Sunday, 26 June 2011

Miscellaneous Questions on the Rules of Golf

The day after Rory McIlroy’s epic win at the Congressional a reader wrote to me with this observation;
“There was a situation last night when Rory swept the putting green ‘line of putt’ with his hand (palm side I thought).  Can’t remember the hole but it was in the middle of the round.  Looked strange to me at the time but nobody commented on it so I assume it was okay.”
I was able to assure him that no penalty had been incurred. He was simply removing loose impediments from his line of putt (e.g. sand, seeds or leaves) and that can be done by any means providing nothing is pressed down (Decision 23-1/1). Strangely, you may even carry a brush to sweep away loose imediments on your line of putt, though I must quickly add that I have never seen anyone do so, nor would I approve of it.

I had a phone call from my own Club this week. On the 7th hole of an inter-club four-ball match it was realised that one of the players was carrying 15 clubs in her bag. They knew that a penalty had been incurred but was it only to the player, or to her partner as well, and how was the penalty to be applied? This is not quite as simple as it may at first appear. The penalty for starting a round with more than 14 clubs in match play, regardless of number of excess clubs carried, is not incurred until the conclusion of the hole at which the breach is discovered. Then the state of the match is adjusted by deducting one hole for each hole at which a breach occurred, with a maximum deduction of two holes per round (Rule 4-4a). The loss of hole penalty is not applied to a specific hole, but to the state of the match at the conclusion of the hole at which the breach is discovered, Simply stated, this means that if the breach is discovered before anyone tees off at the second hole the offending player is one hole worse off that they would otherwise be, (i.e. 1 down becomes 2 down, all square becomes 1 down, 1 up becomes all square). At any other time during the round the offending player is two holes worse off that they would otherwise be. Rule 30-3d confirms that in four-balls it is the side that is penalised and not just the player who is carrying the extra club(s).

Here are three more recent questions;

Question: On the putting green, if a player is standing immediately behind you or directly in front of you (i.e. on the far side of the hole), so as to get a close look at your line of putt, can they be penalised, or is it just a breach of etiquette?

Answer: A penalty is incurred if a caddie, or a partner in a four-ball competition, stands behind you while you putt (Rule 14-2). However, there is no penalty if a fellow competitor or opponent stands either behind you or behind the hole. It is up to the player to ask them to move, pointing out that it is good etiquette to do so. If they refuse, the circumstances should be reported to the Committee for them to take whatever action they think is appropriate.

Question: Where in the rules does it say you can mark clean and replace your golf ball on the green from the same place more than once?
Answer: Rule 16-1b states that a ball on the putting green may be lifted and, if desired, cleaned. Nowhere in the Rules does it state that this only applies once. In fact, there are several Decisions that confirm that a player may repeat the action more than once (e.g. Decision 16-1b/1).
Question: Our matches are always match play with plenty of parents spectating. Can a spectator intervene if a Rule is about to be broken; for instance if a drop is being taken incorrectly?

Answer: Spectators may certainly step in to prevent a Rule being broken. Information on the Rules is not advice. I encourage players in stroke play competitions to stop a fellow competitor breaking a Rule, but they have to remember that they can only state what the options are; they may not suggest which option is best in the circumstances prevailing.
Finally, I was asked about a situation where a player who had asked for the flagstick to be removed chipped his ball directly into the hole where it hit the bottom and bounced straight out again. The player argued that the ball was holed because it had touched the base of the cup and there was no Rule or Decision to contradict this. I was able to confirm that the ball was not holed because it did not come to rest below the level of the lip of the hole, as required by the Definition of 'Holed'. Often it is unnecessary to confirm an unusual occurrence with a Decision because the Rule or Definition is sufficiently clear.

Good golfing,

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Monday, 20 June 2011

The Line of Putt

I have to start by congratulating Irish golfer, Rory McIlroy, on his eight strokes US Open win. Fantastic, and there has to be a lot more to come. Also, I would like to applaud his caddie, Dubliner JP Fitzgerald, who received a lot of criticism for ‘allowing’ Rory’s meltdown at the 4th round in Augusta. He shared the pain then and it is good to see that he is now able to share the spoils of a great victory.

In my last blog I discussed the four ‘line ofs’ in golf and I thought that it might be useful to expand on another one of them, the line of putt.

