Friday, 27 January 2012

Zach Johnson Testing the Surface; Rory McIlroy Brushing the Surface

Two similar Rules incidents, with different outcomes, served to highlight what a player may and may not do to test and brush the surface of the grass before making a stroke.

There were a few hasty, uninformed comments about Zach Johnson incurring a penalty at the Humana Challenge last Sunday. Apparently, he was seen on camera brushing the grass on the fringe of the green from where he was preparing to chip. One person that was watching this on TV was US Solheim Cup golfer, Christina Kim, who tweeted;

Fortunately, someone must have put her right because a little while later she tweeted;

Not quite an apology to the unfortunate Zach Johnson, who obviously knows the Rules better that the ebullient Christina.

Her confusion probably arose from a misunderstanding of where a player may and may not test the surface. Most players know that they may not test the condition of a hazard (Rule 13-4a) or the surface of a putting green (Rule 16-1d), but there is nothing in the Rules to stop a player testing the surface through the green, providing that in doing so they do not improve the lie of their ball, their area of intended stance, or line of play (Rule 13-2). I have not been able to view this incident, but it is certain that Zach Johnson’s ball was on the fringe of the green and it likely that he was feeling the direction of the grain of the grass a few feet away from his ball. Apparently, his hand motions, lightly brushing the grass, were parallel to his intended line of pitch.

Today, as I was writing about the above incident, I was informed that Rory McIlroy had just incurred a penalty of two strokes for brushing sand off the fringe of the putting green of the 9th hole in Abu Dhabi. His ball was close to a bunker, a few feet away from the putting surface and he clearly bent down and brushed sand away from his intended line of putt. The Rules are clear; through the green players are permitted to brush the grass to remove grass cuttings and other loose impediments from around their ball, even on their line of play, but they are only permitted to brush away loose soil or sand that lie on the putting green. The reason for this is that the Definition of Loose Impediments states that sand and loose soils are loose impediments on the putting green, but not elsewhere. A Rules lesson learned the hard way for Rory!

I heard Sky Sports commentator, David Livingstone, speculate that the sand that Rory brushed away was probably there as a result of the bunker stroke that his other fellow competitor, Tiger Woods, had just made. I very much doubt that this was the case, because if it was Rory would have been unjustly penalised by the referee. Decision 13-2/8.5 states;
Q.A's ball is on the apron between the green and a bunker. A's partner, opponent or fellow-competitor (B) plays from the bunker and deposits sand on and around A's ball. Is A entitled to any relief?

A.Yes. A is entitled to the lie and line of play he had when his ball came to rest. Accordingly, in equity (Rule 1-4), he is entitled to remove the sand deposited by B's stroke and lift his ball and clean it, without penalty.
It’s not just professional golfers that need to brush up on their Rules, professional commentators should try to do so as well!

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Attending the Flagstick

Warren Little / Getty Images

I have noticed that when I give presentations on the Rules of Golf to Clubs one of the questions that is regularly raised is whether a player can ask for the flagstick to be attended when they are playing their ball from off the putting green. The answer is an unequivocal, Yes. Rule 17-1 states;
Before making a stroke from anywhere on the course, the player may have the flagstick attended, removed or held up to indicate the position of the hole.
Of course this does not mean that players should emulate Phil Mickelson who, in January last year, on the last hole at Torrey Pines, sent his caddie, ‘Bones’ Mackay to attend the flagstick when he was still almost 90 yards from the hole. He needed an eagle to tie the Farmers Insurance Open and nearly pulled it off with a splendid pitch that landed on the sloping green and rolled back, stopping a few feet short of the hole.

Another question regularly asked is whether the person can stand anywhere in relation to the hole when attending the flagstick. The answer is that they can. Don’t listen to those that wrongly claim that the attendant must not stand behind the hole while the putt is made. However, it is good etiquette not to stand on the player’s line of putt, or an extension of that line behind the hole, or on the putting lines of any other player in the group that has still to play. Another point of etiquette to be aware of on a sunny day is to ensure that your shadow is nowhere near the hole, or any point on the player’s line of putt.

Here is a related point that many golfers may not be aware of from Rule 8-2b;

When the player's ball is on the putting green, the player, his partner or either of their caddies may, before but not during the stroke, point out a line for putting, but in so doing the putting green must not be touched. A mark must not be placed anywhere to indicate a line for putting.
Decision 8-2b/2 illustrates two different circumstances where the player would be penalised. Note the subtle difference between the caddie placing his foot in order to point out the line and taking his position at the flagstick and subsequently using his foot as a guide;
Q. A player's ball lies on the putting green and his caddie attends the flagstick for him. The caddie suggests, before the stroke, that the player aim at the caddie's left foot. Is the player in breach of Rule 8-2b?

A. If the caddie had placed his foot in position for the purpose of pointing out the line for putting, the player was in breach of Rule 8-2b as soon as the caddie placed his foot in that position. The breach could not be corrected by the caddie subsequently moving his foot.

If the caddie did not initially place his foot in such a position for the purpose of pointing out the line for putting but subsequently suggested the player aim at his left foot, the player would be in breach of Rule 8-2b if the caddie did not move that foot to another position that does not indicate a line for putting prior to the stroke.

