Monday, 8 March 2010

Graham McDowell Calls Penalty on Himself

Graeme McDowell

Yet another example of the remarkable integrity of most professional golfers occurred during the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, last Friday. On the 18th hole, Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell, currently ranked 49 in the Official World Golf Rankings, drove his ball way right and found it submerged in shallow water inside the water hazard. He decided to take a risk and blasted it about 70 yards down the fairway. But he was worried that his club may have grazed the water on his backswing while hitting out of a hazard. As he commented afterwards, “I just felt that perhaps I had turned on my club on the way back as I made my backswing and as soon as I did it, I kind of felt like something was up.”

McDowell immediately mentioned his concern to Dottie Pepper, the roving course reporter from The Golf Channel, and she alerted the Rules Officials. After completing his round, but before signing his scorecard, McDowell went into the TV booth to watch slow-motion replays. The video evidence confirmed his apprehension and he called the two stroke penalty on himself for a violation of Rule 13-4, which prohibits grounding a club in a hazard. He then signed his scorecard with a double bogey 7 on the last and returned it to the Committee. Instead of lying in second place, just one stroke behind the leader, he found himself down in fifth place, three strokes down.

I am sure that many readers are wondering why dipping your club in water on the backswing should incur a penalty. Surely, there is no way that this action can give you any information about the condition of the water that might help you in completing your stroke. Well, I don’t pretend to know why this is the Rule, but it is consistent with the fact that players may not touch sand in a bunker (the other type of hazard) during their backswing.

It is worth pointing out that the relevant part of Rule 13-4 states,
“.... the player must not: .... b. Touch the ground in the hazard or water in the water hazard with his hand or a club.”
So, be careful not to dip a hand, or club, in the water before making your stroke, there may be an eagle-eyed Rules enthusiast observing you!

I suspect that Graeme McDowell wishes that he had taken a penalty drop from the water hazard on the 18th. After his round he admitted, “It's a disappointing way to end the day but, it could be worse, we don't get that much practice playing out of water!” Exactly! Unless you regularly practice playing out of water, don’t do it!

Finally, this incident brings to mind another little known fact about the Rules of Golf. There are only three occasions when a player is permitted to strike a moving ball; they are listed in Rule 14-5;
“A player must not make a stroke at his ball while it is moving.
* Ball falling off tee - Rule 11-3.
* Striking the ball more than once - Rule 14-4.
* Ball moving in water - Rule 14-6.”
In the first case, the ball is not in play, so if a stroke is made at it, whether it is moving or not, the stroke counts but there is no penalty. If a ball at rest anywhere else on the course moves as the player makes their stroke it does count, but they are not exempt from any penalty under Rules 18-2b. In the second case, there is only one stroke counted but there is a penalty for hitting the ball twice. And in the third case, there is no penalty if the ball in water begins to move after the player has begun their backswing, unless they caused it to move.

Keep playing by the Rules and start improving your scores,

Barry Rhodes

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courtgolf said...

Good stuff again.

I don't know what kind of coverage you got over there, but here in the States, the network tried to make it sound like McDowell wasn't going to take the penalty unless he saw it on TV.

Completely wrong. Listening to McDowell after the shot, he was calling the penalty. He went to the TV screens hoping he was wrong - not the other way around.

Good on Graham.

Barry Rhodes said...


Thanks for clarifying that for us.


Anonymous said...

In 2004, Rule 18-2c was removed from the Rules of Golf. Previously, if a player’s ball in play moved after he had touched or moved a loose impediment within one club length of the ball, the player was deemed, by Rule 18-2c, to have caused the ball to move (and he incurred a one stroke penalty and was required to replace the ball). With the removal of Rule 18-2c, it is a question of fact whether the player’s actions caused his ball in play to move. New Decision 18-2a/30.5 was added to clarify that point.

Barry Rhodes said...


Thanks. I have now taken out my incorrect reference to 18-2c from the final paragraph.