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,

Thanks to a favourable mention on another Rules blog there has been a large increase in subscribers to my weekly blog (go to the top right-hand corner of the home page to subscribe). I would like to recommend that you also check-out my ‘Rhodes Rules School’ series, which uses photos to pose questions and provide answers to situations that you may encounter on the course. Click here to subscribe to this free service, from which you can unsubscribe at any time.


Colin MacGillivray said...

However sure you are that your ball has "gone", always say "this is a provisional" just in case it's not OB. Can't believe a pro wouldn't know that.
And what happened to the "semaphore" for ball in and out- arms above the head or arms outstretched each side?

Barry Rhodes said...


I absolutely agree. How can a successful professional golfer have reached this stage of her career without knowing that. This is part of her comments;
I just thought that ‑‑ I didn't think I had to ever say provisional but I guess you always say provisional. (A lesson learned!). Amazing!