Breaking a club in anger!
Anyone who plays golf regularly will almost certainly have experienced instances of anger on the course; perhaps after playing too many bad shots, or suffering seemingly unfair ‘rubs of the green’, or even being on the receiving end of others’ indiscretions. I thought that it might be interesting to consider some of the rulings that apply when anger takes over.
In the following examples, references to the general penalty denote two strokes in stroke play, or loss of hole in match play.
• After leaving a putt just short of the hole a player instinctively throws their putter at the ball, but misses. Such an instinctive action is obviously not a stroke and is not considered to be an attempt to influence the position of the ball. There is no penalty, unless the putter does move the ball, in which case the player incurs a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced (Decision 1-2/4.5).
• After nearly being struck by a ball played by someone in the group playing behind, a player hits the offending ball back towards the group. This is not considered to be a practice stroke but Decision 1-4/4 rules that, in equity, the player should incur the general penalty.
• A player who breaks a club in anger (i.e. not in the normal course of play) may not replace it unless they started their round with less than 14 clubs, in which case they are entitled to add another club under Rule 4-4a (Decision 4-3/8). Click here to see an amusing, short video of Woody Austin breaking his putter on his head back in 1997.
• A player who fails to get their ball out of a bunker with a stroke and then either kicks the sand or swings their club into the sand is penalised with the general penalty (Decisions 13-4/0.5 and 13-4/35). However, it seems that if a player throws their club, letting go of it before it hits the sand, no penalty is incurred because players are permitted to place their clubs in a bunker (Exception 1 to Rule 13-4).
• A player makes a stroke at their ball, which lies against a tree root, and it pops up into the air. The player swings at it angrily as it falls to the ground, but misses. Similar to the first example above the instinctive swing in anger is not a stroke and there is no penalty unless the ball is actually hit. If the player does accidentally strike the ball the penalty is one stroke in either stroke play or match play (Decision 14/6).
• In frustration with their poor play a player picks-up their ball and throws it into a nearby lake. When they recover their composure they place another ball at the same spot. Although Note 1 to Rule 18 states, "If a ball to be replaced under this Rule is not immediately recoverable, another ball may be substituted”, as the player's ball became irrecoverable only due to the player's subsequent actions after his breach of Rule 18-2a, the Note is not applicable and the general penalty applies (Decision 18-2a/13.5).
Finally, what do the Rules have to say about a player’s anger that may have been induced by the actions of someone else? Most of us will have experienced situations where our playing partners have caused us considerable frustration. Rule 33-7 states that if a Committee considers that a player is guilty of a serious breach of etiquette, it may impose a penalty of disqualification. Decision 33-7/8 gives just two examples of what may constitute a ‘serious breach of etiquette’; intentionally distracting another player and intentionally offending someone. Of course, Committees may impose whatever sanctions they see fit outside of the Rules of Golf. So, for example if a player repeatedly breached etiquette guidelines they might be banned from entering competitions for a period of time, or even have their club membership suspended.
It goes without saying that all payers should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the game of golf.
Edit September 9th: In the 4th bullet point above I said, “A player who fails to get their ball out of a bunker with a stroke and then either kicks the sand or swings their club into the sand is penalised with the general penalty (Decision 13-4/0.5).” I should have used the word hazard, instead of bunker, because the same Rule applies to water hazards. Take a look at what happened to Nick Watney at the Deutsche Bank Championship just two weeks after I wrote this blog on anger:
Watney's shot hit a rock and stayed in the water hazard. In frustration he struck his club into the ground, inside the margin of the hazard. This incurred a two strokes penalty for grounding his club while his ball was still in the hazard. Surprisingly, for a professional golfer (!), he did not realise that his action incurred a penalty until a Rules Official told him on the 10th hole.
Don’t forget that there is a site search facility at the right-hand side of my blog home page. For example, if you want to read about Rory McIlroy avoiding a penalty for kicking/smoothing the sand in a bunker at the 2008 Masters just enter “Rory McIlroy” and press “search”. The fourth result displayed is the one that you are looking for.