the 18th tee, and rightfully so a couple questions needed to be answered: what caused him to ask for the wrench and why did he use it?
            The reason these questions needed to be answered rest in Rule 4-2. Rule 4-2 states that the playing characteristics of a club must not be adjusted or changed during the stipulated round. If McIlroy was adjusting the settings of his driver, there would be a problem.
            However, Rule 4-3 also came into play. Rule 4-3 permits a player to repair a club (without delay) that has become damaged in the normal course of play. The term damage can apply to a few things: the club could be obviously damaged, like an iron shaft that is snapped in half as the result of striking a tree in the follow through of a stroke. Or it could be less obviously damaged, as we saw today.
            McIlroy was seen tapping the driver on the ground because he heard a rattle. He discovered that the head had in fact become loose during the round, and because of Rule 4-3 he was entitled to repair the club to its original state. In this case, that meant he could tighten the loose screw back to how it was when he started.

            The end result was no penalty as he acted within the Rules. Had he tightened the screw to a different setting or otherwise changed the playing characteristics, McIlroy would’ve been disqualified for making a stroke with that club in breach of Rule 4-2. However, since he simply repaired the loose screw, Rule 4-3 provided that no penalty was the correct ruling.  Decision 4-3/2 specifies that the term "repair" means restoring the club as early as possible to its condition prior to becoming damaged. Tightening a screw loosened during the normal course of play falls well into that category. The video covers the situation quite well in the commentary.