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.


  1. Mr. Farb:

    You write that "When Holmes played from the wrong place, he incurred a penalty of two strokes, ..." This seems to imply that Holmes' two stroke penalty comes from breaching Rule 20-7 (which he has) rather than Rule 26-1c. Of course, the result is the same, but please clarify this.

    1. The error he made was dropping in the wrong place so the penalty is for a breach of 20-7.

    2. Rule 20-7 states that he incurs the penalty "under the applicable Rule." The applicable Rule in this case was Rule 26-1 which required him to drop within two club-lengths of the equidistant point, not on the flagline made by using the equidistant point.

      The only way to be penalized under Rule 20-7 itself is disqualification for failing to a)correct the mistake of a serious breach or b)report to the Committee that he played two balls under 20-7c.