Saturday, September 30, 2017

President's Cup Ruling

Here's a written explanation of what just occurred at the President's Cup:

On the 12th hole, Louis Oosthuizen had a chip shot (putt from off the putting green) that was well passed the hole when Jordan Spieth stopped and scooped the ball up while it was still in motion.

The argument is that there was no possibility of this ball going into the hole and the United States had already conceded a birdie to the International team and Oosthuizen could no longer make a birdie or better once his ball passed the hole.

There is one problem, the ball was still in motion. A player is not permitted to exert influence on the movement of a ball while it is still in motion. Even if you say that Spieth was conceding the next stroke, a concession may not be made while the ball is still in motion. It has to come to rest.

The Rule in question is Rule 1-2 which is an intent-based Rule. Spieth clearly did not intend anything untoward, however he did intend to influence the ball in motion by stopping and lifting it (unaware that doing so would be a penalty because of the certainty that the ball would no longer have an impact on the hole).  The penalty for a breach of Rule 1-2 is loss of hole in match play.  Because the format is four-ball match play and this breach did not assist Spieth’s partner, the result is that Spieth was disqualified from the hole – so the birdie putt he had remaining no longer mattered.

I realize this does not seem fair or sensible given that there was no ill-will and the action had no effect on the result of the hole (other than the penalty of course). But the Rule is clear, you need to let the ball come to rest, you cannot influence the movement of a ball in motion.

For those wondering why Rule 19-3 does not apply, Rule 19-3 applies to when a ball is accidentally stopped or deflected. Spieth's stopping of the ball was clearly not accidental and therefore Rule 1-2 must be applied.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Interesting Rulings - Simple Yet Complex

This past weekend I had the honor and pleasure of working with the PGA Tour Champions crew at the Pure Insurance Championship Impacting the First Tee here at Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach.  It was really a fairly quiet weekend, but the tour has a really great crew of officials to work with and the fantastic weather also helped make for a memorable weekend on tour.

It’s fun for me to work an event like this because I get to be the rookie again. The stories I got to hear from officials who’ve been working on this tour or another for 30 plus years all gave valuable insights to improve my own officiating.  It’s also fun to get just a little bit of jitters again when that 40 seconds of sheer terror comes up amongst the 4 (12) hours of boredom.

Anyway, I’m certainly not going to talk in depth about any inner-workings (except that if you hear anyone say the Tours don’t care about pace of play – that person is wrong), but I did have two interesting rulings that are worth discussing for their educational value.

Parts of the Course and the Impact of Local Rules
On Friday, I was on the 18th hole at Poppy Hills and Scott McCarron waved me over.  His ball was in a “Natural Sandy Area” and he just wanted to confirm that it was actually an NSA and not a bunker.  I confirmed for him and he followed up by asking if stones in the NSA were movable obstructions like they are in bunkers (by Local Rule).  I explained that the stones in an NSA are loose impediments and could be moved provided the ball is not moved in the process.  That was the end of the interaction but immediately the gears started turning…

With the Local Rule making stones in bunkers in effect, one of the fundamental hierarchies of the Rules of Golf suffered a little dent.  Typically, areas that are through the green are treated more favorably under the Rules than hazards (bunkers and water hazards).  For example, through the green a player may move loose impediments without penalty provided the ball is not moved, however in a hazard, Rule 13-4 prohibits that action when the ball lies in the same hazard.  By using the Local Rule, bunkers get to be treated in a more favorable fashion than the NSA’s by changing the status of a stone to movable obstruction. If the player accidentally moves the ball in the process of moving a movable obstruction, there is no penalty (and the ball must be replaced).  So with the Local Rule, a player could accidentally move their ball in play while moving a stone in a bunker, and not incur a penalty, however the same action in an NSA would result in a one-stroke penalty thereby making through the green a harsher place to end up than the bunker – at least as far as stones are concerned.

I’m not making a comment on whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, but it was just an interesting wrinkle about the effect of certain Local Rules on the big picture.

Jay Haas and the Tree by a Cart Path (this one’s for your Spooner)
Frequently, we get rulings that are very simple on the outside but involve a significant amount of Rules subsets to complete. In this case, I dealt with a simple case of giving relief from a cart path, but the number of Rules involved I believe hit double digits by the time all was said and done.

Jay Haas called for a ruling on the 9th hole at Poppy Hills and I was nearest so I headed over.  When I got there his ball was on the edge of the cart path with a bushy tree directly next to it.  He said he was looking for his relief point. The way his ball was sitting and the way the tree interfered with a normal direction of play I had to ask, “Ok, so the question is what shot would you play if the cart path weren’t here?”  He looks at me and says, “That’s just it… I think the only shot I can play here is a little pitch out backwards away from the hole,” and he takes his stance and demonstrates how he’d play a pitch out.  That shot was perfectly reasonable and so he was entitled to relief – for that stroke (see Decision 24-2b/17). 

So his nearest point of relief ended up being about a yard into the middle of the bushy tree. The diagram in Decision 24-2b/3.7 highlights how this works pretty well. Fortunately, this wasn’t actually a tree trunk, just in the branches and he was able to get a tee down on the ground at his nearest point of relief.  He measured his one club-length and at first measured in an angle toward the path such that the club-length got him out of the tree to a position where he could play a right-handed shot.  The problem is, if he dropped the ball at the point he was looking at, he would still have interference from the path – for the backwards stroke he was taking relief for.  So I explained he has to drop where he has complete relief for the backwards stroke and he adjust the club-length and dropped accordingly.
The first drop rolled to where he could play right-handed, but still had interference for the backwards stroke. So I had him re-drop with the same result.

For those following the count, we started with Rule 24-2b with two situations supported by 24-2b Decisions. Now we’re in the middle of Rule 20-2c because he’s dropping.
He tried to place the ball where it first struck the ground on the second drop and it didn’t stay put. He tried again and it wouldn’t stay put. So now we’ve moved on to Rule 20-3d and he had to place the ball at the nearest point no nearer the hole where it would stay at rest. This was only an inch away and the ball stayed put.

In many cases, this would be the end of it, but as Haas attempted to take his stance one of the lower branches was pushed back a little, and it seemed potentially unnecessary.  He asked if it was OK - which was a key point to me - because it meant he was attempting to take his stance fairly. We’ve now moved into Rule 13-2 territory. (I’ll break this down piece by piece shortly).  I explained to Haas that he needed to take the least intrusive method of taking his stance, which meant that if it were possible for him to take his stance without moving that branch back, that’s how he had to stand. So he did some shuffling and managed a fairly wide stance with the branch back in its original position.
At this point he stepped out of this stance and walked onto the path to his caddie but was concerned because he said that was not his normal stance and thought he could back into the position the way he originally did. I explained that if he’s able to take his stance without bending the branch, that’s how he had to do it, but if it were not possible to take his stance without doing so, that’s when it would be permitted.  Meanwhile, a good chunk of time had passed and we were several yards from the ball, when the ball decided it had its own plans and rolled about six inches down the slope. And now we’re in Rule 18-2 – really Decision 18-2/0.5 and have to make a determination.

