Saturday, 30 July 2011

Confusion on the 18th at Women's British Open, Carnoustie

Photo: Getty Images
I happened to switch channels, from watching the Irish Open at Killarney to the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Carnoustie, at a very opportune time. Four-times LPGA Tour winner, Angela Stanford, had just played her second shot to the 18th green. It was not a good one and it looked as though her ball was going to run under the wire fence boundary running down the left-hand side of the hole. In fact, it came to rest against one of the iron stanchions supporting the fence with a small part of the ball overhanging the course. Kudos to the BBC who had a cameraman on the spot to show that, whilst the ball was fractionally in bounds, if Stanford decided to play her ball she would have to stand on the wrong side of the fence and probably use the toe of her putter to strike the ball towards the hole. At this point the producers switched cameras to follow another group whilst the players walked up to their balls on the 18th. The next time we saw Stanford’s ball it had mysteriously moved about three inches onto the course. It was pretty obvious that someone had kicked the ball, no doubt thinking that they were doing the player a favour by ensuring that their ball was not ruled out of bounds. But in doing so, they had actually made any viable stroke much more difficult, as there is no relief from boundary posts and from the ball’s new position there was no room to make any backswing to strike the ball. The inevitable delay ensued once Stanford arrived at her ball, with much discussion between players, caddies, spectators, marshalls and at least one Rules Official all making contributions of varying relevance and value (see photo). BBC presenter, Andrew Cotter, who had witnessed where the ball had originally come to rest from the TV production cabin, sprinted down to the location to confirm that the ball had indeed been moved and pointed out exactly where it had been at rest. Despite his accurate intervention the ball was eventually replaced by the player, on the instruction of a Rules Official, at a point midway between where it was and where it had been moved to and the Rules Official announced that it was in play. It was at this point that the situation became even more absurd as someone pointed out that when Angela Stanford had seen either a fairway marshall or spectators waving from near where she thought her ball had come to rest, she thought that they were indicating that it was out of bounds and had immediately dropped another ball and played it towards the green, without announcing that it was a provisional. Reluctantly she admitted that this was indeed the case and everyone wondered why there had been so much debate about the location of her original ball, as this was irrelevant as soon a she put another ball into play. The final bizarre chapter of this fiasco occurred when the Rules Official, who had wrongly spent so much time determining the original position of the irrelevant ball, was clearly overheard to confirm to Stanford’s caddie that her next stroke would be her fourth, when of course she was already lying four (1 - tee shot, 2 - stroke to the boundary fence, 3 - stroke and distance penalty, 4 – stroke to putting green). Unfortunately, she then two-putted to double bogey her last hole of the second round.

From a Rules perspective this bizarre episode raised several issues;

  • A ball is only out of bounds when all of it lies out of bounds (Definition of Out of Bounds).
  • Boundary fences are fixed and there is no relief from them without penalty (Definition of Out of Bounds). 
  • A player may stand out of bounds to play a ball lying within bounds (Definition of Out of Bounds).
  • A player may play a stroke with any part of the clubhead, provided the ball is fairly struck at (Decision 14-1/1).
  • A player may fairly strike at their ball even though other material (e.g a fence) intervenes between their club and their ball (Decision 14-1/5).
  • If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced Rule 18-1).
  • If a player plays a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which their original ball was last played, without first announcing that they are playing a provisional ball, that ball is not a provisional ball and it becomes the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-2a).
This is the relevant part of the transcript of the post round interview with Angela Stanford;
Q. Just give us your understanding of the events at the 18th fairway.
Angela Stanford: Well, back in the fairway actually we were told that it was out, so I never said provisional because everybody just kept saying it's out. Well, drop it and hit another one. So once we got up there, they said, well, it wasn't really out. I learned something today. I just thought that ‑‑ I didn't think I had to ever say provisional but I guess you always say provisional. (A lesson learned!)

Q. It's a tough school, as we know, it's golf. But when you got to that hole which one would you have rather played anyway?
Angela Stanford: That was the problem. I guess I could have made bogey now, I don't know. At the time I thought I only had to play the one on the green, so I don't know. I guess I would have to figure out a way to advance that ball and then try to get it up‑and‑down.

Q. That's where the ball ended up, but where it was originally was right up against a fence. You were obviously unable to see that.
Angela Stanford: I probably would have hit it the same way, though. I was already thinking I was going to flip my putter, go on the other side of the fence, turn my putter and hit it off the toe just to advance it. I kind of knew the shot I was going to hit. But I guess it doesn't matter now.

