Sunday, 29 August 2010

Are Rules Made to be Broken?

There has naturally been an increased focus on the severity of the Rules of Golf following a number of high profile situations over the past few weeks. These include; S.Korean LPGA players Shi Hyun Ahn and Ilmi Chun (both disqualified for playing each other’s balls on the 18th fairway, putting out with the wrong balls and signing their cards), Jim Furyk (disqualified from The Barclays for missing his tee time at the preceding pro-am*), Juli Inkster (use of a swing aid during her round), Dustin Johnson (grounding his club in a bunker and also asking spectators to block the sunlight over his ball), Sarah Brown (wrongly disqualified having been accused of using non-conforming clubs), Mark Calcavecchia (lifting his provisional ball when it was the ball in play), and Robert Rock (signing for transposed hole scores on the score card he returned). There appears to be mounting criticism that the Rules, governed by the USGA and R&A around the world, have become too numerous, too draconian and too complicated.

Why is it that a large number of Joe or Josephine Publics suppose that rules, not just the Rules of Golf, are primarily made for others and don’t really apply to themselves? Cases in point are exceeding speed limits, parking in restricted areas, incomplete income disclosure on tax returns, exaggerated expense claims and using a mobile phone in the Clubhouse. In golf, it seems that every time we hear of a player being penalised for an infraction of a Rule, a typical reaction is that the officials should have turned a blind eye to it. This is even more obvious if the breach has been reported by a television viewer or on-course spectator, which some claim is unfair, as it means that the more well-known players, who appear on our televisions most regularly, are being scrutinised more closely than the outsiders. I take a different view in that I want every breach of the Rules to be fairly penalised, either by the player calling it upon themselves, which I am pleased to say regularly happens, or by a fellow competitor or observer bringing it to the player/officials attention. Put it this way, I have never got close to winning the Captain’s prize at my Club, but if by some miracle I was to come second and then find out that the winner had breached a Rule and had not been penalised, I would probably be apoplectic. Now this may seem an extreme example, but in my mind, exactly the same principle applies whether the avoidance of a penalty incurred affects the winning of the PGA Championship, as it might have done with Dustin Johnson, or the result of a $2 dollar wager between two hackers. The only way to fairly compete in any sport or game is for the players to be playing to the same Rules. There has to be a level playing field.

So, why are the there so many Rules of Golf and why are they so convoluted? Consider that they have evolved over a period of over 250 years and far from being the creation of a few blue blazers in the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse at St. Andrews they amalgamate the combined experiences of around 140 national affiliated organisations, who in turn reflect the experiences of the Clubs and their members that they represent. The procedure is that if a Golf Committee anywhere in the world has any doubt about a ruling, then a representative of that Committee can submit written details to the USGA (United States and Mexico) or the R&A (anywhere else in the world). These Ruling Bodies receive about 3,000 such requests every year. Naturally, most rulings can be made from the current Rules of Golf or Decisions on the Rules of Golf. However, when a new situation arises, then it will be referred to the Rules of Golf Committee who meet twice a year to discuss any revisions that may be required. After consultation with amateur and professional golfing bodies worldwide revisions may be made to the Decisions, which are published every two years, and/or to the Rules of Golf, which are published every four years. The large number of the Rules and Decisions is therefore a result of the need to provide consistent rulings on any possible situation that may possibly occur, regardless of geographical location, climate, topography, or any outside influences that could pertain.

If you don’t accept the Rules of Golf, as enforced by the USGA and R&A, then whose Rules are you going to use and just as importantly, who are you going to play with? It may be convenient for a regular flight of four players to play to their own ‘casual’ rules, but as soon as they want to play a little more competitively they are going to run into trouble. If you are not playing by all the Rules of Golf, no matter how silly they may appear to you, you are not playing golf.