Since he had not taken any actions near the ball besides taking his stance (club had not been grounded, no ground within a club of the ball had been touched), the ball was already perched precariously, we were some distance from the ball when it moved and there was a significant amount of time between any actions occurring and the ball moving, it was less likely than not that he had caused the ball to move.  Therefore, he had to play the ball from the new position.

So with the ball in the new position he again took his stance, partially in the tree and was able to take his normal stance without moving the branch. He played, said thank you for the help and the ruling was finally complete.  But as you can see, a fairly simple ruling on the outside (cart path relief) involved many different Rules to finally resolve the entire situation.  Furthermore, it required an understanding within certain Rules to make sure the procedure and eventual stance were correct.

We’re at an interesting time in the Rules of Golf world, because we are nearing the largest re-working of the Rule book since 1984. Many golfers are looking for “simpler” Rules. It is important to understand that the Rules are complex due to the infinite nature of golf’s playing field.  There are no trees on the 50 yard line or on a basketball court that could influence the game. No cart paths running through the middle of a baseball diamond.  So in golf, in order to give relief for things that interfere with the proper playing of the game, Rules have to be created to make sure every player takes relief in the same manner. So even with a new code coming out, there will still be complex rulings and situations that require in-depth knowledge to satisfactorily resolve situations.

For example, in the new Rules, the essence of Rule 13-2 still exists (proposed Rule 8.1). In the ruling above, I had to work through many aspects of Rule 13-2 to get to the proper result and the same process will still have to be followed under Rule 8.1. Here’s the breakdown:

Haas was taking his stance in a tree with some branches.  Rule 13-2 prohibits a player from “improving” a specific area.  So first, I had to determine if he was making an improvement.  Decision 13-2/0.5 explains that an improvement would be something that gives the player a potential advantage. Next, there are four specific areas that a player cannot improve: lie of ball, area of stance or swing, line of play or area where he is dropping a ball.  The area of stance and swing were involved here and the branch being moved would be an improvement.  So the Rules still applies.  

Next, there are only specific actions that a player may not take if it improves one of the four protected areas.  The second one listed is “moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed.” That was the case here as Haas was moving a branch from a growing tree.  However, there are exceptions where the player would not be penalized even if one of the protected areas were improved. The second bullet is “in fairly taking his stance.”

The term “fairly taking his stance” is explained in Decision 13-2/1 and the key points from the decision are that 1) the player is not entitled to a normal stance or swing and 2) the player should select the least intrusive course of action that results in the minimum improvement of the area.  While Haas was taking his stance, this was the determination that needed to be made. The last part, was that Haas had improved a protected area but did so while attempting to fairly take his stance. Now Decision 13-2/1.1 discusses the situation and we get to the result of no penalty because 1) the branch was moved while attempting to take his stance fairly and 2) the branch was returned to its original position before the stroke was made.

Under the proposed Rule 8.1 the same exact process is followed to get to the same result, the only difference being that the key points of Decisions 13-2/0.5, 13-2/1 and 13-2/1.1 have been brought out into the Rule itself, eliminating the need to know a supporting Decision. The Rule is still complex and involves a decent amount of knowledge to apply it properly, but it has to be there to protect the nature of the game. It is easier to understand, but it is not necessarily “simpler” – and that’s OK.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Ben Crane's 8 Penalty Strokes

                At the Boise Open, Ben Crane received a total of 8 penalty strokes and it had nothing to do with a scorecard mistake. Let’s take a closer look at the situation to see the Rules in action behind it:

The Violation (as a whole)
Crane first noticed that he had left the dot sticker (used to collect TrackMan data) on his driver on the 11th tee, and then later noticed at the 14th hole that he had left the dot sticker also on his 6-iron. Unfortunately, the dot stickers are external attachments and much like adhesive tape (see Decision 4-1/5) they render a club non-conforming when not removed. The good news for Crane, he only carried the non-conforming clubs, he did not use them.

The First Penalty
The penalty in stroke play for carrying, but not using a non-conforming club is two strokes for every hole at which the breach occurred with a maximum penalty of four strokes per round (Rule 4-1). When Crane discovered his driver in breach of the Rules he was between the play of two holes. The penalty statement for Rule 4-1 and 4-2 says a breach discovered between the play of two holes is deemed to have been discovered during play of the next hole, which means Crane was deemed to be in breach of Rule 4-1 for two holes. This resulted in two penalty strokes on his first hole (the 10th hole) AND his second hole (the 11th) for a total of four penalty strokes.  Furthermore, the club in breach of the Rules (his driver) had to be declared out of play for the rest of the round.

The Second Penalty
A few holes later on the 14th hole, Crane discovered that the dot sticker was also still on his 6-iron. This is considered a completely separate violation because of the new discovery.  For those who think this is harsh, look at it this way: when he discovered the dot on his driver he should have ensured that all his clubs were free of the dot stickers.  So Crane incurred two additional penalty strokes in each of his first two holes (the 10th and 11th holes) because those were the first two holes he was in violation. 

And again, he was required to declare the 6-iron out of play for the rest of his round.
So the end result is that Crane incurred a total of 8 penalty strokes that were incurred as two separate four penalty stroke situations and applied to the score card as four separate two-stroke penalties. I still say that may not be the worst of it, because he still had to play the remainder of his round – without a driver and 6-iron.

Crane doesn’t mention having to declare the clubs out of play in his interview, but that is what the Rules require if you ever find yourself in that situation.

UPDATE: Crane late talked to officials and explained that he was aware of the 6-iron dot sticker at the time he was dealing with the driver dot sticker. Since he failed to declare the 6-iron out of play immediately he was disqualified. The Tour's explanation that I tweeted ran a fairly good summary.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Amateur Match Play Fun and Other Commentary

With the close of the Amateur Match Play Championship, the NCGA Championship season is officially over the hump and on the way cruising to our lengthy off-season of December 31-January1. Fortunately, there were no major Rules incidents of note, but I do get to share a video of some of the play during the second 18 of the Championship Match.

