Monday, 24 October 2011

Main Amendments to the Rules of Golf 2012-2015

R&A Rules and USGA have announced their four-yearly revisions to the Rules of Golf, which will be effective worldwide from 1st January 2012. The good news is that there are very few changes that will cause us any difficulty in understanding and remembering. The majority of the changes are amendments aimed at improving the clarity of the Rules. I am pleased to present my summary of those changes that are most likely to affect golfers, whatever their handicaps or playing status.

•    Definition of Addressing the Ball:

At present, a player has addressed their ball when they have taken their stance and have also grounded their club. Under the revised Definition a player will have addressed their ball as soon as they ground their club, whether in front of the ball, or behind it. There is no requirement to take a stance. Consequently, a player will no longer address their ball in a bunker or a water hazard, as the Rules do not permit the grounding of a club in a hazard.

•    Rule 6-3a. Time of Starting:
Under the existing Rules, a player who arrives even 15 seconds later than their starting time should be disqualified from a competition, unless the Committee has introduced a condition of competition that reduces the penalty for players arriving within five minutes of their official starting time from disqualification to two strokes in stroke play, or loss of the first hole in match play. The revised Rule dispenses with the need for such a condition of competition, as the penalty of disqualification has been reduced accordingly in these circumstances.

•    Rule 13-4. Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions:
This will be a welcome change for golfers and course maintenance staff alike. Players will be permitted to smooth sand or soil in a hazard at any time, including before playing from that hazard, providing it is done for the sole purpose of caring for the course and nothing is done to improve the position or lie of their ball, the area of their intended stance or swing, or their line of play. How often have we wanted to smooth irregularities made by previous groups at one end of a bunker when our ball lies waiting to be played at the other end? Well, we will soon be able to do just that.

•    Rule 18-2b. Ball Moving After Address:

Note that this paragraph will no longer be relevant after the Rules of Golf revisions dated 1st January 2016 become effective.
Most of us will have been sympathetic when my near-neighbour, Padraig Harrington, penalised himself one stroke during The Masters in Augusta, in 2008, because his ball had moved after he had addressed it, even though the movement was obviously caused by the gusty wind blowing around the course. There have been several other similar, high-profile incidents since then. Well, now there is going to be an Exception to Rule 18-2b that exonerates the player from any penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed (remember the new definition of address) when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move.

•    Appendix lV:
Although a new Appendix is to be added, relating to the regulations for the design of tees, gloves, shoes, clothing and distance measuring devices, I don’t think that it contains any noteworthy changes to the existing regulations. I am quite surprised that there is no change to the ruling that a player may not use a smartphone or PDA as a distance measuring device if there are other features or applications installed on the device that, if used, would be in breach of the Rules, whether or not they are actually used (e.g. the inbuilt compass feature on an iPhone). Perhaps this subject will be addressed in the revised Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2012 – 2013, which are due to be published soon. It is Decision 14-3/4, which prohibits the use of a compass on the course, that I would like to see changed.

•    Rules of Amateur Status; Hole-in-One Prizes:
The only material difference that I am aware of between the R&A Rules and the USGA Rules is going to be removed. From the 1st January there will be no general prize limit to the prize for achieving holes-in-one while playing a round of golf. Previously there was no limit in USA or Mexico, but a limit of £500 (or the equivalent currency) applied in the rest of the world.

Please note that the above are my interpretations of the most important revisions to the Rules of Golf, which are not effective until 1st January 2012. For the detail of all the amendments please refer to the 32nd edition of Rules of Golf, as published by R&A Rules and USGA.

Good Golfing,

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

Between now and 1st January 2012, I will be scrutinising my book, ‘999 Questions on the Rules of Golf’ and my weekly ’Rhodes Rules School’ series to see what has to be updated, following the 2012 revisions to the Rules of Golf. I will publish those changes as soon as they are finalised, for the benefit of all my customers and subscribers.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Dropping Zones

I have received a request to cover the subject of Dropping Zones. The first point I will make is that there is nothing in the 34 Rules of Golf ruling on Dropping Zones. However, if the Committee considers that it is not feasible or practicable to proceed in accordance with a Rule providing relief (e.g. from immovable obstructions, abnormal ground conditions or water hazards) it may establish Dropping Zones in which balls may or must be dropped when taking relief. Generally, such Dropping Zones should be provided as an additional relief option to those available under the Rule itself, rather than being mandatory.