Finally, let me emphasise some of the many positives that have arisen due to the strict way in which the Rules of Golf are applied;

  • There is one unified set of Rules that applies to every official golf competition worldwide.
  • The game is self-regulated in that players are responsible for knowing the Rules (Rule 6-1) and call any penalties incurred on themselves.
  • The large majority of golf rounds are played without the presence of referees, umpires or officials.
  • In addition to the Rules of Golf there are well-defined matters of etiquette, as a result of which most games are played in a truly sporting manner
  • The practice of ‘sledging’ (verbal insults or intimidation of an opponent) is unheard of in golf.
  • Of all sports, golf is recognised as the one where players are expected to exercise the highest level of integrity.

No Rules, no knowledge; know Rules, know knowledge.

Barry Rhodes

* I am aware that it was actually a PGA Tour byelaw that Jim Furyk breached when he missed his tee time at the Pro-Am. However, this arises from Rule 6-3; “The player must start at the time established by the Committee.”

Barry Rhodes is;

Sunday, 22 August 2010

'Bunker-gate' - Golf is the Winner

18th hole, Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin Aug 8th 2010
Despite the poor quality photo it does resemble a bunker to me!

I sense that there have been several positive outcomes for golf in the wake of ‘Bunker-gate’ at Whistling Straits last week.

The first and most important, is that Dustin Johnson has emerged from the babble of comment, some of it insightful but much of it uninformed, with a heightened respect from everyone that has followed this absorbing sporting controversy. In post-tournament interviews the 26-year-old from South Carolina has accepted that he did make a mistake and has not tried to apportion blame to anyone else. Contrast this with the attitude of professionals in virtually every other sport (especially soccer) where to blame others and avoid any personal responsibility or accountability appears to be the norm. His acceptance that he did unintentionally break a Rule of Golf is a breath of fresh air and means that he joins a long list of his fellow tour professionals in demonstrating why golf is different from all other sports; an admirable role model for the 60 million amateur golfers around the world.

In my opinion, the universal Rules of Golf, and the way in which they were consistently applied without fear or favour by PGA officials, have emerged unscathed. Johnson’s ball was definitely in a bunker, as carefully defined in the detailed Local Rules sheet given to each player prior to the start of the competition, and he incontrovertibly grounded his club twice in that bunker. I applaud the event Rules officials for making the quick, correct decision to bring Johnson’s attention to the penalty he had incurred before he returned his score card, despite the inevitable consequences that they must have realised would follow. It would have been easier to have let it lie, especially when he failed to make the putt that everyone thought would have won him the Championship. Of course, it was 13-4b that was the Rule at issue; if your ball is in a bunker you may not touch the ground in that bunker with your hand or a club. This is the case even if you don’t recognise the area as a hazard. In stroke play the penalty is two strokes. This is obviously the case whether you are playing casual golf, the monthly medal or, as in this case, the closing hole of a major. It is black and white; there can be no exceptions.

A very positive consequence of this episode is that golfers of all abilities (and hopefully even TV commentators) should now be more aware, and therefore more attentive, to familiarising themselves with the Local Rules pertaining. As my previous blog entry emphasised, it is essential for all players to scrutinise the Local Rules in operation before starting a competitive round of golf.

It irritates me when I hear anyone use the term ‘waste bunker’, as I have so many times over the past two weeks. There is no such thing as a ‘waste bunker’ in the Rules of Golf. Any sandy areas that are not bunkers are ‘through the green’. I am hoping that the events at at Whistling Straits will have educated players and golf spectators to realise that this is the case. The players were well aware that there were over 1,200 bunkers in play (an average of 67 per hole!) as every golf writer had mentioned it for weeks beforehand. In fact, a detail that has conveniently been overlooked by many of those that have been criticising the ruling behind this issue, is that there are no sandy waste areas in Whistling Straits, therefore a ball lying in a sandy area has to be in a bunker. This was confirmed by Shona McRae, Manager - Rules of Golf for the R&A on her official Rules blog.

Another likely outcome of bunker-gate is that there will be a better understanding of the role of the Rules Officials that walk with the tour players. They are not referees and nor are they present to try and catch-out the players, imposing on-the-spot penalties. On the contrary, they are encouraged to prevent players from breaching Rules. For example, by intervening if they suspect that they may be about to incur a penalty, or to outline the relief options that are available. Unfortunately, the walking official with Dustin Johnson was preoccupied with crowd control problems and did not get close enough to him to warn him that his ball was in a bunker. Of course, both the player and his caddie knew that he was present and could have/should have asked for a clarification.