The 5th hole at Spyglass Hill is a challenging par 3 with a very uniquely shaped green.  The back right hole location forces anyone who leaves their tee shot short right to come up with a crafty solution to have a reasonable par putt.  Shintaro Ban took wedge out.  While we were standing there, I had a brief discussion with the Referee for the match about reminding Shintaro that he can't strike the flagstick since the stroke is from the putting green.  However, he knew the Rule well and his caddie attended the flagstick without any prompt from the peanut gallery.

I apologize for the sideways video, but my editing techniques are getting rusty...

The Championship match went all the way to the final hole, with Isaiah Salinda narrowly edging out the defending champ Shintaro Ban with a win at the final hole and a 1 up victory.

Throughout the week in my conversations with our many referees, I was reminded that there have been several Rules controversies/situations that have occurred recently that I had not given much commentary on.  So below are some of my comments.

Jordan Spieth at the British Open
I'm sure glad I didn't have to figure this one out on live international television.  Spieth declared his ball unplayable and used his 28b "flagline" option to get the ball to a spot where his TIO relief would move him to the right of the equipment trailers. Great work by the Referee to use the radio and get staff and rover support to make sure the proper relief and reference points were determined.  Yes it took a while, but that ruling was not as simple as just knowing the Rules involved.

Erica Shepherd and the Putt That Wasn't
I had the honor of working the Girls' Junior Championship, but had already headed back home by the time this incident occurred.  The bottom line: always double check with your opponent before moving your ball. For those of you that think there's a sportsmanship element to this - get over it. It is extremely likely that this violation would have been enforced regardless of Shepherd's initial comment that Moon's putt hadn't been conceded. As an aside to those who actually commented negatively to Shepherd on social media, if you're on Twitter trolling a 16-year old because she stated a fact, I think you've got some problems.

The Bunker Liner
Another situation I did not witness, but a player on Tour received free relief for interference from the bunker liner when his ball was not lying well. He was still required to drop in the bunker but it gave him a much better shot at the ball.  The bottom line - that's what the Rule says.  He had interference from an immovable obstruction in the bunker. He was entitled to relief. It pays to know the Rules (or at least enough to ask for help).

Poulter and Virtual Certainty
There was a bit of volume surrounding a ruling with Ian Poulter during the final round of the PGA Championship. I happen to know the Referee involved and I feel for him - because the two players clearly didn't fully understand the concept of virtual certainty and how it applies. Just like Spieth at the British Open, I'm glad I didn't have to figure this one out on international television. More than that, in the end the situation that arose (by finding the original ball outside the hazard after 5 minutes - see Definition of Lost Ball - but before one had been put into play under the water hazard Rule, he had a situation that literally is not fully contemplated by the Rules). CS, I feel for ya.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jon Rahm and the New Decision

            For those who have been following recent Rules events in golf and were watching the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open this morning, the result of no penalty for Jon Rahm may seem very confusing.  What happened was really one of the first major instances where a Committee used the “reasonable judgment” standard in the brand-new Decision 34-3/10.
            On an earlier hole, Jon Rahm’s ball came to rest in a position where his ball-marker would have to be placed on top of his fellow-competitor’s ball-marker, so he marked it to the side of the ball, and then spanned the marker one putter-head to the side.  When he spanned the marker back, it appeared fairly clear that he replaced the ball directly in front of his ball-marker, rather than to the side of it as he had originally. He played from the new position and therefore was potentially subject to penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 16-1b (the Rule that allows players to mark & lift the ball on the putting green).
            European Tour Rules Official Andy McFee (apologies if misspelled), pulled Rahm aside to discuss the situation with him. The details of the discussion are no public, but essentially from Rahm’s testimony, McFee determined that Rahm was aware of the awkward marking and used his best judgment to replace the ball in its original spot and was therefore no penalty was applied.  Several months ago, the video evidence would have trumped this testimony, however Decision 34-3/10, introduced after the controversial Lexi Thompson situation at the ANA Inspiration, saved Rahm from penalty.
            Specifically, when referring to this exact type situation the new Decision states, “A ‘reasonable judgment’ standard is applied in evaluating the player’s actions in these situations: so long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted even if later shown to be wrong by the use of video evidence.” [Emphasis Added]
            In order to apply this standard, the Committee must take several factors into consideration to determine whether a player has done what can reasonably be expected. Two of the bullets listed in the Decision as important factors play a key role in the Rahm ruling: 1) the player’s explanation and 2) the amount by which the location was wrong in relation to the type of determination made.  In this case, Rahm stated (according to sources) that he remembered he had marked the ball to the side and specifically remembered trying to get the ball back to the exact spot. While video evidence showed the spot to be probably incorrect, the amount by which it was incorrect was not significant enough to definitively say the player did not meet the reasonable judgment standard.

            To make things more interesting, while Rahm was discussing this ruling with McFee, a spectator had picked up and moved his ball in play in the rough and Rahm was immediately faced with another rules situation. A referee was on site and through Rule 20-3c made sure the ball was replaced properly under the Rules (in this case by dropping).

Friday, May 5, 2017

Casual Water or Loose Impediments: At the Option of the Player

                Last week I had the honor of serving on the Pac-12 Championship Committee for the Men’s championship at Boulder Country Club in Colorado.  I must say it became one of the most unique experiences in officiating I have ever had, and I was also perfectly content to not be the official-in-charge.  Kudos to Jim Moriarty (along with Brad Gregory, Keith Hansen, Missy Jones and the CGA staff that worked Golf Admin hours to get in as many holes as possible) for handling an incredibly difficult set of circumstances, especially with all of us jeering him along…
                The unique circumstance, as many of you witnessed from Golfweek or other national news
outlets, was that we ended up playing in the snow. Eventually, the snow won over and forced Saturday to be a complete day off, but we had “chamber of commerce weather” on Sunday that melted the snow and allowed us to shotgun the players and complete 54 holes.  As we were preparing for that final round and the snow was thawing (see numerous pictures included here), a number of great questions came up from coaches and officials about how to handle the snow.
Using the Sprinklers to Help Thaw the Snow

I Strongly Recommend the Loose Impediments Option

I don't think the heavy stuff's coming down for quite a while, I'd keep playing...

                Fortunately, snow is specifically discussed in the Definitions of the Rules of Golf. Twice, in fact.  Under Casual Water, we see, “Snow and natural ice, other than frost, are either casual water or loose impediments, at the option of the player.”  The same sentence appears again under Loose Impediments. 
                On the surface, that seems to make our rulings very simple, either take relief under Rule 25-1 or brush the snow away without moving the ball.  And in most cases, it really is that simple.  But as the snow started to thaw and became more patchy, where one patch started and another began became a little more obscured. So let’s look at some of the questions we thought might come up and how we decided to handle them:
Thanks to the great help from BCC Members and staff!

