Saturday, 24 October 2009

Ryo Ishikawa's Ball Stolen

Ryo Ishikawa - photo

18-year old Japanese golfing sensation, Ryo Ishikawa, is commanding a lot of attention these days and not all of it is welcomed by him. During the recent Japan Open Golf Championship (Oct. 2009), not only did he have to contend with the sounds of multiple shutter sounds from camera phones (apparently the Japanese golf spectators have a lot to learn about etiquette on the course), but then a lady walked off with his ball in play. He had hooked his ball into trees and while it was still rolling she ran after it picked it up and strode off. Other spectators saw what had happened and started shouting at her causing her to panic and start screaming. She was quoted as saying, "I am a fan of Ryo and this is the first time I've been to a golf tournament. I really don't know the rules and I just tried to take the ball home as a souvenir."

Frankly, I am surprised that this type of incident doesn’t happen more often at Tour events around the world. We live in an increasingly celebrity-centric society and the world’s leading golfers are becoming as recognised and revered as any other superstars. Some fans are desperate for an enduring memento of their idols whether it is an autograph, a ball or a glove. Let’s hope that it doesn’t move on to their shirt, sweater, or even clubs!

So, when the rolling ball was picked up by a spectator what was the ruling? Although this bizarre episode was widely reported by golfing journalists none that I read went on to explain how Ryo had to proceed, and it’s not a straight-forward situation. The first point to note is that In the Rules of Golf the lady spectator was an outside agency. The second is that she purposely stopped and picked-up the ball.

A Note to Rule 19-1 - Ball in Motion Deflected or Stopped by an Outside Agency, states;
"If the referee or the Committee determines that a player's ball has been purposely deflected or stopped by an outside agency, Rule 1-4 applies to the player."
Rule 1-4 deals with points not covered by the Rules. Not too helpful so far. Fortunately, there is a relevant decision that helps explain how equity should be applied, though it’s still a little subjective;
"Q. A player overshoots a green. A spectator (X) who is standing behind the green deliberately deflects or stops the ball. According to the Note under Rule 19-1, equity (Rule 1-4), applies. What is the equitable procedure in this case?

A. In a case where the ball might have come to rest where X was situated if he had not deliberately deflected or stopped it, the player should be required to drop the ball at the spot where X was situated. For example, if another spectator (Y) had been behind X, the ball might have struck Y, if X had avoided it, and come to rest where X was situated.

If there is no question that the ball would have come to rest somewhere else if X had not deflected or stopped it, the Committee must make a judgment as to where the ball would have come to rest, giving the player the benefit of any doubt. For example, if no person or object had been behind X and without any doubt the ball would have come to rest either in a lateral water hazard behind the green or in the rough just short of the hazard, the Committee should require the player to drop the ball in the rough just short of the hazard."
Note that the Decision refers to ‘the’ ball. In other words, the original ball played. Now it was not reported whether the lady dropped Ishikawa’s ball, or held on to it and disappeared into the crowd. Fortunately, if the latter was the case there is a clause in Rule 19-1 that says;
"If the ball is not immediately recoverable, another ball may be substituted."
Now, I am sure that many readers are thinking that this above Decision is irrelevant to them as there are unlikely to be any spectators deflecting or stealing their golf balls. True, but the same Rulings apply to other outside agencies, including fellow competitors, players in other groups, dogs, birds, and even kangaroos. The only difference is that, in the absence of a Rules Official or Committee member being available, the player should agree where to drop their ball with their marker in stroke play or opponent in match play.

All of the above refers to situations where the ball is still moving when it is deflected of stopped by an outside agency. If a player’s ball is at rest when it is moved by an outside agency the ruling is much simpler. Rule 18-1 states;
“If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced."
Finally, what happened to Ryo Ishikawa after the incident I opened with? Well, he recovered his poise to finish level with two other players but was then beaten in the play-off. It was Ishikawa's second consecutive runner-up finish at the Japan Open and left him at the top of the Japan Tour money list with 139 million yen (1.5 million dollars). Not too bad for a teenager!

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes
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Sunday, 18 October 2009

Ball Marker Penalties

I came across this interesting piece on penalties involving ball markers on the web site I am indebted to Neville Walker of Perth, Australia, for permitting me to use it in full.
“Dumbest rule ever invented.” Jesper Parnevik at the 2002 Genuity Championship at Doral.
Professional golfers are no different to their amateur counterparts when it comes to playing by the rules. They too make mistakes, either through ignorance or oversight. The biggest difference is that professional golfers play under the spotlight of spectators, and this serves to highlight their mistakes. If a mistake goes unnoticed at the time of play, television viewers eagerly telephone in to act as armchair rules officials. An infringement is sometimes discovered after the player has signed his or her card, and he or she is disqualified for signing for an incorrect score.