Q. You showed a great deal of honesty. Where do you view your position now? You could have been four shots off the lead but now you're six going into the weekend.
Angela Stanford: Well, happy it's Friday. Fortunately we get two more days, and you never know. I hit it in places today that I thought the ball was okay, and when I got up there it was not. Apparently anything can happen around here.
The Rules of Golf are complex enough without players, caddies, marshalls and even Rules Officials making wrong calls.

Good golfing,

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Monday, 25 July 2011

Are Golf and the Rules Fair?

This is an interesting question that I was asked recently;
I hope you can give some guidance here. The rules in golf in general can be summarised in my opinion, with “is it fair?” In a situation where there is casual water on a fairway and the player’s ball is in this area quite close to the edge of the fairway, but the rough is severe, does this mean in order to take relief he doesn’t actually get relief. This would make the definition of relief nonsensical in my opinion. I guess he would be better off taking a penalty and drop, keeping the point where he picked up between him and the hole. In my humble opinion this would not be in the spirit of the game and if it was match play I would allow my opponent a drop giving him relief not nearer the hole?
Although the Rules of Golf are intended to be equitable their correct application may not always result in an outcome that players perceive to be fair. Of course, this is also true of the game of golf. If you were watching The Open Championship on the wonderful links at Royal St. George’s GC in mid-July you will have seen that an excellent drive might glance off a mound in the middle of a fairway and then roll 50 more yards sideways into a pot bunker. Other examples of golf not being ‘fair’ are when your ball comes to rest in someone else’s divot, or an unraked footstep in a bunker; when you have to take mandatory relief (e.g. from a young, staked tree), dropping your ball at a point where your next stroke will be considerably harder than where it lies next to the tree; or when a well struck ball deflects off course signage and bounces back past you, a true instance of a ‘rub of the green’. Similarly, one poor shot may end up in a clearing, with a direct line of play to the green, while an arguably better shot comes to rest under the only bush on the course; some balls ricochet off trees back onto the fairway and others into the undergrowth, one player’s ball may come to rest just in bounds and another’s six inches away out of bounds (as in the photo above); one ball may rattle through branches and fall to the ground, whilst another may stay lodged in the same tree out of reach. This is golf as we all experience it and it is definitely not fair!

The Rules are the Rules. A player whose ball lies in casual water in the circumstances described by the questioner above does have several options. He may play the ball as it lies in the water. He may take relief without penalty by dropping it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, even though that may be in the deep rough. He may also deem his ball unplayable and take one of the three options afforded by Rule 28, under penalty of one stroke. In the context of the Rules relief does not mean that the player will necessarily get a clear shot from a good lie in the direction that they wish. What it does mean is that the player is permitted to lift and drop their ball in accordance with the Rules to avoid the object, water hazard or abnormal ground condition that was interfering with their lie, stance or area of intended swing. Players have to accept that this will often result in them having to play from a place that is more difficult that where their ball originally lay.

Of course the Rules often work in the player’s favour. If you are a regular follower of my blog you will have read just as many instances where a player has benefitted from knowing the Rules and used them to their advantage, as instances where they have incurred penalties for not abiding by them. Regarding the circumstances of the question above, the ball could just as easily been at rest in casual water in the rough where the nearest point of relief was back on the fairway. Players must accept the bad fortune with the good.

There is one more important observation to make concerning the original question. if you offer an opponent or fellow competitor relief when they are not entitled to it under the Rules, and they accept, knowing that they are not entitled to it, then both sides should be disqualified from the competition for agreeing to waive a Rule of Golf (Rule 1-3).