A player brushes away snow before making the decision to treat the snow as casual water:
Unfortunately, once the player treated the snow as loose impediments, the right to take relief for casual water from that same patch of snow went away.  If we permitted the player to treat the same patch of snow in two different manners, nothing would prevent a player from taking casual water relief, but brushing away a circle to drop in a desired spot.

A player takes relief from one snow patch and a separate snow patch interferes at the nearest point of relief:
We had to treat each snow patch as a different “puddle” of casual water. So if a player took relief from one snow patch, we found the nearest point of relief from that specific snow patch. If the player then had interference from a separate snow patch, he would be entitled to take relief from the new snow patch or play the ball as it lies.

A player decides to take casual water relief, then wishes to brush the snow away:
Once the player sees that the nearest point of relief would not be in a desirable spot, the preference became to simply brush the snow away.  So the answer in this scenario depends on whether the player has lifted the ball or not. If the player has not lifted the ball, nothing prevented the player from deciding to treat the snow as loose impediments and brushing it away. If, however, the player had lifted the ball, in order to avoid penalty he had to take complete relief.           

In the end, I can tell you that in the group I walked with on Sunday, we had absolutely zero rulings regarding the snow. But before the round, the possibilities were endless!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Lexi Thompson MAJOR Penalty

 Currently happening in the ANA Inspiration we are seeing the first major instance of the application of the new (2016) Exception to Rule 6-6d for signing an incorrect score card. The explanation we are receiving is that Thompson incorrectly replaced her ball on the 17th green during the 3rd round. Rule 16-1b requires the ball to be replaced in the exact same spot. The television evidence revealed that she replaced the ball in a slightly different spot. The penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 16-1b is two strokes. Since she signed her score card without the two stroke penalty and she was completely unaware of the penalty at the time, the Exception to Rule 6-6d kicks in.
   The Exception essentially lessened the previous penalty that would have disqualified the player for signing for an incorrect score card.  Since her incorrect score was the result of failing to include a penalty she was unaware of, she is not disqualified but is assessed the penalty she failed to include (two strokes under Rule 16-1b) and an additional two stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for signing for an incorrect score on the 17th hole.  The result is four total penalty strokes and Thompson is now not leading the the first LPGA major of the season.
   This appears to be an extremely harsh penalty, especially as the result of a video review, but remember that had this occurred in 2015, Thompson would have been disqualified for the incorrect score card.
   On TV it was easily heard that it wasn't intentional, but unfortunately this is not an intent-based Rule. The reality is that she put the ball back in the wrong spot. Was it a significant advantage? No. However, the Rule is written to dissuade the player from the potential advantage that could be gained by replacing the ball in an incorrect position.
    So in summary: On the 17th hole of the third round, Thompson incorrectly replaced her ball on the putting green and as a result played from a wrong place in breach of Rule 16-1b. She signed a score card without that penalty included because she was unaware of it. Since the breach was discovered prior to the close of competition, the Committee is required to apply the Exception to Rule 6-6d which means that they added the two-stroke penalty that wasn't included in her score yesterday, and an additional two-stroke penalty for signing for an incorrect score - a total of four penalty strokes.
   If Thompson comes back and manages to win, it will highlight how extremely significant the new Exception really is, because prior to 2016 she would've been disqualified from the competition for the same situation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The MGA Quiz Results are Out!

Bravo to the MGA on another wonderful Quiz for 2017. They always manage to find the smallest of holes in the code of the Rules of Golf and rip them open for interesting and unique Rules situations, some of which only have answers based on what your Committee decides. As usual, the combined efforts here on the West Coast were not able to divine the true intent and secret behind all the questions and I would like to review the “incorrect” answers and reasons why:

Our Answer
MGA Answer

4. In stroke play, Player A hits his tee shot, finds a ball he assumes to be his and plays that ball which ends up slightly closer to the hole than Player B’s second shot. As B is preparing to play his third shot, A asks him what club he used to play his second shot. A then realizes he has played a wrong ball. A returns to the area from which he played the wrong ball, finds his original ball after a one minute search, and plays the original ball into the hole in four more strokes. A’s score for the hole is:
A) 6
B) 7
C) 8

First, let’s agree that there are 5 “talent” strokes. So the debate here is between two or four penalty strokes. I will hand this one to the MGA, there is a great debate as to what penalties should stick when committed while playing a wrong ball. We are on one side of the debate, the MGA chose the other and in all honesty it has more support in the Rules. 

Here’s the debate:  Under Rules 3-3 and 20-7c we have a supporting decision 20-7c/5 that refers to “penalty strokes incurred solely by playing the ball Rules not to count.” That decision clarifies that there are certain penalties that do not go away when playing a second ball under 3-3 or 20-7c because the penalty cannot be affiliated with one ball or another. Penalties for practice, advice or playing a wrong ball do not go away even if it seems like the action should be affiliated with one ball over another.

We do not have the same verbiage or decision for when a player plays a wrong ball or plays from outside the teeing ground. There is a faction that believes that the similar philosophy should be applied and penalties for advice or practice should not go away if committed while playing a wrong ball (or playing a ball played from outside the teeing ground). We answered that way.  There is another faction that has those penalties go away because the only verbiage we get “Strokes made by a competitor with a wrong ball do not count in his score.” There is no decision to break the tie here. My argument is that, while we do not get any additional verbiage, what we do have says “strokes made by a competitor.” There is no reference to penalty strokes going away.

So there is no official answer to the question (unless someone on the RoG Committee wants to correct me because a decision has finally been made), but it is a great discussion point.

5. A and B are partners in a four-ball stroke play competition. A’s ball comes to rest in casual water. A’s caddie picks up the ball, hands it to B who places it 3 club-lengths behind the casual water at a spot that keeps the point where the ball lay between the spot where it is placed and the hole. A plays the ball. A incurs:
A) 1 penalty stroke.
B) 2 penalty strokes.
C) 3 penalty strokes.
D) 4 penalty strokes.

I disagree with the answer here, but I know how they got there.  The MGA assessed an additional penalty stroke for the caddie’s unauthorized lifting of the ball. Only 3 people may lift – the player, partner or person authorized by the player. The caddie was not authorized and generally would incur a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2.  However, we have other applicable circumstances where there is no penalty if another Rule applies that permits the ball to be lifted and played from somewhere else.

Specifically, Decision 26-1/9 tells us there is no penalty for a caddie lifting a ball from a water hazard without authority if it is clear the player will be proceeding under the water hazard Rule.  I believe the general consensus is the same for other Rules that allow the player to play from somewhere else (except for a ball unplayable which has its own Decision and reasoning). However, I grant the MGA that there is nothing in the Rules that states that specifically with regard to casual water or an abnormal ground condition and therefore the answer has technical merit.