My advice to those that still believe that the decision to impose the two stroke penalty on Dustin Johnson was wrong, is to imagine the outrage that would have followed if he had not been appropriately penalised and had gone on to win PGA Championship playoff. I think that it is safe to assume that he would not have wanted his penalty offence to have been ignored. Greg Norman, the Great White Shark, summed it up very succinctly;
“The PGA [of America] made the right decision. The Rules of Golf are the Rules of Golf. The bottom line is it’s the responsibility of the player and it’s the responsibility of the caddie, too.”
Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Stop Press: Juli Inkster was disqualified from the LPGA’s Safeway Classic on Saturday for violating Rule 14-3. Decision 14-3/10, Use of a Training or Swing Aid During Round, states that a player may not make a stroke or practice swing using a club with a weighted headcover or “donut” on it, or use any other device designed as a training or swing aid. Inkster admitted using a weighted device during her 30-minute wait on the 10th tee, providing another reminder that Rule 6-1 states that a player and their caddie are responsible for knowing the Rules.

Barry Rhodes is;
Author of the book: '999 Questions on the Rules of Golf'
Author and narrator of the CD: '99 Golden Nuggets to Demystifying the Rules of Golf'
Content provider for the iPhone application: ‘Golf Rules Quiz’

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Importance of Knowing the Local Rules

A Rules Official gives Dustin Johnson the bad news.
By Gannett Wisconsin Media photo

Coincidentally, I had already drafted this blog entry before the dramatic conclusion to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin on Sunday, when Dustin Johnson was penalised two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker on his 72nd hole, resulting in him not making the playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer, the eventual winner.

As is the custom in major golf tournaments all the competitors had been handed a sheet containing the Local Rules and Conditions of Competition as they checked-in. One of these conditions unambiguously stated;
“All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers [hazards], whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions.”
The organisers even taped an 8" x 11" sheet of paper containing this clarification to the mirrors in the locker rooms. So, you will gather that I have little sympathy for Dustin Johnson, an elite professional golfer who makes a very substantial living from the game, for not knowing, or perhaps forgetting, that he could not ground his club in any of the 1,000 plus bunkers on the Whistling Straights course.

It is Rule 33-8a that permits Committees to make and publish Local Rules for local abnormal conditions, providing they are consistent with the policy established in Appendix l to the Rules book.

Let us consider why it is so important to familiarise yourself with Local Rules by posing a few questions.

If there are no Local Rules in effect;
  1. May you take relief without penalty when your ball comes to rest on a teeing area?
  2. May you remove stones from bunkers?
  3. May you use an artificial device that solely measures distances?
  4. May you use binoculars?
  5. May you take relief from young, staked trees?
  6. May you take relief from woodchip pathways?
  7. May you choose to play from ground under repair rather than take relief?
  8. May you take relief without penalty for a ball embedded in its own pitch-mark in the fairway?
  9. May you take line of putt relief from a sprinkler head located at the edge of a putting green?
  10. May you take relief without penalty if your ball comes to rest in an aeration hole made by a greenkeeper?
Here are the answers. Remember, this is when there are no Local Rules in effect;
  1. May you take relief without penalty when your ball comes to rest on a teeing area? No.
  2. May you remove stones from bunkers? No.
  3. May you use an artificial device that solely measures distances? No.
  4. May you use binoculars? Yes.
  5. May you take relief from young, staked trees? No.
  6. May you take relief from woodchip pathways? Yes.
  7. May you choose to play from ground under repair rather than take relief? Yes.
  8. May you take relief without penalty for a ball embedded in its own pitch-mark in the fairway? Yes.
  9. May you take line of putt relief from a sprinkler head located at the edge of a putting green? No.
  10. May you take relief without penalty if your ball comes to rest in an aeration hole made by a greenkeeper? No.
How many did you get right out of 10?

