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.

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