6. In a stroke play event, Player A’s approach shot comes to rest on the putting green leaving him with a long 75-foot putt. Player B’s approach shot lands in a greenside bunker. A marks and lifts his ball, then reads his line of putt. B’s bunker shot comes to rest on the putting green, but he still has a 30-foot putt remaining. A reads his line of putt from the other side of the hole while B is cleaning up the bunker. Just as B finishes, A replaces his ball. A putts his ball and it apparently comes to rest, but is overhanging the hole. B, not paying attention, immediately walks up to his ball and putts it. B’s ball not only strikes A’s ball, deflecting it into the hole, but B’s ball follows it in as well. Unsure of how to proceed, the competitor’s agree that since both balls were holed, there is no issue and they proceed to tee off the next hole and complete the stipulated round. They inform the Committee of this situation prior to signing and returning their score cards. The Committee should rule:
A) Both players’ balls are considered holed and there is no penalty.
B) Player A’s ball is considered holed. Player B;s ball is considered holed and he is assessed a two-stroke penalty.
C) Player A is disqualified and Player B’s ball is considered holed and he is assessed a two-stroke penalty.
D) Both players should have replaced their balls and replayed their last strokes. As both players failed to hole out, they are both disqualified.

Here’s one where I say touché. Having the ball overhanging the hole threw us off. The trick is that although Rule 16-2 specifies a time where the Rules deem the ball to be at rest, nothing in that Rule say the ball is not at rest prior to that time limit.  We treated the ball as still moving and then proceeded as if 19-5b applied. Good fluff MGA!

9. In a match play event, a par-3 hole has its teeing ground located immediately behind a water hazard with an island putting green. A player’s tee shot lands on the greenside of the water hazard, rolls backwards, and is lost in the water hazard. He drops correctly under the water hazard rule, keeping the point at which the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard between the hole and the place where he dropped a ball. In so doing he dropped the ball on the teeing ground. Realizing he could have re-teed his ball under the stroke and distance provision of the Rule, he lifts and tees his ball. He plays the teed ball onto the putting green. His first putt strikes his opponent’s ball lying on the putting green. He then completes the hole in one additional stroke. What is his score for the hole?
A) 5
B) 6
C) 7
D) 8

I believe there is some general disagreement in the Rules world about this particular situation. We applied four talent strokes and one penalty stroke under Rule 26-1.  The player essentially lucked out that they first dropped the ball on the teeing ground and they were entitled to put the ball somewhere else on the teeing ground.  But… he did drop the ball and a substituted ball becomes the ball in play when it has been dropped or placed (Rule 20-4). Since he played from the teeing ground next, lifting the ball was really stroke and distance and that’s where the MGA gets the additional penalty stroke. It’s a hard argument here and I’m not sure there is consensus at the highest levels as to whether this situation should be one penalty stroke or two.

24. During an individual stroke play event with the one ball condition in effect, Player A loses his second shot in a water hazard. He borrows a ball from Player B, inadvertently putting a different model ball (improper ball) into play properly under R26 and plays it into the fairway. Player C then points out the violation. Attempting to correct the error, A then goes back and drops a proper ball at the spot from which he had put the improper ball into play. He hits the proper ball into the rough near the improper ball. B suggests that under the one ball condition, A could have replaced the improper ball with a proper ball. A then lifts both the proper ball from the rough and the improper ball from the fairway. He places the proper ball at the spot the improper ball had previously come to rest in the fairway. He hits the proper ball onto the putting green and one-putts. A’s score for the hole is:
A) 8
B) 10
C) 11
D) 12

Well this one is just confusing right? We counted five talent strokes and six penalty strokes (26-1, LR, 27-1 and 18-2). How to get to 12? Well that’s simple… we miscounted. There are 6 talent strokes.  He hit the second shot into the water hazard. 3 played the improper ball. 4 played the proper ball. 5 played to green and 6 one-putted.  Whoops! D is the correct answer without argument here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Modernizing the Rules of Golf Review: Nothing Off the Table

                Last Wednesday, the USGA and R & A released the proposed New Modernized Rules of Golf to go into effect in 2019. We are now in a feedback phase for 6 months where all golfers can submit feedback on the proposed Rules directly to their governing body. The Rules Modernization project is 5 years in the making and is the most comprehensive overhaul of the Rules since 1984, when the current 34 Rules were developed and implemented.
                I, for one, am incredibly impressed at the draft and look forward to seeing what changes come after the feedback period. The governing bodies clearly took an open mind and left nothing off the discussion table. They’ve done a wonderful job of making sure many of the previous loopholes and confusions are eliminated and fit all the moving pieces of the Rules back into place in a manner that should be understandable for all golfers. Following is not a complete review of all the changes, but an overview of the more important or more significant changes and their effects on the game. While some comments may come off as criticism, I am offering solely my opinion and fully applaud and support the extremely diligent and laborious efforts of the USGA and R & A staff and Committees involved.
(For brevity, I have used he to refer to the player when needed, rather than he or she.)

Emphasis on Pace of Play

What I love
                Acknowledging that pace of play is hurting the game of golf, it was brought to the front as an important factor in determining some of the new Rules.  The expansion on the Rules regarding pace of play, including tips and examples of what players should be doing to help are fantastic:
  •          Reducing the search time from 5 minutes to 3 minutes will help with pace of play, and making the 40-second recommendation part of the Rules may help players with lengthy pre-shot routines in developing a better approach to their strokes.
  •          Permitting players to invite opponents to play first in match play in order to save time will eliminate many match play problems. I’ve received tons of questions about this over the years and I think it’s a great move.
  •          Encouraging players to go to the next tee after finishing a hole has also been a proven method of improving pace of play, and formalizing the recommendation should help the game.

What I Don’t Love
                While there were clearly great strides in the area of improving pace of play, I think there were some places the changes either missed the mark, or could have gone farther:
  •          If you properly announce and play a provisional ball that might be lost outside a water hazard, you cannot use the provisional ball as the stroke and distance option if it is subsequently found in a penalty area (currently water hazard) or found unplayable. This has been a huge time killer and I feel that if the provisional ball is designed to help with pace of play, this is a great opportunity to pick up some time without giving an advantage to a player.
  •          Repairing nearly all forms of damage on the putting green is probably a necessary change and we’ve seen outcries from professionals and public alike about the unfairness of spike marks and other damage. However, I’m afraid it may cause an unintended slow-down on the putting green so we as golfers in general have to take this “gimme” from the governing bodies and do our best not to abuse it. Sometimes we might have to leave some damage in place so that we can play at a reasonable pace.