Good golfing,

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Monday, 18 July 2011

Conditions of Competition

An area that is frequently overlooked by players and Committees alike are the Conditions of Competition. Often, it is only when disputes arise that it is realised that key matters concerning the running of a golf competition have not been properly thought through. For this practical reason Rule 33-1 states,
The Committee must establish the conditions under which a competition is to be played.
Whereas Local Rules are introduced to clarify the course marking, or to provide relief from local abnormal conditions that are not covered by the Rules themselves, Conditions of Competition are the foundations on which a competition is built. Some of the areas that Committees have to consider are;
  • Eligibility, i.e. who may compete in a competition. This may be restricted by gender, age, handicap, etc.
  • How the player must enter the competition, e.g. entry form, time sheet, opt-in.
  • Format, e.g. match play (singles, threesomes, foursomes or four-ball match play; stroke play (singles, foursomes or four-ball stroke play; Stableford or bogey/par); other forms of play (e.g. greensomes, best-ball of four players, scramble); off scratch or on a handicap basis.
  • Times of starting and groups (twos, threes or fours). The time of starting may be a strict time sheet or as loose as a round having to be completed by a certain date.
  • Handicaps. When a competition is played on the basis of handicap, it is a matter for the Committee to specify the handicap allowance for the form of play being used.
  • Decision of Ties. Rule 33-6 states in part,
The Committee must announce the manner, day and time for the decision of a halved match or of a tie, whether played on level terms or under handicap.
The recommended methods of settling ties are detailed in Appendix I, Part C of the Rules of Golf.
  • Prizes. The Committee should announce in advance the prizes that are to be awarded in the competition.
  • Practice. A note to Rule 7-1 permits a Committee to introduce Conditions of Competition that overrides this Rule.
  • Conforming clubs, balls and ‘one ball’ condition. These Conditions are really for expert players at elite level and not really relevant at Club level.
  • Caddies and golf carts. The Committee may prohibit or restrict the use of caddies and golf carts.
  • Advice in team competitions. The Committee may permit each team to appoint one person who may give advice to members of that team.
For anyone involved in the organisation of a competition I can recommend the excellent publication published by the R&A, ‘Guidance on Running a Competition’, which is available on-line at this link.

Good Golfing,

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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Big Break – Ball Embedded in Face of Bunker Controversy

Unfortunately, the excellent American cable channel, Golf Channel, is not available from either of the TV cable companies in Ireland, so I do not follow their popular ‘Big Break’ programme. However, I am aware that there has been controversy over what appeared to be a generous ruling that was afforded to one player, Carl, during a head-to-head challenge with his room-mate, Robbie, which could have contributed to Robbie losing and thus being eliminated from the knock-out competition.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the circumstances of the Big Break incident, but it would appear that Carl played a shot from a bunker and it embedded in the lip of the same bunker. The ball was embedded in the ground (roots) just above the level of the sand. The ball therefore was embedded ‘through the green’ and not in the bunker.

Edit 11th July. I am grateful to Chandler for providing me with the link to this photo of Karl’s embedded ball, courtesy of Golf Channel;

Rule 25-2 only permits relief for a ball that is embedded in a ‘closely mown area’, which this was not. However, it was later explained that Carl had been permitted a free drop under the Local Rule found in Appendix l, Part B relating to embedded balls, which was one of the Local Rules in operation for the show. This is the wording of that Local Rule;
Through the green, a ball that is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground may be lifted, without penalty, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green.
I want to expand on this subject of how a player should proceed when their ball is embedded in a bunker, or the lip of a bunker. First, there is no relief if a ball is plugged in the sand in the bunker, often referred to as a ‘fried egg’ situation. The only options are to splash out or deem the ball unplayable, dropping it, with a penalty of one stroke, in the bunker under either of the Rule 28b or 28c options, or at the place from which the previous stroke was made (Rule 28a). The Definition of Bunker includes these words;
Grass-covered ground bordering or within a bunker, including a stacked turf face (whether grass-covered or earthen), is not part of the bunker. A wall or lip of the bunker not covered with grass is part of the bunker.
This explains why, in the above-mentioned scenario, Carl’s ball was lying ‘through the green’ and not in the bunker. It is quite unlikely (though not impossible) for the lip area surrounding bunkers to be closely mown areas. Therefore, in most cases the player does not have any relief for a ball that is embedded in the lip of a bunker. They must either play the ball as it lies, or declare their ball unplayable and take the appropriate penalty under penalty of one stroke. If the area is closely mown then the relief is the same as if the ball had been embedded on the fairway. Rule 25-2;
A ball embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground in any closely mown area through the green may be lifted, cleaned and dropped, without penalty, as near as possible to the spot where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green. "Closely mown area" means any area of the course, including paths through the rough, cut to fairway height or less.
Note that the ball has to be dropped “as near as possible to the spot where it lay but not nearer the hole”. In the circumstances being discussed here this may mean dropping the ball on the steep face of a bunker, from where it is likely to roll back into the bunker. In this case, under Rule 20-2c the ball must be re-dropped. If the same result occurs a second time the ball must be placed as near as possible to where it touched the course on the second drop (which, as above, must be close to where it was embedded), not nearer the hole.