The Definition of Line of Putt is;

The "line of putt" is the line that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke on the putting green. Except with respect to Rule 16-1e, the line of putt includes a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line. The line of putt does not extend beyond the hole.
The reason why it is important for a player to understand the extent of their line of putt is because Rule 16-1a states that the line of putt must not be touched. Fortunately, there are seven exceptions to this Rule, which are;
(i) the player may remove loose impediments, provided he does not press anything down (loose impediments may be removed by any means, e.g. with the putter head, a glove, the back of a hand, or even with a brush!)
(ii) the player may place the club in front of the ball when addressing it, provided he does not press anything down (this is a practice sometimes used by players as part of their putting routine)
(iii) in measuring - Rule 18-6 (e.g. to see whose ball is further from the hole)
(iv) in lifting or replacing the ball - Rule 16-1b
(v) in pressing down a ball-marker
(vi) in repairing old hole plugs or ball marks on the putting green - Rule 16-1c (but remember that no other damage to the putting green may be repaired on the line of putt, e.g. spike marks or flagstick damage)
(vii) in removing movable obstructions - Rule 24-1 (remember that if you accidentally move your ball while removing anything from the putting green, whether it is natural or artificial, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced, Rules 23-1 and 24-1a).
Decision 16-1a/5 rules on a situation that many players may experience when there is damage to the lip of a hole, often caused by the clumsy replacement of the flagstick. In this situation the player may only repair damage that has clearly been made by a ball (i.e. a pitch-mark). If the player touches the inside of a hole for any other reason they incur the general penalty under Rule 16-1. This confirms that the line of putt includes the hole itself.

Decision 16-1a/12 rules that if a player walks on their line of putt there is no penalty if they did so accidentally and the act did not improve their line. However, if a fellow-competitor or opponent accidentally steps on and damages the player's line of putt there is no penalty. In equity, the player may have the line of putt restored to its original condition, because one of the principles of the Rules of Golf is that the player is entitled to the lie and line of putt they had when their ball came to rest.

Good golfing,

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Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lines of Flight, Play, Putt and Drop

(edited 13th June 2011) It is surprising how many golfers play for years without fully understanding vital aspects of the Rules of Golf. For example, this is a typical extract from emails that I receive;
“Thank you, Barry. I discovered you on YouTube, and for the first time in years I got what is meant by water hazard and lateral water hazard. You are very articulate in you explanation of the rules. I must have read this rule a million times, but could not get it; but now I do. So thank you for that.” He was referring to these videos; Relief from Water Hazard, Relief from Lateral Water Hazard.
With regard to this subject of water hazards there seems to be a widespread misunderstanding that the line of flight of a ball from the club-face to where the ball comes to rest is relevant to where a player may drop their ball. This is wrong, although the point where the ball last crossed the margin of a (lateral) water hazard, abnormal ground condition or obstruction, may be relevant to whether certain options for relief are available. Perhaps some misunderstandings arise because the term ‘line of flight’, which is not used in the Rules, is misunderstood. For this reason I am going to try and clarify the difference between four ‘line ofs’;

Line of Flight: is the path that a ball takes from the time it is struck until the time it comes to rest. The only part of the line of flight that may be relevant in the Rules is where the ball last crossed a margin, so that the correct place to drop can be determined when taking relief for a ball that is inside the margin of a (lateral) water hazard (Rule 26-1b and c), for a ball that is lost in an abnormal ground condition (Rule 25-1c), or for a ball that is lost in an obstruction (Rule 24-3). 

Line of Play: is the direction that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke, plus a reasonable distance on either side of the intended direction. The line of play extends vertically upwards from the ground, but does not extend beyond the hole.

  • The Rules do not provide relief for immovable obstructions on the line of play. Players sometimes think otherwise because they hear TV commentators saying that a player is getting line of play relief. However, this is because tour events have a Condition of Competition affording relief from Temporary Immovable Obstructions (TIOs). Examples of TIOs include, but are not limited to, tents, scoreboards, grandstands, television towers and lavatories.
  • When irrigation sprinklers are located close to a putting green Committees will often introduce a Local Rule providing line of play relief from them. Typically, this is when the ball lies off the putting green, but not in a hazard, within two club-lengths of a sprinkler head that intervenes on the player’s line of play and which is also located within two club-lengths of the putting green.
  • Except on the putting green, a player may have the line of play indicated to him by anyone, but no one may be positioned by the player on or close to the line, or an extension of the line beyond the hole, while the stroke is being made. Any mark placed by the player or with his knowledge to indicate the line must be removed before the stroke is made, Rule 8-2a.
Line of Putt: is the line that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke on the putting green plus a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line. The line of putt does not extend beyond the hole. 
  • 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, Rule 8-2b.
  • The player must not make a stroke on the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball, Rule 16-1e.
Line of Drop: is the line on which a player may drop a ball when taking relief from a water hazard or lateral water hazard (Rule 26-1b), or when they have deemed their ball unplayable (Rule 28b).
  • If a player’s ball lies within the margins of a (lateral) water hazard and they choose this option, under penalty of one stroke they may drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped;
  • If a player deems their ball unplayable and chooses this option, under penalty of one stroke they may drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay, keeping that point directly between the hole (flagstick) and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped.
I hope that this clarifies that the line of flight, which is the actual path of the ball through the air, may be very different from the line of play, which is the intended path of the ball through the air. Usually, the worse the stroke the bigger the difference!