Revised Relief Procedures

What I Love       
Some of the greatest confusion on the Rules rested around the various relief procedures available and the complexities of dropping the ball and where it ends up.  The proposed Rules made extensive revisions to relief procedures, unifying them behind a single standard and certainly did relax and simplify the Rules for dropping:
  •          Regardless of the option used, 20 inches is the standard relief area (with exceptions for penalized relief options from penalty areas or under ball unplayable). We no longer have to guess whether a ball was dropped “as near as possible” to a spot and even embedded ball relief is given this 20 inch latitude. The standard also ensures that all golfers will have the exact same distance for relief for a given procedure.
  •         A ball must be re-dropped if it rolls outside the relief area. This greatly reduces the complexities found in current Rule 20-2c and also ensures that luck of the landscape can’t change how much relief one player gets over another in a similar situation.
  •          The procedure for dropping the ball has been relaxed and now only requires that the ball fall through the air and it is recommended that it be dropped from at least one inch above the ground or growing object.

What I Don’t Love
                The above changes do help simplify and standardize the Rules for relief, but I do wish we could have gone further in some areas:
  •          One of the greatest confusions about dropping still exists – when to use 20 inches and when to use 80 inches. I would like to see one standard distance. My preference is for one club-length attained by using any readily available club other than a putter, which would guarantee 95% of the time using a 45-46 inch driver. If club-lengths are now off the table, I would be in favor of a standard 40 inches. Because I’m increasing the size of the relief area I would recommend requiring players to stand upright to drop the ball.
  •            I’m actually in favor of placing the ball all around, but understand the importance of the drop and the randomness it provides to guarantee someone doesn’t take advantage of the relief Rules.
  •       I’d like to see the penalties for improper dropping (both manner and person) go away. So long as the ball is dropped and it ends up being played from within the proper relief area, why does it matter how it got there or who dropped it? If the player plays the ball from the proper spot, this seems like a penalty that doesn’t fit the potential advantage gained.
  •          Unlimited drops when the ball does not stay in the relief area. I realize on one hand, this gets rid of the problem for players who don’t know better and drop the ball a third time. On the other hand, if I’m an official in the situation, how do I tell a player to stop dropping and place the ball? We need to stick to the two drops and place, I think most golfers who attempt to know the Rules understand this concept.

Relaxed Rules for Penalty Areas and Bunkers

What I Love
                I think it’s great that there is no longer a penalty for grounding your club or touching or moving loose impediments in a penalty area or bunker (although touching sand near ball to play from a bunker still prohibited). While I’ve always understood the potential advantage gained, I’ve always felt the Rule resulted in some very unfair penalties:
  •         Penalty areas can now be determined by Committees regardless of whether they are water features. So the previously prohibited “desert rule” or “jungle rule” could now be enacted with deserts or jungles being marked as penalty areas. This is simply a pace of play time saver but also gives some more latitude to Committees on how they mark a course.
  •          I know Brian Davis and Michelle Wie would love this Rule to have been around a few years ago, but relaxing the penalty for touching or moving loose impediments just takes care of the situations where no real advantage was gained. Just ticking a loose leaf in the backswing shouldn’t cost you two strokes or a loss of hole.

What I Don’t Love
                I just want to see this relaxation go a tiny bit further. The USGA has presented a good summary of the reasons for leaving some of the bunker prohibitions in place but I offer an alternative view and proposal below:
  •          Why still prohibit touching sand in a bunker by the ball (literally in front of or behind or for testing)? As long as the conditions are not improved by lightly grounding the club and the player doesn’t deliberately clear sand behind the ball during the backswing, why is this still a penalty? The player still needs to make the stroke, and I think 2012 at Kiawah Island shows that there is no advantage to permitting players to ground their clubs in playing the stroke or take practice swings in bunkers. 
  •       I understand that bunkers are design features that are intended to pose a specific challenge to a golfer, and that the Rules are in place to maintain that challenge.  My argument is that allowing practice swings and grounding the club lightly do not affect the challenge significantly enough for the vast majority of golfers to warrant treating penalty areas more favorably than bunkers. The USGA argument I do agree could be a problem, is displaced sand. Compromise Proposal: Prohibit practice swings that touch the sand in the bunker, but there is no penalty if the sand is touched accidentally during the practice swing. I would even be okay with prohibiting touching the sand with the club behind the ball provided there is an added stipulation that no penalty be applied if the sand is inadvertently touched.
  •          The proposed Rules offer a ball unplayable relief option to get out of a bunker. This is fantastic. BUT, it’s an option that costs two strokes to use.  Not only is the difference between one-stroke and two-stroke options adding unnecessary complexity, but it only costs one stroke to get out of a penalty area why should it cost more than one stroke to get out of a bunker?

The Flagstick

What I Love
                All in all, current Rule 17 is just downright confusing. There are tons of Notes, Exceptions and internally defined terms that lead to most people left completely clueless regarding what should be some simple permissions. The proposed Rules regarding the flagstick greatly simplify the flagstick and penalties affiliated with issues:
  •         No penalty for striking an attended flagstick, attendant or unattended flagstick after a stroke from the putting green. As long as the deflection is not intentional, this always seemed to be an unnecessary penalty.
  •          Penalties for the unauthorized attendance or attending the flagstick while the ball is in motion now are clearly based on intent. If the attendance is not intended to influence to movement of the ball (“must not deliberately attend or remove the flagstick to affect where the player’s ball might come to rest”), then the penalty does not apply.

What I Don’t Love
                I don’t like that we need a flagstick Rule that has penalties to begin with. It can still get complicated but at least we’re basing the penalty on intent, not action, so that unintended unauthorized removal does not unfairly penalize a player:
  •          Couldn’t all the flagstick penalties affiliated with influencing the movement of the ball be taken care of by one Rule? Or should flagstick attendance penalties be based on result (only if a deliberate action results in the ball being stopped or deflected)? I think current Rule 1-2 could’ve been used in a way to take care of all the influence the movement type situations, despite the drawbacks of the Rule in its current form.

Multiple Books

What I Love
                I am fully behind the concept of a player’s book that can give the player in a competition or a casual round a quick reference guide how to proceed correctly under the Rules.

