Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Penalty for Being Late on the First Tee

Photo: Jim Cook

Dustin Johnson, the victim of the ‘Bunkergate’ ruling last year, was involved in another Rules infraction last week in the first round of the PGA Northern Trust Open in California. Johnson was in the middle of his warm-up routine on the range, thinking that he had 30 minutes before his tee-off time, when a PGA Tour official ran over to tell him he was supposed to be on the first tee, located up a 100-foot slope next to the historic clubhouse. He raced up the hill, arriving 4 minutes and fifty seconds after his official tee time of 7.32 am.

Rule 6-1 states;

The player must start at the time established by the Committee.
Penalty for Breach of Rule 6-3: Disqualification.
However, there is a Note to this Rule;
The Committee may provide, in the conditions of a competition (Rule 33-1), that if the player arrives at his starting point, ready to play, within five minutes after his starting time, in the absence of circumstances that warrant waiving the penalty of disqualification as provided in Rule 33-7, the penalty for failure to start on time is loss of the first hole in match play or two strokes at the first hole in stroke play instead of disqualification.
Apparently, the PGA Tour invokes this Condition of Competition and so Johnson was only penalised two strokes, turning his par 5 for the first hole to a double bogey 7. He then went on to bogey the second hole and double bogey the 4th, demonstrating what many of us have experienced ourselves, that it doesn’t help your game when you rush on to the first tee. It later transpired that Johnson routinely leaves his starting times to his caddy, Bobby Brown, who did take total blame for the mix-up that led to the penalty.

There was a bizarre twist to this story when Golf Channel reporter, Jim Gray, went out on the course to interview Johnson about the blunder, in the middle of his round. Naturally, caddy Brown objected and after the round the two got into a heated, profanity-laced discussion over the incident. Gray was immediately removed from the coverage of the Northern Trust Open and some reports suggest that it could be the last time the freelance reporter will be seen on Golf Channel, who obviously did not approve of his actions on and off the course.

It is easy to criticise Dustin Johnson, a high-profile career golfer, for being late on the first tee; I am sure that not all the professionals leave it to their caddies to get them there on time. However, perhaps we can benefit by scrutinising our own habits in this regard. There are many good reasons to arrive at the course well in advance of your tee time and disqualification from the competition is just one of them. Apart from the fact that we are more likely to find our A-game if we do some stretches, practice putting and swinging, read the Local Rules and arrive on the first tee in a relaxed state, we also owe it to our fellow competitors not to delay their game in any way.

Good golfing,

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Friday, 18 February 2011

Jaidee Gets Lucky re Local Rules

[First, I must draw the attention of those of you that receive my blogs by email to the fact that I made a mistake in last week’s item relating to the Tiger Woods spitting incident, which I have since corrected. Several readers kindly pointed out that Decision 25/6 specifically deals with the status of saliva, which can be treated either as a loose impediment or an abnormal ground condition. Isn’t it wonderful that the Rules of Golf cover (almost) every imaginable situation that we may experience on the course?]

This week there were at least two more high-earning, professional golfers who failed to read the Local Rules before commencing their rounds. This time it was at the Avantha Masters European Tour event, played at the DLF and Country Club, New Delhi, India.

On the 13th hole of his first round, the Thai golfer, Thongchai Jaidee, struck his tee shot off one of the giant light poles that line the course. When he walked up to his ball he saw that the floodlight infrastructure was on his line of play and asked the walking official for a free drop, which was rightly refused, as it was not a temporary immovable obstruction (TIO) from which tour pros do get relief under their Conditions of  Competitions. In his anger and frustration, and presumably trying to make a point about the unfairness of the ruling he had received, Jaidee purposely struck two shots against the utility panel of the light box, both of which rebounded back past his head.

