Monday, 7 February 2011

Rules Controversy Upsets Karrie Webb

Karrie Webb - Photo:

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 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.

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Anonymous said...

Dear Barry,

A mark on the putting green, behind the ball or beyond the hole along the line of putt, can also be used to help player align their putt. The spirit of 8-2b is that player should not placed any mark on the putting green to assist his alignment of the putt.

If Karrie merely placed a tee behind the ball market without leaving a mark, she have not breached 8-2b. But if she has inserted the tee into the putting surface and leaving a mark after removing it, she has breached 8-2b as "a mark must not be placed anywhere to indicate a line for putting".

best regards
YT Han

Barry Rhodes said...

YT Han,

I fully accept what you are saying. However, it is my understanding that Karrie Webb did not insert the tee into the putting surface. Reading her quoted words, it appears that she lay the tee on the ground, behind her ball-marker, pointing the line of her intended putt, so that she could check this from a distance away, presumably from the other side of the hole. Apparently, this is common practice amongst lady players on the Pro Tours. I don't think that there is any suggestion that she left the tee there whilst taking her putt.

Of course, you have raised another point in that many players at amateur level use a tee to mark their ball (as permitted though not recommended in Decision 20-1/16), but I have never heard of anyone being penalised under Rule 8-2b, because they did so in order to leave a mark indicating their line of putt when they removed it.


Anonymous said...

The description and ruling here is good, and I believe correct. It is my understanding that a tee may be used as a ball marker (instead of a flat marker). Indeed, I have seen a flyer from a golf body which suggests that even the toe of the putter may be used, as long as it does not move whilst the ball is not in position. The use of a tee as a marker is a very common occurrence amongst club golfers.
However, with the ruling regarding 'line of putt', it is also my understanding that the ball marker may be placed to the side, or even to the front of the ball (therefore on the 'line of putt'), as long as the ball is replaced in the same position. Perhaps you could clarify this and, if correct, provide a response of how this sits with the ruling regarding Karrie Webb last weekend and the 'line of putt'.

Don Munro said...

I must say that this one sure surprised me.
In all my years, I have never seen anyone do this, nor to be honest, have I ever seen one of the LPGA players do it on TV... maybe it's a new fad this year :-)
I'll have to watch for it in the events that I officiate.

thanks, as always

Barry Rhodes said...


Decision 20-1/16 confirms that you may use a tee (or the toe of a putter) as a ball-marker, though this is to be discouraged. Decision 20-1/19 confirms that you may mark a ball to the side or even in front of a ball, providing nothing is done that might influence the movement of the ball when played, such as pressing it down to flatten a tuft of grass.

Neither of these Decisions affected the Karrie Webb incident as she had used a traditional ball-marker to mark her ball and then laid the tee along the ground pointing in the direction of her intended putt. She did not touch the line of putt, as this obviously starts at where the ball is to be replaced, and she picked-up her tee before putting, therefore not leaving a mark to assist her direction of putt.


courtgolf said...

I have never seen anyone use a tee during tournament play - only during a friendly round when a regular marker wasn't handy.

What confuses me is the talk of leaving a mark behind the ball and thinking that it somehow can be used to align the ball since the putter would be sitting on top of any mark. A tee sized hole behind the ball is no more or less useful than any piece of grass or anything else visible behind the ball.

Barry Rhodes said...


I think that the point here is that some people were assuming that Karrie Webb was leaving her tee, laid on the putting green behind her ball, while making her putt. This is incorrect. Karrie picked-up her tee and ball-marker before putting. She only used the tee so that she could see her ball-marker from some distance away on the other side of the hole.


Anonymous said...

What is the difference between a tee or a putter (lined up behind the ball) to identify the line of know that is what the player is doing.

Anonymous said...

A tee used to mark the ball marker as per Webb's explanation, is still the player's 'equipment' as it is not being used to mark the position of the ball. If it were a match and an opponent struck the tee, they would have the right to cancel their stroke and replay it.

Barry Rhodes said...


No, this is a common misunderstanding amongst club players. A tee used to mark a ball is not player's equipment. Part of the Definition of Equipment states;

"Equipment" is anything used, worn or carried by the player or anything carried for the player by his partner or either of their caddies, except any ball he has played at the hole being played and any small object, such as a coin or a tee, when used to mark the position of a ball.

Decision 20-1/17 confirms;

Q. In a match, B used a wooden tee to mark the position of his ball. A's ball was deflected by the tee. What is the ruling?

A. The tee was not B's equipment — see Definition of "Equipment." There is no penalty. A must play his ball as it lies.

A should have requested B to move the tee one or more clubhead-lengths to the side or to mark the position of his ball with a ball-marker, a small coin or other similar object — see Note under Rule 20-1.


Anonymous said...

No but Karrie was saying it was being placed behind the ball marker, not the ball - so she could see the place where the ball marker was fom the other side of the green. Therefore it is not being ued to mark the position of the ball and therefore remains equipment. There was a similar question on trh USGA Rules quiz a few years ago.

Barry Rhodes said...


I do understand what you are saying, re a tee being used to mark a ball marker, but don't think that it is relevant, as Karrie Webb only used this method when it was her turn to putt and obviously picked-up both her tee and her ball marker before she, or any other player, made their stroke.


In the grip of the game said...

