Sunday, 18 September 2011

Did They Agree to Waive a Rule at Walker Cup?

I wonder how many of my readers took the same interest in the USA v GB&I Walker Cup matches as I did last week. For me, as a spectator, match play is the most absorbing format of our beloved game. As a supporter of the GB&I side I was extremely nervous right to the end, even though we had started the final singles with a lead of 5 points, requiring only 3 more points from the 10 singles matches. An illustration of how you can never be sure which way a match will go occurred in the very last match. Northern Ireland’s Paul Cutler was four up with four to play against world number one ranked amateur, Patrick Cantlay from California, who staged a stunning comeback to achieve a half.

This brings me to the first of two unusual Rules incidents that occurred this week. On the opening morning of the Walker Cup, Jack Senior and Andy Sullivan (GB&I) defeated Russell Henley and Kelly Kraft (USA), by 2 and 1. However, after the match had been decided it was realised that Senior’s older brother, who is a golf pro, had been caddying for him, which was a breach of a long-standing Walker Cup Condition of Competition prohibiting golf professionals from caddying. When the announcement was made that the result of the match would stand many reporters felt that the R&A and USGA officials were ignoring Rule 1-3, which states that players (and logically Committees) must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred.

However, it is clear that this incident was not a violation of Rule 1-3. Although Jack Senior had indisputably used a professional golfer as his caddie, none of the players involved, nor their team captains, were aware of the Condition of Competition banning professional golfers as caddies until after their match had been decided.

This part of the answer to Decision 1-3/1 clarifies the ruling;

In order to waive a Rule, players must be aware that they are doing so. …If the players were ignorant of the Rules there is no penalty.
As no claim was made by the Americans during the match (because they were unaware of the breach until after it had concluded) there were no grounds on which the state of the match could be adjusted (Rule 2-5). There can be no doubting that the Walker Cup Committee ruled correctly.

Now we come to one of the oddest breaches of the Rules that I have heard of. It happened last week during the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur at the Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While watching one of the matches, a Rules official spotted that a player’s caddie had a short string of yarn attached to his divot repair tool, which he was using to judge wind direction. It was a violation of Rule 14-3b part of which states;

Except as provided in the Rules, during a stipulated round the player must not use any artificial device or unusual equipment, or use any equipment in an unusual manner:…
… b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play
The penalty for breaching Rule 14-3 is disqualification. Incredibly, the lady concerned was lying dormie 7 when she was disqualified. You could say that the other player won the match with no strings attached!

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes ©2011 and may not be copied without permission.


Stewart said...

This spotlights an area where the rules can arguably produce divergent outcomes in very similar circumstances.

Two players are in a stroke competition on a windy day. They are each other's marker. Player A pulls up some grass from the fairway some short distance from his ball (not on the line of play) and tosses it in the air to get an idea of wind strength and direction.

Player B, who is of a strong conviction that golfers shouldn't be tearing up grass on the fairway when the golf club goes to such lengths to grow it, water it and groom it, tosses in the air a light small thread he has found in his pocket to also gauge wind strength and direction.

Player A informs Player B that he has breached R14-3 so must be disqualified.

And yet if B had obtained his wind information from a small flag representing his country/county/family coat of arms that was sitting atop his golf bag he apparently would not have been in breach of the rules.

Have I got this right Barry?

Barry Rhodes said...


In my opinion you may not be correct regarding the thread. It is my understanding that throwing a natural fibre in the air would be similar to throwing a leaf or a feather in the air. However, if the player carried something manufactured (e.g. a ribbon) for the express purpose of testing the wind direction it could be argued that they are in breach of Rule 14-3. Personally, I would not impose a penalty in these circumstances, but would advise the player that they should not use it again. See my related blog from 13th May 2012.


Stewart said...


Indeed! I think your observation adds strength to my comment that the rules of golf can produce divergent outcomes in very similar circumstances.

In making your observation, you also injected a potentially significant qualification to my word 'thread'. You added 'natural', using the term 'natural fibre'. I find it of even greater moment if the rules may penalise use of a nylon (ie non-natural and manufactured) thread but not a cotton, silk or wool thread. So how do we handle a cotton/polyester mix? We seem to be getting into some bizarre, er thread splitting (sorry) here.

Testing the wind with something natural, eg pulled up grass or a natural thread, legal.

Testing the wind with a non-natural thread, or a piece of yarn attached to a ball marker, illegal.

Yet the Decisions allow a player to place a small flag on their golfing equipment, providing its intent is not to test the wind! (I don't remember precisely where I saw that Decision although I'm fairly confident that it exists.)

Barry Rhodes said...


I think that most golfers realise that there are many situations that result in subjective rulings. Most officials will ask the player their intent before making a ruling, As to the particular circumstances that you have raised, I do not think that I am alone in saying, "I would not impose a penalty in these circumstances, but would advise the player that they should not use it (the synthetic thread or ribbon) again" for testing the wind direction.