Now, if the Committee had introduced Local Rules; to prohibit playing from all teeing areas; permitting the removal of stones from bunkers, relief from sprinkler heads located close to putting greens and the use of devices to measure distances only; making it mandatory to take relief from staked trees and GUR; then six of these answers would have been different. I hope that this persuades you that it is imperative to scrutinise the Local Rules before you start a competitive round of golf.

A related point that many players overlook is that if you do not fully comply with a Local Rule then you still incur the penalty. For example, if your ball comes to rest close to a staked tree and there is a Local Rule stating that you must take relief from staked trees, you must ensure that neither your club nor any part of your body touches any part of that tree during your stroke, or you will incur a penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play. This is true even if you have taken relief, but not sufficiently to have avoided the tree during your stroke. That is, you must take full relief from the staked tree that interferes with your stroke.

Knowing the Local Rules and Conditions of Competition that are in effect is essential before commencing any round of golf. Ask Dustin Johnson!

Good Golfing,

Barry Rhodes

There are 20 questions relating to Local Rules in my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’. Order a personally signed copy and have it posted to anywhere in the world for just $19.99 (£12.99, €14.99). This book can help every golfer enjoy their sport more, improve their scores and make the right decisions on the course. Click here for more information.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Moving Another Player's Ball

In recent blogs I covered Rules situations that occur when we accidentally move our own ball in play and purposely touch our ball in play. In this one, I will deal with the rulings for when you move another player’s ball in play.

If you are a competing in a stroke play competition and you, your caddie or your equipment touch another player’s ball, there is no penalty and if the ball is moved it must be replaced (Rule 18-4). This means that there is no breach of the Rules if you lift another player’s ball to identify it, even if neither of you had marked it first. But I am always uneasy when I see this happen. If I am searching for a ball and find one in the rough I will try and read the branding, number and identifying marks without touching it. If the ball is lying in such a position that this is not possible, I then call over the player whose ball it might be and let them mark and identify their ball. I then meet my obligation to all the other competitors in the competition by witnessing that it is replaced in the same lie that it had before it was touched.

In match play, there is no penalty if a player, their caddie or their equipment moves, touches, or causes their opponent’s ball to move while they are searching for it. Rule 18-3a. However, if a match play player’s ball is moved other than during search the opponent who moved the ball does incur a penalty of one stroke (Rule 18-3b). In either case, if the ball is moved it must be replaced.

Then we have the circumstance where a player has played another player’s ball by mistake. You should be aware that playing a wrong ball incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play, and that any strokes made with the wrong ball do not count in the player’s score. But did you know that if the wrong ball belongs to another player only they may place a ball on the spot from which their ball was first played? The relevant words in Rule 15-3b are;
“If the wrong ball belongs to another competitor, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.”
Finally, there are occasions when to save time players will mark another player’s ball on the putting green because it lies close to a line of putt. Strictly speaking, the player should obtain authorisation from the owner of the ball before they mark and lift it. However, as has previously been noted, there is no penalty in stroke play for touching another player’s ball so this courtesy is often overlooked. But there is a penalty for the same action in match play. Decision 20-1/2 confirms that a player who marks and lifts his opponent’s ball on the putting green without authorisation incurs a penalty of one stroke.
Q. In a match between A and B, B, without A's authority, marked the position of, and lifted, A's ball on the putting green. Is B subject to penalty?
A. Yes. Under Rule 20-1, a player's ball may be lifted by his opponent only with the authority of the player. Since B was not entitled to lift A's ball, B incurred a penalty stroke — Rule 18-3b.
Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Have you signed-up for ‘Rhodes Rules School’; a series of weekly emails with Q&As based on photos of various situations that golfers may regularly encounter on the course? There is no charge and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here to subscribe. I am confident that these emails with photos will help you get to understand the Rules better.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Justin Rose and Padraig Harrington Know Their Rules

It is good to know that some tour professionals really do know their Rules of Golf. This was neatly illustrated at the ‘3’ Irish Open in Killarney this week by two separate incidents during the second day’s play.