Marking a ball on the green is a simple act, yet it is not without its dangers. You may remember the incident that resulted in the above quote. Jesper Parnevik thinking he may have broken a rule called for an immediate ruling. What happened was that his caddie tossed him the ball which he fumbled and dropped. Unfortunately the ball landed on his coin and it flipped over. Did this incur a penalty or was he entitled to replace his ball marker on the original spot without penalty? Under the rules there is no penalty provided the movement of the ball or marker is directly attributable to the specific act of marking the position of, or lifting, your ball. Otherwise, you incur a penalty of one stroke. Unfortunately for Parnevik fumbling a catch could not be construed as marking his ball.

Not even the professionals get it right. Recently on the Japanese tour an Australian golfer replaced his ball and before he could lift his ball marker, a gust of wind moved the ball to a new position. The player incorrectly replaced his ball and putted out. Consequently, he was penalised two-shots for putting from a wrong place (Decision 18-1/12). This is because it is irrelevant if a player has removed his or her marker before the wind moved the ball, as the ball is in play as soon as it is replaced.
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.
St. Crispen's Day Speech Henry V William Shakespeare, 1599
You may ask what Henry V’s speech to his troops before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 has to do with marking your ball on the putting green. The key is in the words "Old men forget". Being a senior golfer, I have the excuse of age if I forget to replace my ball marker after being asked earlier to move it by a fellow competitor. Younger professionals can't use the same excuse for their transgression.

Tom Lehman as defending champion had a memory lapse during the second round of the British Open at Royal Troon in Scotland in 1997. At the second hole Vijay Singh asked him to move his ball marker as it was on his line. He then forgot to return his marker to the original place before putting. He only realised his mistake on the next tee. By then it was too late and he was penalised two shots (Rule 20-7c).

Two years later Tom Lehman was again penalised for a transgression involving his ball marker in his match against the Italian golfer Emanuele Canonica. In this instance he was representing the United States in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews. Mistakenly he picked up his marker after having been beaten on the 18th hole. However, in medal match play this is not allowed, and he received a one shot penalty.

A similar incident of not replacing the ball marker happened forty years earlier, but with a different outcome. At the 1957 British Open at St Andrews Bobby Locke, then aged 39, marked his ball one putter-head off the line of his playing partner Bruce Crampton’s putt at the 72nd hole. When he came to putt, he forgot to replace his ball marker in its original spot and putted from the wrong place. The error was only picked up on newsreel film and reported to the Royal and Ancient officials after the trophy had been presented. As Bobby Locke had a three shot lead over Peter Thomson, the Championship committee after an eight-day delay concluded that he had gained no advantage. Citing the equity and spirit of the game, the Committee decided that he should not be disqualified. Had they thought otherwise they would have had to disqualify Locke as the rules at that time made no provision for a two-stroke penalty for playing from the wrong place. There are golfers who use a memory aid to remind them to replace their ball marker in its original spot. They do this by always having the same side facing up when they mark their ball. If they have to move their marker, they turn it upside down. Of course, you need a coin or flat disk of some sort to do this, and not one of those plastic markers with a spike.

All of us know that to mark your ball, you first place your ball marker behind the ball and then lift the ball. What could be easier than that? However, a long day of competition can scramble the brain. We all have had mental melt downs at one time or the other. In my case they are euphemistically called senior moments. In a bizarre incident Ian Woosnam was penalised at the 1991 World Cup when he picked up his ball and forgot to mark it in his haste to get to a toilet. When he came to putt he looked for his non-existent ball marker which was unfortunately still in his pocket. Bernhard Langer, needing a par at the last hole to win the 1999 Greg Norman Holden Classic tournament at Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, Australia took a double bogey five to lose by one shot to Michael Long of New Zealand. There is nothing truly remarkable about that as many tournaments are lost or won at the death. However, in this case Bernhard Langer lost because of a simple mistake at the short 18th. He picked up his ball marker without first putting his ball down and by doing so he incurred a one stroke penalty. He describes it as the dumbest thing that he has ever done on the golf course.

Golf is a game of rules. Some help us, other don’t. The best way to guard against unnecessary penalties is to learn the Rules of golf and carry a Rule book at all times in your golf bag.

Hear, hear to that last sentence!

No Rules - no improvement; know Rules - know improvement!