The procedures for using Dropping Zones depend on the exact wording of the Local Rule. In Appendix l, Part B, 8, the Ruling Bodies have provided this specimen wording, using the example of a Dropping Zone for a water hazard;

"If a ball is in or it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in the water hazard (specify location), the player may:
    (i) proceed under Rule 26; or
    (ii) as an additional option, drop a ball, under penalty of one stroke, in the Dropping Zone.

Match play - Loss of hole; Stroke play - Two strokes."

Note: When using a Dropping Zone the following provisions apply regarding the dropping and re-dropping of the ball:
    (a) The player does not have to stand within the Dropping Zone when dropping the ball.
    (b) The dropped ball must first strike a part of the course within the Dropping Zone.
    (c) If the Dropping Zone is defined by a line, the line is within the Dropping Zone.
    (d) The dropped ball does not have to come to rest within the Dropping Zone.
    (e) The dropped ball must be re-dropped if it rolls and comes to rest in a position covered by Rule 20-2c(i-vi).
    (f) The dropped ball may roll nearer the hole than the spot where it first struck a part of the course, provided it comes to rest within two club-lengths of that spot and not into any of the positions covered by (e).
    (g) Subject to the provisions of (e) and (f), the dropped ball may roll and come to rest nearer the hole than:
        • its original position or estimated position (see Rule 20-2b);
        • the nearest point of relief or maximum available relief (Rule 24-2, 24-3, 25-1 or 25-3); or
        • the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or lateral water hazard (Rule 26-1).
A question that is often asked is whether a player may drop a ball in a Dropping Zone at a place that is nearer to the hole than where their ball lies. The answer is that they can, providing there is nothing in the wording of the Local Rule stating otherwise. A Committee is not prohibited from imposing this restriction. Although this principle is not referred to in the specimen Local Rule above there is reference to it in the recommended Local Rule for Temporary Immovable Obstructions (which are generally only applicable for tour events);
If the player has interference from a TIO, the Committee may permit or require the use of a Dropping Zone. If the player uses a Dropping Zone in taking relief, he must drop the ball in the Dropping Zone nearest to where his ball originally lay or is deemed to lie under Clause IV (even though the nearest Dropping Zone may be nearer the hole).
Let me finish by reminding you that the Local Rule reproduced above is a specimen Local Rule that is found in Appendix B at the back of the Rules book. Players who encounter a Dropping Zone on a course must check the exact wording of the Local Rule in operation. Of course, it is advisable to read all the Local Rules before commencing a round on any new course.

Good golfing,
The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes ©2011 and may not be copied without permission.
“Your weekly mail is a refreshment for me into the daily work. It is also a practical test to my knowledge of the Rules. I enjoy your school a lot!! Thank you very much for your great initiative.” ADP- Spain
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Saturday, 8 October 2011

Rory McIlroy - When Is a Wrong Ball Not a Wrong Ball

Last week the subject of my blog was, “When Is a Stroke Not a Stroke?” This week you will have seen that I have used a similar heading. On the third day of Kolon Korea Open Rory McIlroy was playing the Par-4 12th when an unusual incident happened. He had already hit his first ball out of bounds and his second ball was lying in the rough. As he was taking a practice swing he hit another ball, which he had not seen. At first, a Rules official penalised him two strokes for playing a wrong ball, but this incorrect ruling was quickly revised. As we saw in last week’s blog a stroke is not a stroke unless the player intends to hit the ball. As Rory did not even know that the abandoned ball was in the path of his practice swing there was no penalty. Decision 7-2/7 clarifies the ruling;
Q. A player makes a practice swing in the rough and dislodges a concealed ball. Is there any penalty?
A. No. Since the player had no intention of striking the concealed ball, his swing remained a practice swing and was not a stroke. Consequently, there is no question of his having played either a practice stroke (Rule 7-2) or a stroke with a wrong ball (Rule 15-3).
It seems from the reports that I have seen that Rory did not query the penalty that was originally assessed on him. Here is what he said,
“And after I hit my first ball out of bounds, I then hit my second in the rough and as I was taking a practice swing I hit another ball which I didn’t see and at first the rules official said that I had played a wrong ball. I had no intention of hitting it, but I got it up and down with the other ball and thought I had made seven, but the rules official then said it was okay and I actually made five.”