The same answer would apply if a player's partner attends the flagstick for him.
It is a good practice for the person attending the flagstick to partially remove it from its anchor at the base of the hole prior to the player making a stroke. The flagstick should be rested on the base of hole-liner with care being taken not to damage the circumference of the hole.  This prevents the possibility of the the flagstick becoming 'stuck' and accidentally lifting the hole-liner as the ball approaches the hole.

Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2012 and may not be copied without permission.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Addressing the Ball

One of the most welcome amendments to the Rules of Golf, effective 1st January 2012, is the new definition of addressing the ball. It might help if we look first at both the old and the new definitions;

Previous Definition of Addressing the Ball;

A player has “addressed the ball” when he has taken his stance and has also grounded his club, except that in a hazard a player has addressed the ball when he has taken his stance.
Current Definition of Addressing the Ball;
A player has “addressed the ball” when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance.
You will see that there are two main differences; the removal of stance as a requirement and the introduction of the word “immediately”.

With the benefit of hindsight, the removal of the stance prerequisite now seems an obvious simplification to the Rules in that most players do not ground their club for a stroke until they have completed their stance. Note that when a player’s ball lies in a hazard they are now not going to address their ball at all in the vast majority of cases, as stance is no longer a requirement and you may not ground your club in a hazard (bunker or water hazard). I say the vast majority of cases because you are permitted to ground your club on an immovable obstruction situated in a hazard (e.g. a bridge in a water hazard, Decision 13-4/30), and you are permitted to ground your club outside of a hazard if your ball lies just inside the margin of the hazard.

It is less obvious why the second change to the definition has been introduced and it has already created much discussion and disagreement between Rules experts. How far is “immediately” in the phrase “has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball”? Does two inches (5 centimeters) qualify, or does it mean “any closer and it would be touching the ball”, as has been suggested by authoritative sources connected with the USGA? In my opinion, the player in the photo above has not grounded their club “immediately” behind their ball and so they have not addressed their ball. This is bound to cause a lot of arguments and I am very surprised that the Ruling Bodies did not clarify the introduction of the word “immediately” with a relevant Decision.

A related change to the new Definition of Address is the revised 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 2012 become effective.
If a player’s ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke.

The ball must be replaced, unless the movement of the ball occurs after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement of the club for the stroke and the stroke is made.

Exception: If it is known or virtually certain that the player did not cause his ball to move, Rule 18-2b does not apply.
A principle behind this Rule was that it was more than coincidence if a ball moved after the player had taken the action of addressing it. They were penalised on the assumption that either the placing of their feet or the grounding of their club was the cause of the ball moving, without any external factors being taken into account. There have been several high-profile incidents over the past four years where it was blatantly obvious that it was wind that caused a ball to move and not the player. This inequity has now been resolved. However, note that the amendment to the Rule is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card; it must be known or virtually certain that the player did not cause their ball to move.

In my opinion both of these amendments have helped to simplify and remove inconsistencies from the Rules of Golf.

Good golfing,

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Friday, 6 January 2012

Lifting a Ball in Play - Retief Goosen

I know that many readers find it easy to remember golf rulings when they see, or hear, about other players’ breaches, especially if they are highly-paid Tour Pros. I recently came across this YouTube video of an incident concerning Retief Goosen, on the 17th hole of his first round in the 2006 South African Open. I find the whole 4+ minutes clip interesting as it shows Retief making some very strange club decisions, as discussed by the two commentators. However, the frames relating to the subsequent Rules issue are where he marks his unplayable ball dropping area at 1:46 mins and where the dropped ball first strikes the course at 2:51 mins.
After completion of his round Retief Goosen was advised by European Tour senior referee, Andy McFee, that he had been penalised two additional strokes for re-dropping a ball that was in play after his first drop and so playing from a wrong place (Rule 20-7).

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In the frame below, taken from the video, I have attempted to stop the sequence at the point where Retief’s dropped ball first hits the ground and have identified the place where he had previously marked the two permitted club-lengths with a red X, as his tee marker is not visible to us. In my opinion, having replayed this clip several times, I think that the penalty was harsh and would probably have given the player the benefit of the doubt. In fact, the two strokes penalty gave him a total of 11 strokes on this one hole, a sextuple bogey! Amazingly, he came back with a birdie on the last hole of his first round and was the eventual winner of the four-day event.

It is hard to know what Retief Goosen was thinking. It appears from his actions that that he was trying to see if his dropped ball had come to rest within the two club-length arc of where it was in the bush, rather than checking the relevant point as to whether it had first hit the course within the permitted two club-lengths. This seems to be confirmed by Andy McFee, who  commented;
"He thought he had to re-drop. But you only do so if it rolls more than two club lengths from where it strikes the ground. His ball didn't do that, and it also didn't roll nearer the hole so his ball was in play. As soon as he picked it up to re-drop he incurred a one-stroke penalty. If he replaced it on the exact spot from where he lifted it, it would've stayed a one-stroke penalty. But because he didn't replace it, it became a two-stroke penalty and the nine became an 11."
Good golfing,

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