What I Don’t Love
                One of the greatest things about the Rules of Golf is that player, referee administrator and governing body are all looking at the exact same reference. If I have to penalize a player or tell a player to proceed differently than he would like, I can point to something in the same book he’s got. I have some concerns with separating this all out:
  •          Where are the Local Rules? Associations and clubs alike are still going to want to create Hard Cards, the standard Local Rules for all competitions. Typically, clauses could read “the Local Rule in Appendix I is in effect.” Any player can find that Local Rule in their own Rule book.  The proposed multi-book format does not appear to provide that same comfort, meaning I could have Local Rules in effect that a player will need to carry multiple books in order to have all the Rules at his fingertips.
  •          As a tournament administrator, I love that I have all the Rules guidance I need to conduct a competition in one book, - the Decisions book. I have no issue with getting rid of the Decisions book in its current format, but I want one book that gives me all the Rules guidance I need and can point to. For the same reason I hate flipping back and forth between Rules 6 and 33 during Rules school the last couple years, I do not want to be flipping back and forth between multiple books when discussing an issue with the Committee.

There is a lot more to the proposed New Rules of Golf and I strongly urge all of you to view all the available resources you can for yourself at and to contact your state or regional golf association for assistance in understanding the new Rules or the process. Utilize the feedback section so that the governing bodies have as much information and feedback to go by as possible. The proposed Rules are not final and it is still possible that some wonderful changes we are all hoping for may come to fruition, or that changes we don’t like that are now present may go away. But the Rules of Golf Committees can only make those decisions if you give your feedback. Just make sure to do your homework first!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Embedded Ball, "Preferred Lies" and Really Wet Conditions

                Finally, northern California is back to normal. So much so that it is receiving an abnormal amount of rain in a short span of time.  The conditions for golf courses, not surprisingly, are less than ideal.  So I’ve received a lot of questions regarding various options and Local Rules that can be used to help players get through the muddy, mucky conditions.  This can be incredibly challenging when there are misunderstandings as to how various Local Rules can be used, and this weekend at the Peg Barnard we had to come up with a unique solution to best serve the players while still staying firmly within the bounds of the Rules of Golf.

                Before speaking to my experience this week, it should first be explained what Rules and Local Rules are available for players in these conditions.  The first two are better known and are part of the Rules of Golf:
1.       Rule 25-2 – Relief without penalty for a ball embedded in its own pitch-mark.  Generally the Local Rule in Appendix I is in effect to extend relief to anywhere through the green, except when embedded in sand in a non-closely-mown area.
2.       Rule 25-1 – Relief without penalty for interference by an abnormal ground condition. I think where many golfers are confused is that an abnormal ground condition is a specific term under the Rules that refers to ground under repair, casual water or a hole, cast or runway made by a burrowing animal, reptile or bird. The fact that the mushy earth is abnormal to the usual conditions of the course does not, of itself, constitute an abnormal ground condition under the Rules of Golf.

When conditions warrant, there are two Local Rules that are designed to alleviate problems affiliated with extremely wet, poor conditions that are detrimental to the proper playing of the game.  What is often confusing, is that there are limitations as to how far the Rules can be extended:

  1.    “Preferred Lies” also known as “Winter Rules” or Lift, Clean and Place – Appendix I gives the Committee the authority to permit players to lift, clean and place their ball within a specified distance of the original spot. This should only be used when fairway conditions are unsatisfactory.  The catch to this Local Rule is that it is only permissible to put it in effect in closely-mown areas through the green or a MORE restricted area. The Committee does not have the authority under the Rules to extend this Local Rule to anywhere through the green. In other words, this Rule is designed to be used for fairways or fringes, not in the rough.
      Many are confused about this because there are examples of Committees who have over-stepped the authority given by the Rules and made the decision to play “preferred lies” anywhere through the green, notably on the PGA Tour last year (see my FarbTalk article here). “The Committee is always right, even when they’re wrong,” however, there is a difference between having the authority to do something under the Rules and the Committee being permitted to make its own decisions.
      So when conditions throughout the course are so mucky that permitting a player to clean their ball should be granted anywhere through the green, there is a Local Rule that is permissible to use:
  2.    Cleaning Ball: Lift, clean and Replace – The Local Rule in Appendix I immediately following “preferred lies” permits players to lift, clean and replace the ball in the same spot from which it was lifted. This Rule can be restricted if desired, but the Committee does have the authority to use this Local Rule anywhere through the green.

So this past weekend at Stanford for the Peg Barnard Invitational, a women’s event held this time of year each year, the course was thoroughly saturated.  And while good weather was forecasted (and came true) for the days of play, the damage had already been done.  My initial recommendation was to use Lift, Clean and Replace through the green so that there would be some relief for players in the rough as the balls were picking up tons of mud.  There were some who very much wanted to play “preferred lies” through the green and I had to explain what I explained above: it is not permissible under the Rules to extend lift, clean and place to anywhere through the green. I even confirmed that this was the official stance again to be certain. My argument was a bit hampered by examples and rumors of prominent events using the illegal Local Rule, but while the conditions were not great, they were not to the point where exceeding the authority of the Rules was necessary. So, finally, after way too much time as I should have seen this sooner, came the solution:

For the event we played “preferred lies” in closely-mown areas through the green.  So in fairways (which were still distinguishable as all cuts had not been mown for the same amount of time), players could lift, clean and place the ball within a score card length, no nearer the hole. Additionally, we invoked lift, clean and replace anywhere through the green. So players could lift, clean and replace the ball in the same spot if the ball was in the rough. The invocation of both Local Rules granted the players the maximum amount of relief we could provide while still operating under the Rules of Golf. 

Due to the unique solution, a few unexpected and interesting questions arose.

Embedded Ball Relief: Because of the two different local Rule procedures, if the ball was embedded it mattered whether it was in the fairway or the rough.  In the fairway, because a score card length was permitted, a player could simply mark, lift and then place the ball out of the pitch-mark without having to use the drop procedure in Rule 25-2. In the rough, because replacing would mean putting the ball back into the pitch-mark, players had to take the Rule 25-2 relief by dropping and then could still lift, clean and replace if desired.

Casual Water Relief: Again, the two different local Rule procedures could lead to two very different scenarios. In the fairway, if a player had interference from casual water where the ball came to rest, they could either a) take relief and then use lift, clean and place from the new position, or b) lift, clean and place the ball within a score card length to try and avoid interference and if interference still existed they could then take relief from the casual water. In the rough, if the ball came to rest in an area with interference by casual water, the player could lift, clean and replace the ball, then decide to take relief or they could take relief and then lift, clean and replace the ball.