[See the update at the end of this piece]

When he did eventually get his ball onto the putting green an on-course commentator informed him of the Local Rule that states that a ball that hits the light posts must be played again, similar to the Local Rule that many courses have relating to overhead power lines. Because he had not holed out, Jaidee was entitled to return to the teeing ground and start again, without penalty, eventually scoring a bogey 5. Had he teed off at the next hole without correcting the error he would have had to add two penalty strokes to the large number of strokes that he had already accumulated on the hole.

Those of you viewing this blog online can view this incident on this short video. For those on email click here and scroll down to the video.

Video courtesy of European Tour and AussieGolfer.net

On the same day, Indian favourite, Jeev Milkha Singh, whose drive on the 13th also hit the floodlight tower, was not so lucky. He said;
“I should have replayed that stroke as per the Local Rules but having overlooked that particular clause in the Local Rules, I went on to play my second shot from the spot where the ball had landed after rebounding off the pole. That error cost me a two-stroke penalty.”
Singh could not return to the teeing ground to start the hole again because he had teed off on the next hole before he was made aware that he should have re-teed his drive. His two strokes penalty was for breaching the Local Rule.

Tip for today (and for every time that you play a new course), read those Local Rules!!!

[Edit 19th February 2011: It appears thet the early reports of the Jaidee incident were incorrect. I have today received an explanation of what really happened from a subscriber who was in the know. After Jaidee hit his tee shot neither he nor the Thai Rules Official knew that it had hit the floodlight structure. The official was correct in denying relief for line of sight intervention. Jaidee then played his next stroke as close to the utility panel of the light box as he could, knowing that if he hit the structure the stroke would be cancelled. This happened twice before he just cleared it at his third attempt. Then as he got to the putting green it was confirmed that his drive from the teeing ground had struck the floodlights and he therefore had to return there to play his first stroke again, with all his strokes on the hole cancelled and no penalty. Apparently Decision 15/10 was referred to to confirm this. My apologies to Thongchai Jaidee for mis-reporting the facts and for suggesting that he had hit his second and third strokes in anger.]
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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Tiger Woods Fined for Spitting

Warning: Not suitable for the easily upset at .03 seconds!
Apologies for the poor sound reproduction.
If you are receiving this blog by email click here for the video.

For someone who openly aspires to emulate and surpass the playing records of the golfing greats Tiger Woods doesn’t come close to most of them when it comes to his conduct, both on and off the course. Leaving aside his over-exposed personal life problems, it seems that f-bombs, club-throwing, scowling and spitting are all too frequently a part of his golf game. What a shame for someone who is undoubtedly an icon and role model for thousands of children of all nationalities. 

As you know, this blog is more interested in the operation of the Rules of Golf than in the rules of social behaviour. So, is there anything in the Rules book that is relevant to this unsavoury episode? Unfortunately, players who spit on the course cannot directly be penalised under any of the 34 Rules of Golf, or the 1200+ Decisions that clarify them. Some may argue that a Committee could disqualify a player who ejaculates their saliva onto the course for a serious breach of etiquette, but the only Decision on this element of Rule 33-7 seems to indicate that disqualification would not be warranted, particularly if no previous admonition had been given
33-7/8 Meaning of "Serious Breach of Etiquette"
Q. In Rule 33-7, what is meant by a "serious breach of etiquette"?
A. A serious breach of etiquette is behavior by a player that shows a significant disregard for an aspect of the Etiquette Section, such as intentionally distracting another player or intentionally offending someone.
Although a Committee may disqualify a player under Rule 33-7 for a single act that it considers to be a serious breach of etiquette, in most cases it is recommended that such a penalty should be imposed only in the event of a further serious breach.
Ultimately, the application of a penalty for a serious breach of etiquette under Rule 33-7 is at the discretion of the Committee.
The only other related Rule that I can think of, is whether a player may take relief if his ball comes to rest on another player’s spit (my apologies for the unpleasant image that this may invoke). [Edit 18th February, thanks to Barbara O’Keeffe] Decision 2/6 states;
Q. What is the status of saliva?
A. In equity (Rule 1-4), saliva may be treated as either an abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1) or a loose impediment (Rule 23-1), at the option of the player.
So, through the green, or in a bunker, a player whose ball lies on saliva may choose to drop their ball at the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole. When the player’s ball is on the putting green, they may mark their ball, lift and clean it, remove the spittle from the putting surface and replace it. Or, they can choose to place their ball at the nearest point that avoids the saliva, not nearer the hole. If their ball is on the putting green and the saliva is on their line of putt they may place their ball at the nearest point, not nearer the hole, that avoids them putting through this most abnormal ground condition.