Of course, if a player moves their own ball that is in play with a practice swing it is a different story. They incur a penalty of one stroke and their ball must be replaced, Rule 18-2a.

Good golfing,

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

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Monday, 3 October 2011

Kevin Na – When Is a Stroke Not a Stroke?

I am surprised to have read so many comments speculating that Kevin Na should have been penalised for his apparent ‘whiff’ (known as a ‘fresh air’ where I come from) on the 15th tee at TPC Summerlin, in Nevada, last Saturday. A ‘whiff’ is a most embarrassing moment for any golfer. It occurs when a player takes a swing at their ball, with the intent of moving it, and fails to make contact with it. The first point to note is that there is no penalty for a ‘whiff’, but the attempted stroke does count, even though the ball has not moved. Consider the Definition of Stroke;
A "stroke" is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke.
So, there was definitely no breach of any Rule by Kevin Na, but the question is did he make a stroke at his ball, which would increase his score for the hole by one? Check out this YouTube video for the evidence;

Edit 7th October 2011: Unfortunately, both the original video clip referred to and a replacement one have been taken down, due to "a copyright claim by PGA Tour". All I have left is this photo, which shows Na's club missing his ball by a distance.

I think that it is obvious from Na’s demeanour (on the video clip that has been removed) that he never considered that he had just wasted a stroke by missing his ball with a stroke on the teeing ground and this was the ruling from the PGA Tour officials when the incident was brought to their attention. Later, it transpired that Na had forewarned officials of the possibility of this very situation;
“I’ve had a talk with a bunch of rules officials, I mean even a couple years ago,” he said. “I remember at [the Sony Open in Hawaii], It started with the left arm injury and it kind of became a habit. I told them, ‘Hey, guys, I do this all the time. So I’m just letting you know ahead of time that I do this all the time.’ And we had a big talk, and [the official] said, ‘It’s not a big deal. As long as you don’t make contact, it doesn’t matter.’”
He further explained;
“I’ll take it [the club] back; it feels decent, and my transition is what I’m always working on,” Na said. “It’s always my bad habit is I get quick. And on the way down my transition doesn’t feel right, and I try to stop, and obviously it’s impossible for me to stop. The only way for me to stop is I have to come up and go over the ball.”
Decision 14/1.5 clarifies the ruling;
Q. A player begins his downswing with the intention of striking the ball but decides during the downswing not to strike the ball. The player is unable to stop the club before it reaches the ball, but he is able to swing intentionally over the top of the ball. Is the player deemed to have made a stroke?

A. No. The player is considered to have checked his downswing voluntarily by altering the path of his downswing and missing the ball even though the swing carried the clubhead beyond the ball.

If the player had not successfully checked his downswing (i.e., he had struck the ball), he is considered to have made a stroke.

Any doubt regarding the player's intent must be resolved against the player.
Despite this last sentence I think that it is obvious that Kevin Na did check his downswing so that he would not strike his ball. Tiger Woods has similarly aborted strokes on more than one occasion (Click on this link to view three different incidents on YouTube).

Good golfing,


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

“Your weekly mail is a refreshment for me into the daily work. It is also a practical test to my knowledge of the Rules. I enjoy your school a lot!! Thank you very much for your great initiative.” ADP- Spain
Just one of the many emails I receive for my ‘Rhodes Rules School’ series of weekly emails with photos of Rules incidents. You can subscribe here. There is no charge, you can unsubscribe at any time and your email address will not be shared for any other purpose.