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.


Anonymous said...

The TV golf commentators are embarrassingly (at least they should be embarrassed) ignorant of the rules. At least one ruling situation comes up during each TV broadcast. So they get to embarrass themselves each week.

willowdotcom said...

It's funny I should find this piece about Zach Johnson as I was searching for the rule around testing the surface because today at The Masters 1st round I saw Zach throw the ball to his caddy on the 12th green. The caddy dropped it and it rolled down the green. Would this be classed as Testing The Surface?? I've asked Zach, SkySportsGolf and DirectGolfUK on twitter but received no response. Can you help Barry??

Barry Rhodes said...


No penalty was incurred. Rule 16-1d only prohibits rolling a ball or roughening or scraping the putting surface for testing purposes; there is no penalty even if a player (or caddie) purposely rolls a ball over a green as a courtesy to another player, although this practice is not recommended, Decision 16-1d/3.