It is reported that The European Tour has fined Tiger Woods for his deplorable action in Dubai, but like most of the fines that are imposed on Professional Tour golfers they will not confirm the amount. Not that any pecuniary fine is likely to bother someone who reportedly ‘earned’ over $3 million just for turning up at the Dubai Desert Classic.

I leave the last word on Woods’ offensive behaviour to the excellent British Sky Sports golf reporter, Ewen Murray, whose scathing on-air comment was;
“Somebody now has to come behind him and maybe putt over his spit. It does not get much lower than that.”
Good golfing,

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Monday, 7 February 2011

Rules Controversy Upsets Karrie Webb

Karrie Webb - Photo: www.zimbio.com

There was an unusual Rules incident last Saturday, at the ISPS Handa Women´s Australian Open at the Commonwealth Golf Club, Melbourne, which rather strangely is a Ladies European Tour event. Karrie Webb, Australia’s top-ranked player, was apparently asked by a Golf Australia Rules Official to explain why she had lined up a tee behind her ball marker on the putting greens. When she asked them what Rule they thought that she might be breaching they could not tell her, so naturally she wasn’t very happy at their handling of the situation. The obvious implication was that they thought that she was cheating in some way.
''I think it was really badly handled, actually,'' Webb said. ''They didn't check at first. They told me I'd breached a rule but they couldn't tell me which rule I'd breached. Then, after I came in and finished my playing partner's scorecard, they asked me why I do it. That's why it was handled poorly. I was trying to get what ruling I could have breached. They couldn't tell me what ruling because it wasn't in the Decisions book and it wasn't in the Rules of Golf.

'They said they called the R&A, and then I asked [playing partner] Christina Kim how many people on the LPGA put a tee behind the ball, and she said: 'About 70 per cent.' That was the end of the issue. I don't know why Christina Kim's word was taken more than mine.''
So, why does Karrie sometimes lay a tee behind her ball-marker on the greens?
''It is for pace of play. My marker is not all that shiny, and sometimes it sits quite flush to the green, so it's hard to see on the other side of the hole.”
There is nothing in the Rules that disallows this practice, providing the tee is not specifically aligned to the intended line of putt and is removed before the putt is made. Rule 8-2b states;
When the player's ball is on the putting green, the player, his partner or either of their caddies may, before but not during the stroke, point out a line for putting, but in so doing the putting green must not be touched. A mark must not be placed anywhere to indicate a line for putting.
[edited 13th February, 2011] Emily Kay of www.Examiner.com gave a good explanation of how Webb could possibly have been breaking a Rule;
"So if she points the tee in the direction of the line of the putt and uses it to help in identifying that line, then it is illegal. If she is placing it behind the marker just because she can't see her marker, then it is OK. The fact that it is pointed in the direction of the hole is only incidental."
Despite her upset at the end of the third round, the popular Queenslander, a seven-time major championship winner, finished the tournament at five-under-par, tied for seventh place.

Have you subscribed to ‘Rhodes Rules School’, a series of weekly emails where I use photographs to illustrate rulings regularly encountered by golfers on the course?  If not, I recommend that you do so now as it is a great way to get to understand the Rules better. There is no charge (yes each issue is totally free) and you can unsubscribe at any time. Click here and join over 5,000 other satisfied subscribers.