US golfer, Webb Simpson, was involved in two separate Rules incidents at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last Sunday. The first is one that crops up regularly. Simpson, who was leading by a shot on the 15th hole of the final day, had addressed his ball lying less than a foot from the hole, when it moved a couple of millimeters. He is reported as saying that it was “probably caused by wind, combined with relatively dry and hard greens”. In fact, because he had completed his address of the ball (by taking his stance and grounding his club on the putting green), the ruling is the same whether it was him that caused his ball to move, or whether it was wind or gravity that moved it. He incurs a penalty of one stroke and must replace the ball. Simpson correctly called his penalty, which cost him dearly; as he went on to lose the tournament in a play-off to Bubba Watson. The most interesting aspect of this incident is that on the following day Thomas O'Toole, Vice President of The USGA, said that a possible change to this Rule has been under consideration with the R&A for at least seven years and that there will be continuing talks to modify it, with any change taking place at the start of 2012. It is not often that the USGA/R&A flag upcoming changes to their 4-yearly revisions to the Rules, so it would seem highly likely that there is going to be a change to Rule 18-2b. Here is the relevant excerpt of O’Toole’s address, taken from the transcript of the media day held at Congressional Country Club at Bethesda;
“Suffice it to say that Rule 18(2)(b) is a long-standing Rule that if the ball moves after a player addresses it, the Rules deem that that player has caused that ball to move. I happen to have been a member of the USGA Rules of Golf Committee since 2004, the prior Rules cycle. Glen Nager and I have been members of our joint Rules Committee in this entire rules cycle since 2008, and I can tell you that this subject has been a point of discussion in both Rules cycles. In fact, subject to such approvals that will occur hopefully in the coming months between our USGA Executive Committee and the Royal & Ancient Rules Limited that there is a proposed change to Rule 18(2)(b), which is a new exception under that Rule, which is if it was known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, then the Rule under 18(2)(b) does not apply. In other words, if some other agency, wind or gravity, was known to cause that ball to move, no penalty would be applied to that player.”I see this as a very welcome proposed change to the Rules. I have always thought that it was arbitrary that a player can incur a penalty for something that is completely outside of their control. In the meantime, when it is windy or if your ball is lying on a slope of a putting green, remember that you cannot be deemed to have moved your ball without touching it if you have not grounded your club.
The second incident is a little more controversial. On the first play-off hole against Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson was correctly taking relief from a greenside sprinkler. Because his first two drops resulted in his ball rolling down the slope to an invalid position he was entitled to place his ball on the spot where his ball hit the ground on his second drop. Now, take a look at what happened next.
For those receiving this blog by email click here to view the videoWell, what do you think? Was his Simpson’s ball at rest after he placed it the first time? If it was, then he should not have picked it up to place it again and incurred a penalty of one stroke for doing so. Of course, it did not matter as he lost the play-off anyway, but I am sure that there would have been complaints if he had gone on to win. Having viewed the clip several times my impression is that the ball had indeed come to rest after the first placement but did so after settling down into the grass. I suspect that Simpson took a second to realise that his ball was not sitting well and (wrongly) picked-it up again.
Have you used the search feature at the top right hand corner of my home page? This is a very useful tool that makes it easy to locate previous subjects that you are interested in from over two years of my blogs on the Rules. For example, if you enter “Graeme McDowell” in the search box and click on ‘search’ you will see that he has featured in five of my blog entries. The next time you have a query on the Rules, or are trying to remember an incident on the Tours, use the search box to see if I have covered it.