Good golfing,

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Friday, 3 June 2011

Joost Luiten Is Disqualified for Signing for an Incorrect Score

Photo: Golf Turismo

If only Dutch golfer, Joost Luiten, had been a subscriber to my ‘Rhodes Rules School’ series he may have avoided disqualification after the first round of the Memorial Tournament for signing an incorrect score card. In issue No.3 I pointed out that a ball that touches a water hazard stake or line is in the hazard. I am sure that he already knew that when a ball is in a water hazard a player may not ground their club in that hazard. Here is the sequence of events that led to his disqualification, as I understand them;
  • Luiten’s ball came to rest with part of it touching a red line defining the margin of a lateral water hazard.
  • As he settled into his stance his ball moved.
  • He notified his playing competitor, Bobby Gates, and a walking Rules official.
  • Having not been informed that the ball was touching the hazard line the Rules official determined that because Luiten had not grounded his club no penalty had been incurred.
  • Later, the Rules official received more accurate information about the position of Luiten’s ball when it moved, confirming that it was touching the hazard line, an important fact that had not been conveyed to him by the player.
  • The official informed the Dutchman that because his ball was in the hazard, he had committed two Rules infractions: one for the ball moving after address (Rule 18-2b) and one for playing from the wrong place (Rule 20-7c). 
  • Because Luiten had signed and returned his score card without including the penalty incurred of two strokes he was disqualified.
I have spelled out this sequence because I have seen differing versions of this incident, particularly from Golf Channel reporter, Rex Hoggard, who reported that Luiten’s ball was in a bunker!

There are four rulings involved here; first when any part of a ball touches the hazard it is considered to be in the hazard; second, when a ball lies in a hazard you have addressed the ball as soon as you have taken your stance (because you are not permitted to ground your club in a bunker); third, if your ball moves after you have addressed it, but before you have made a stroke at it, there is a penalty of one stoke and the ball must be replaced; fourth, the total penalty incurred is two strokes, not three, because of this penalty statement included in Rule 18;
If a player who is required to replace a ball fails to do so, or if he makes a stroke at a ball substituted under Rule 18 when such substitution is not permitted, he incurs the general penalty for breach of Rule 18, but there is no additional penalty under this Rule.
Some golf correspondents are suggesting that the Rules official should take some blame for this Luiten’s disqualification. I really don’t think so. Of course, he could have specifically asked whether the ball was touching the line, but it was obviously the player’s responsibility to give the official all the relevant facts. In fact, I am incredulous that someone who must play golf nearly every day of his life did not consider that this was worth mentioning to the Rules official. If he did not know that the line defining the hazard was important to the ruling he was seeking then he should immediately be required to attend a Rules seminar as was suggested in March of last year by senior European Rules officials, John Paramor and Andy McFee (see this blog entry).

As I often say, when it comes to golf, know the Rules, know knowledge; whereas no Rules no knowledge.

5th June, 2011, edit: Thanks to one of my Dutch subscribers who has translated Joost Luiten's version of events from his web site. I don't think that it changes anything I have written above but it does explain that the official did not witness the incident and was not informed of the circumstances until the hole had been completed, at which time a relevant fact was omitted.
"My ball was in a water hazard and my feet were just outside the hazard. Just before I wanted to hit the ball, it moved. I asked my fellow competitors what to do and they confirmed my opinion that no penalty was incurred. I played hole 11 and told the referee about the incident. After that I didn't see or hear the referee about it. Only two hours after finishing my round the referee came up to me and wanted to hear the story. Then the referee concluded that as I had taken my stance and the ball was in the hazard I should have placed the ball back. (....) It is my mistake, I should have known the rule, but I was disappointed that the referee didn't come up to me before I signed my scorecard; he already knew at hole 11 that something was going on."
So, it was not just Joost Luiten that did not know that you have addressed your ball once you have taken your stance in a bunker, but his fellow competitors as well!

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