The first was when Justin Rose’s ball came to rest under a tree on the 15th. Although the tree trunk did not interfere with his intended stroke he had to use a very flat swing to avoid overhanging branches. He was concerned that in executing his stroke he would need to chop down hard at the back of his ball and was concerned that there could be roots under the grass topsoil that could cause him injury. He checked with a referee that he was permitted to test the soil immediately in front of his ball by pushing a tee into the surrounding earth. I could not hear his conversation with the official but I am sure that he concurred that this was permitted providing he did not improve his lie, or line of play. One of the commentators, Wayne Reilly I think, wrongly thought that this amounted to testing the surface and should incur a penalty. Of course, you are not permitted to test the surface of any hazard or putting green but this restriction does not apply anywhere else on the course. So, Justin took out a long tee and pushed it into the ground in front of his ball several times, deduced that there were no underlying roots there and proceeded to punch his ball onto the putting green, going on to save his par. Decision 13-2/27 confirms that Justin got it right;
Q. A player's ball comes to rest through the green in such a position that he believes tree roots or rocks may be just below the surface of the ground. May he, without penalty, probe the area around his ball with a tee or the like to see if his club would strike a root or a rock in the course of making a stroke?

A. Yes, provided the lie of the ball, area of intended stance or swing or the line of play is not improved (Rule 13-2) and the ball is not moved (Rule 18-2). The same principle would apply if the player wishes to probe to determine the presence of an immovable obstruction.
Soon after this incident Padraig Harrington showed that he too knows that the Rules can be used to your advantage. He was having a very difficult round, hitting only 6 fairways out of 15 but had held his score together with some remarkable saves from off the putting green. On the 17th he pushed his ball deep into a gorse bush. I think that most viewers thought that he would have to declare his ball unplayable and take a penalty drop. Padraig obviously knew that he could not improve his stance, area of swing or line of play in the bush but realised that he was able to move parts of it in fairly taking his stance Wisely, he waited until a referee was there before backing into the gorse, realising that there was bound to be someone watching who was itching to call in to say that he had breached a Rule. While he was waiting he donned his wet suit trousers, to protect himself against the thorns. After the round he commented;
“It’s one of those interesting things in golf, (where) sometimes the Rules, especially if you know them, can work in your favour. That’s why I needed the referee there. I wanted to confirm it was all above board and, by the time I had taken a stance, the bush had moved a good two feet. Sometimes you get a good break and sometimes you don’t. I managed to pitch it out,”
Typically, for one of the best 'scramblers' in the world, Harrington muscled his ball through the bush onto the fairway, bounced his next shot through the back of the green and then chipped from there into the hole.

Decision 13-2/1 provides the explanation for “Fairly Taking His Stance”;
Q. Rule 13-2 states that a player must not improve the position or lie of his ball, the area of his intended stance or swing or his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole by moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed (including immovable obstructions and objects defining out of bounds). An exception permits a player to do so in "fairly taking his stance." What is the significance of "fairly"?

A. Without "fairly," the exception would permit improvement of position or lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play by anything that could be said to be taking a stance. The use of "fairly" is intended to limit the player to what is reasonably necessary to take a stance for the selected stroke without unduly improving the position of the ball, his lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play. Thus, in taking his stance for the selected stroke the player should select the least intrusive course of action which results in the minimum improvement in the position or lie of the ball, area of intended stance or swing or line of play. The player is not entitled to a normal stance or swing. He must accommodate the situation in which the ball is found and take a stance as normal as the circumstances permit. What is fair must be determined in the light of all circumstances.
These two incidents at the Irish Open demonstrate that time spent improving your knowledge on the Rules of Golf can save you strokes, and avoid unnecessary penalties. Contrast them with the two players who were disqualified for signing for compensating wrong scores on two holes. Both England's Robert Rock, on the first day, and Scotland's Mark Warren, on the final day, signed for birdie threes at the 13th and par fours on the next instead of the other way round. Expensive and in my opinion inexcusable mistakes for two players who make their living by playing golf.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Have you signed-up for ‘Rhodes Rules School’; a series of weekly emails with Q&As based on photos of various situations that golfers may regularly encounter on the course? There is no charge and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here to subscribe. I am confident that these emails, with the associated photos, will help you understand the Rules better.