If your ball is embedded don’t make the mistake of repairing the pitch mark before you drop your ball. This is a breach of Rule 13-2 for improving the area in which your ball is to be dropped by eliminating an irregularity of surface (Decision 13-2/10). However, if your ball rolls into the same pitch mark, or embeds again on dropping, you may re-drop the ball. If it happens again, you may place the ball where it first touched the course after being re-dropped.

I hope that like me, you are gearing up for a wonderful Open Championship.

Good golfing,

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Charles Schwartzel Obtains Relief from Sprinkler

Thanks to PGA Tour for putting this interesting video clip on YouTube of a recent ruling at the 2011 Memorial Tournament, where Charles Schwartzel received relief from a sprinkler head that he claimed interfered with his next stroke. Whether you agree that the relief was justified or not, it does raise interesting points on the Rules.

For email recipients this video can be viewed here.

I know that many readers will think that Schwartzel was not entitled to relief in this situation, as his ball was clearly several inches from the sprinkler head. However, when asked by PGA Tour Official, Jon Brendle, he indicated that he felt it could interfere with his stroke, presumably when taking a divot on his follow-through. It seems that Brendle was unconvinced but in these circumstances it is very difficult for the Rules official to make a contrary judgement, as players hit their strokes in a wide variety of ways.

The other point that has been raised is that it seems as though Schwartzel is taking one club-length relief from where the ball was at rest. On closer examination this is not correct. There is a break in the video at around 36 seconds, during which time he marked his nearest point of relief, just a couple of inches further away from the sprinkler, with a tee peg. He then correctly measures the club-length from that mark and drops within the measured distance, not nearer the hole. The fact that this takes him out of the light rough and onto the fairway is his good fortune.

I wonder how many of you that watched the full video clip to the end noticed the embarrassing mistake by CBS Sports. Kudos to the PGA Tour for putting-up the video for us all to learn from, and to CBS Sports for trying to explain the Rule with a graphic and explanation. However, in just another example of how little golf programme commentators on TV understand the Rules of Golf, they used the wrong Rule in trying to explain the relief option available. It was obviously a Rule 24-2, Immovable Obstruction relief and not 25-1, Abnormal Ground Condition! (Edit 24th July: I have since learned that the ruling made by Jon Brendle was in fact for relief under Rule 25-1. The sprinkler heads tops were about 2 inches below ground level and there was a vertically cut lip around the head...the "well" referred to by announcer Jim Nance.  The "well" was deemed a hole made by a greenkeeper and thus the relief given was under R25-1. So, I apologise to CBS Sports, but I am still critical that they used the right graphic combined with a wrong, or at least incomplete, explanation.)

One more point. This ruling apparently took 10 minutes to resolve. It’s too long!

Good golfing, 

P.S. Four European Tour players, including Ireland’s Damien McGrane, were disqualified after the first morning’s play at this week’s French Open, at Le Golf National (the 2018 Ryder Cup venue). Once again, the reason for their early exit was failing to read and conform to a Local Rule. All four found the water in playing their second shots to the par-4 18th hole. But in taking their penalty drops, the four incorrectly dropped their ball in a dropping zone, gaining a 50 to 80 yards advantage. They therefore played from a wrong place, incurring a penalty of two strokes. However, the Committee considered they had gained a significant advantage as a result of playing from a wrong place and disqualified them for committing a serious breach (See Note 1 to Rule 20-7). Here is the exact wording of the Local Rule;
18th Hole Dropping Zone
The dropping zone for the
water hazard (yellow) at
the 18th hole can only be
used as an additional option
if the last point of entry is

It seems that there was a single green stake, around four feet high, alongside the yellow stakes defining the margin of the hazard. Players whose balls crossed the hazard margin before that green stake had to take one of the usual relief options under Rule 26-1a, whereas those whose balls crossed the margin after the green stake were permitted to play from a dropping zone some 15 yards to the right of the putting green. I certainly agree with the comment made by Andy McFee, European Tour Chief Referee, following the disqualifications;
“My line has always been that players spend hours after hours trying to save one shot on the practice range when five minutes with the rule book can have the same effect.”
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