Barry Rhodes
rules at barryrhodes dot com
Check out for information on my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Cleared of Penalty on Saturday; Wins on Sunday

Last weekend ended well for 32 year old Indian golfer C Muniyappa, very well. The C is for Chinnaswamy but he is better known as ‘C’. On Saturday, he was asked to explain an incident on the 18th hole, where it was thought that he might have brushed sand in a bunker with his club-head when clearing a wrapper (a movable obstruction) behind his ball. This could have led to a penalty under Rule 13-4b);
….the player must not ….touch the ground in the hazard or water in the water hazard with his hand or a club.
After reviewing television footage and consulting rules officials who were standing next to the bunker he was cleared of any infringement. This favourable ruling meant that C Muniyappa held on to a one stroke lead going into the final round. He managed to hold his nerve and shot a 71 to finish the four rounds as joint leader with South Korea's Lee Sung. He then had to return to the 18th hole that had caused him such a nervous wait the day before, to commence the play-off. A few minutes later he calmly slotted a 10ft birdie putt to win the Indian Open, transforming the life of a player who, like most Indian golfers, comes from a humble background.

Most golfers know that they cannot ground their club in a bunker, but some readers might not have realised that the same Rule applies when your ball lies in a water hazard. Don’t make the mistake of casually washing your club in the water before you make your stroke from the hazard, or touching the water with your backswing as you play your ball lying close to the water’s edge. Both of these incur the same penalty as touching the sand or grounding a club in a sand bunker.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Check out for some sample questions and answers from my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Wind Direction and Speed

Photo by Kapungo - Flickr

In my previous blog, ‘Golf Rules – 9 Tips on What you Cannot Do’, I included the following tip;

8. Ask anyone, other than your playing partner, as to the direction of the wind - Rule 8-1.

Well, it seems as though I am wrong, although I have not been given any conclusive evidence from the Rules or Decisions. However, I do respect and value the opinions of those who have more experience of these matters, who collectively assure me that discussing weather conditions with your fellow competitors does not incur a penalty.

In the various communications that I had over this issue I used six questions or statements on the subject of wind to see which ones incurred a penalty and which ones did not. It may help you to understand the principle involved if I repeat them here. But first, here is the Definition of Advice from the Rules book;

‘Advice is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of a club or the method of making a stroke.

Information on the Rules, distance or matters of public information, such as the position of hazards or the flagstick on the putting green, is not advice.
The situation is that Player A is about to select his club on a Par-3. Player B is his fellow competitor or opponent;

A asks B, "Is the wind behind us, or from left to right?" Not asking for advice
A asks B, "Do you think that the wind is stronger now than when we played this hole on the front 9?" Not asking for advice
A asks B, "Is one extra club enough in this wind?" Asking for advice – A incurs penalty
B says to A, "There's no wind here because we're in a shaded hollow but it's pretty strong out there." Not giving advice
B says to A, "There's a two-club wind blowing right against us." Giving advice – B incurs penalty
B says to A, "Don't forget to take the wind into account." Giving advice – B incurs penalty

The penalty is two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play.

The reasoning is that any conversation regarding wind conditions is public information and does not constitute advice. However, as soon as a player says anything directly relating to club selection for the next stroke he is likely to be breaching the Rule. It is a fine line and a little subjective, but then that applies to many of the Rules.

Apologies if I confused you with an incorrect tip, which I have since corrected on the original post.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Author of the book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ – the easy way to get to know the Rules better.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Golf Rules - 9 Tips on What You Cannot Do

Well, as I guessed, my previous blog providing 9 tips on what the Rules permit you to do on the golf course threw up a few surprises for some readers. Now for the other side, 9 tips on what the Rules disallow.

Under the Rules of Golf you may not;

  1. Declare that your ball is lost - Definition of Lost Ball.
  2. Touch your ball to identify it anywhere on the course, without announcing your intention to do so and marking its position first - Rule 12-2.
  3. Borrow a club selected for play by any other person playing on the course - Rule 4-4a.
  4. Rake any part of a bunker on your line of play before making a stroke at your ball lying in the same bunker. Rule 13-2. (N.B. This 'cannot' was edited in February 2012 to reflect the amendments to Rules effective January 2012).
  5. Discontinue play because of gale force winds or driving rain - Rule 6-8.
  6. Practice on the competition course before a round on the day of a stroke-play competition - Rule 7-1b.
  7. Touch leaves, or other loose impediments, lying in a bunker during the backswing of your stroke - Decision 13-4/33.
  8. Ask anyone, other than your playing partner, as to whether you need an extra club because of the wind - Rule 8-1.
  9. Decline, or withdraw, a concession in match play - Rule 2-4.
One last point, earlier this week I was able to resolve a clubhouse dispute as to whether a player may remove a white boundary post that interferes with his area of intended swing. I can confirm that this is not permitted by the Rules, as confirmed by Decision 13-2/17;

Q. A player removes a stake defining out of bounds which interferes with his swing. Is this permissible?
A. No. Objects defining out of bounds are fixed. Improving the position of a ball by moving anything fixed is a breach of Rule 13-2.
As always, good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

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