Barry, I have just found your site; working my way through the back catalogue. I know that unconventional markers have been used in the past; Brian Barnes used a beer bottle or can in a brewery sponsored event, back in the mid-70s, so in the following case I chose to say nothing.

In an open competition 2-3 years ago one of my fellow competitors used an oblong, retractable, groove cleaner gadget to mark the position of his ball and then proceeded to sight along it in a press-up position.

In my opinion, the shape of that chosen ball marker changes it from its intended function of not obstructing another player’s line of play to that of an artificial aid. However, as you have stated, there are no prohibited objects or shapes, as long as they don’t damage the surface.

People bang on and on about slow play.

I personally would allow players to mark, clean & immediately replace their ball, upon first reaching the green. The ball not to be lifted again until holed, unless obstructing another player’s line of play, classified as a corridor of a half a club length each side of his intended line, extending approximately half the distance of his putt past the hole, and in those cases it cannot be cleaned [as per 2 balls in proximity elsewhere on the course.]

Barry Rhodes said...

In the grip of the game,

An interesting suggestion, but not one that I would subscribe to; nor do I think that it is practical. I am all for speeding up play, but do not think that this would help.



Steve said...

Hi Barry,
Just came across your site and although this is long after your original conversations I am curious about your comment to "grip of the game". Why would you not subscribe to or think it's practical to leave the ball down while others putt out? Of course a ball would have to be marked if it was close enough to another players line of putt. You say you don't think this would help to speed up play but you didn't give your reasons?

How can it not speed up play by allowing others to have their ball on the green so they can line up their putts while another player is putting? Personally I don't find another's ball on the green distracting but certainly players moving is. As long as they are still while crouching down and reading their putt it has to speed up play rather than waiting for them to put the ball down, go back and crouch down, read the putt. All that will have been done already so they can just get up and hit it.

As far as I know there is no rule to prevent you from doing so? If you use a tee to mark, for example, to mark your ball. Is there any rule that states you can not read your putt with it, as though you would normally read your putt with the ball down?

Thank you for your thoughts and insight,

Barry Rhodes said...


I am pleased that you have found my site and are obviously interested enough to be going through some of my past blogs and the ensuing comments.

I don't think that I am alone in thinking the suggestion made by 'in the grip of the game' that a player may only lift their ball once on the putting green is totally impractical. Balls may pick up grass as they roll and require to be cleaned for accuracy; many players, including myself, align their ball for each putt; some players do not like to putt out when their ball is near the hole but not within tap-in distance, preferring to wait their turn; other players are distracted by seeing another player's ball on their eyeline, even if it is not on their line of putt. Also, I think that the 'corridor' suggestion could actually waste time, with players measuring the half-a-club (does this include long-handled putters?) and arguing over it. We would all like the Rules need to be simplified, not made more complicated.

Players can, and should, line up their putts while others are doing the same and preparing to putt, taking care not to distract them as they make their stroke. There is certainly no Rule that prevents them from doing so, whether they are using their ball, a tee, or other type of ball-marker to do so. In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to speed up play on putting greens.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent 'grips' suggestions, or yours, from being adopted by the golfers in your groups, but remember that the Rules of Golf are unified for every player worldwide; so new Rules cannot be introduced for Club players that do not also apply to professional tour players.


Steve said...

Hey Barry,

Great to hear back from you regarding this old topic and my post. I absolutely agree with you and all the rules of golf. Forcing ball down on the green until holed doesn't make sense nor does measuring out tin cup alley.

My point really relates to the first putt that is often some distance from the hole whereas the second and hopefully not a third putt are close to the hole. These putts usually need much less time to read and line up but that first putt can be over hills and through valleys thereby needing more time. Therefore it definitely makes sense and speeds play to have 3 guys reading putts from 20 - 30 feet or whatever but still surprises me watching guys just waiting for their turn to begin. I appreciate there are times you just have to wait because of close proximity.

As far as someones marker being a distraction, you see them all these days. From standard small markers to poker chips, silver dollars or whatever. Unless it is close to a players putting line I don't think we should be getting distracted because some guy is using a neon colored marker somewhere out in our peripheral vision.

I do think those of us that are amateurs, pretty much every one of us, need to get over ourselves and not worry about being distracted over some marker or ball on the green 4 feet outside our line that happens to catch our eye. In the name of speeding up play I think if we spent more time reading our putts while waiting for our turn and being ready to putt we could collectively save about 2 minutes a hole and maybe shave 20 minutes to half an hour off a round. If every foursome did that, imagine the norm becoming 3 1/2 hours instead of
4 to 4 1/2 hour rounds. As you know, slow play is the biggest complaint among players (next to their score).

Do you think using a tee or a divot tool as a ball marker goes against the rules as a ball marker in relation to damaging the surface? They are used all the time but in theory they are putting holes in the green. Personally I don't see it as damage but what does the USGA say? I don't see how tiny holes could be considered alignment aids.

Interested in your thoughts. Thanks Barry!


Barry Rhodes said...


I do agree with most of what you say, but will stick to interpreting the Rules of Golf, rather than commenting on how golfers should conduct themselves re slow play.

Decision 20-1/16 rules that a tee pressed into the green as a aball-marker is permissible, though not recommended. Following this principle the ruling would be the same for a pitch repairer.