Ball Lost in a Muddy Area: I received a ton of questions, both in this event and from others playing around the area, about balls that plug in the middle of the fairway and cannot be found.  There is some confusion about this and how it relates to Rule 25-1c, Ball Not Found in Abnormal Ground Condition.  Unfortunately, soft, mushy earth is not an abnormal ground condition (see Decision 25/1).  So if a ball plugs in a large area of soft, mushy earth and cannot be found within five minutes, even in the middle of the fairway, the ball is lost and the player must proceed under penalty of stroke and distance. A large area of mud is different from an area that has been declared ground under repair or a large puddle of casual water. If it is known or virtually certain that a ball is in ground under repair or casual water (both abnormal ground conditions under the Rules), but it cannot be found, the player is entitled to relief without penalty.  Now before you go and declare the entire fairway to be ground under repair so players can take this relief, know that the relief is going to be relative to where the ball last crossed the outermost limits of the condition.
      So, in the end there are a lot of options for relief when these kinds of muddy, mucky conditions occur and because the Rules give us specific guidance and specific local Rules to use in these conditions, we, whether as players, course operators or Committees need to ensure we utilize the local Rules properly and in accordance with the authority given by the Rules.

     If you are running an event, playing an event or officiating an event with these kinds of conditions and need to know your options, please remember that your state or regional golf association is there to help you and guide you, or you can always contact the USGA directly. Don’t assume the Committee can just do whatever it wants and still play under the Rules of Golf.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year! Sherlock Holmes the Rules Official

            On this New Year’s Day and in honor of the upcoming new Season of Sherlock on the BBC I want to share the tale of Sherlock Holmes the Rules Official.  For those of you who are Rules Officials you’ll recognize that Sherlock’s manner with players is not to be emulated and certainly you will need to ask more questions to get to a proper ruling. But he does get it right…

From the Memoirs of Dr. John “Tom” Watson:

            For those familiar with the off-putting, stubborn personality of my compatriot Sherlock Holmes, it is no surprise that this was his only foray into the profession of officiating the Rules of Golf. He asked me to join him for his day on the links, a mid-level competition of amateur golfers. The governing body was in need of some assistance and Holmes’ reputation led to his recommendation and placement as a roving official on the front nine.
            The day was fairly quiet until he received a call on the radio to come to the ninth green for a second opinion in a ball at rest moved situation. What transpired next was nothing short of classic.
            “Thanks for the help Sherlock. This player’s ball moved and I am inclined to rule he has caused the ball to move and incurs a single penalty stroke per Rule 18-2,” said Lestrade, the Rules Official who requested the second opinion.
            “Well of course you would. And it was indeed good of this fellow to ask for a second opinion because the first would be quite wrong.”
“How could you possibly know that, you have not even heard the facts?” I exclaimed, in part attempting to soften the rudeness of my friend.
“The balance of probability my dear Watson, or the weight of evidence I should say. I only need one more piece of evidence to fully confirm my findings,” and turning to the player he said, “Could you please point to the spot where your ball would have to be replaced?”
The player did so and Holmes nodded in confirmation, “Precisely. Now please do replace your ball at that spot, but you shall incur no penalty.”
At this point Lestrade chimes in, “But why should you find that he must replace the ball without a penalty?”
“Elementary. But as usual Lestrade, you have asked the most incorrect question for the situation. Your question should first have been why must he replace the ball? Why there is no penalty is so simple you should find a new profession for not observing it first. Now since you have displayed such utter confusion in the matter I will lay it out for you, despite the facts being laid clear before your very eyes with very little search required.
“First, without even being told it is clear that we have a case that the ball has moved and at least two of the three players here are entirely unsure whether the player actually caused the movement. In order to determine whether or not he caused the ball to move we must look at the weight of the evidence, what I call the balance of probability, to decide whether in fact he is guilty of a breach under Rule 18-2 and must replace the ball.
There are several questions that must be answered to determine whether the weight of evidence is for or against the player.”
Lestrade interrupted, “But you didn’t ask any questions.”
“I said there are several questions that must be answered, and through careful observation all of the questions are answered, you have no need to ask if you’d simply observe rather than see.”
“Fine, go ahead, dazzle me with your answers.”
“Well, starting with the obvious, is there some other weather condition that could have caused the movement?  Clearly, the answer is no. It is a calm day without a cloud in the sky and I’m fairly certain that there was no significant movement of the earth to cause the movement.
“Next, what is the condition of the ground near the ball? You can plainly see the ball does lie on a decent slope, and as it is late in the day the grass has grown since this morning. Alone, this would suggest the player did not cause the movement. However, what makes that significant is that this particular grass has a grain that is currently growing up the slope, somewhat nullifying the effect of the downhill and holding the ball from rolling.
“The length of the grass is also significant because it created a bit of a perched lie for the ball, balanced on the ends of somewhat longer blades of grass. The lie of the ball is important.
“Next, what actions were taken near the ball. You might wonder how I know what actions could have taken place, but again the simple act of observation tells me all I need to know.” Turning to the player, “You can correct me if I misstate something.
“First, you can clearly see there is only one firm set of footprints in position for his stance. Combining his “plus four” attire with the fact that the player has a number of gadgets in his bag you can presume that this is a player that takes lessons and is accustomed to taking numerous practice swings prior to any stroke. Since there is only one set of footprints near the ball in position for a stance, it can then be deduced that the practice strokes were taken precariously close to the ball.”
“Uncanny!” The four players stated in unison.
“No, simple deduction. But that is not the action that caused the movement. Slightly fainter than the footprints but still clear to the naked eye is the impression of the putter behind the ball, the impression that the ball was resting in prior to its replacement. This was the most telling detail of all. Not only did the player ground the club immediately behind the ball with enough impact as to cause an imprint on the putting green, but the ball managed to roll backward, up the slope, coming to rest in that impression.  That detail was the final piece of the puzzle that was confirmed when the player replaced his ball at a spot downhill from where it has moved. Regardless of how to view the rest of the facts, although I think they are still quite clear, the firm grounding of the putter combined with the ball moving uphill rather than with the natural gradient would suggest that the weight of the evidence is against the player and that he caused the movement. Thus he needed to replace the ball.”
Lestrade stepped in at this point, “Aha! So then I was correct, and you have misspoken. He is due a penalty stroke.”
“No, I do not misspeak and you were never correct. What ever you had done correctly was by pure chance. You of all people should note that all three players are holding a yellow paper in their hands. On one side are the hole locations for today, but on the other is the “Notice to Players” where clearly stated in bold I was able to discern the words: Ball Accidentally Moved. I did not need to read further to know that the new Local Rule – so new today is the first day it could be used - eliminating the penalty for accidental movement of the ball on the putting green must be in effect. That left only one question requiring an answer, ‘Was the movement accidental?’ Even the most unsure of detectives could deduce that the movement was not intentional, for what purpose would it serve to move the ball backward?

The end result, as I’ve previously stated is that the ball must be replaced and no penalty is incurred. It really was a good idea for you to call me in, Lestrade.”