Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Zach Johnson Penalised After His Last Putt on 18th

A common breach of Rules in Club golf is failing to replace a ball on the putting green where it had come to rest before being marked to the side, at the request of a fellow competitor who is putting on a similar line. However, it does not often happen following the very last putt by the tournament leader on the 18th green of the final day of a Tour event. That is exactly what happened to Zach Johnson on Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, Fort Worth, Texas. As he stood on the first tee he was three strokes ahead of the second-placed man, Jason Duffner. However, by the 18th hole his thoughts were obviously somewhere else, as first he teed off out of turn, inadvertently taking the honour from his fellow competitor, Jason Dufner. Fortunately, there is no penalty in stroke play for playing out of turn, providing the correct order has not been changed to give a player an advantage (Rule 10-2c). Then, he put his second shot into a greenside bunker, splashing out to about five feet from the hole, where he marked his ball. Dufner was putting on a similar line and asked Johnson to mark his ball to the side, which he did. Dufner missed his putt but then holed out, so that his fellow competitor could take the limelight. As Johnson stood over this putt to close out the tournament he must have been more relaxed, thinking that he had three putts to win. In fact, because he had not replaced his ball where it was originally marked, he was putting from the wrong place and needed to hole the putt to avoid a play-off. The Rule that he breached was Rule 20-7c. Decision 20-7c/1 clarifies;
Q. In stroke play, a competitor in replacing his ball on the putting green inadvertently put the ball in a wrong place nearby and holed out. The error was then discovered and the competitor put his ball in the right place and holed out. What is the ruling?
A. The score with the ball played from the wrong place counts and the competitor must add two penalty strokes to that score (Rule 16-1b or 20-3a and 20-7c).
The competitor incurs no penalty for having putted from the right place after holing out from a wrong place.
Note that you do not have to return to where you originally marked your ball in these circumstances. The score from the wrong place counts, including the penalty of two strokes.

Zach Johnson was celebrating his win with his caddie, Damon Green, who had been busily raking the bunker when his player was marking his ball to the side; both of them blissfully unaware of the breach. It appears that it might have been Peter Kostis, the on-course CBS reporter who first brought it to the attention of a Rules Official, who in turn notified the caddie, who broke the news to Johnson. He immediately realised that he had indeed played from the wrong place and had to think twice before realising that he had still won without the need for a play off. He entered the double bogey score of 6 for the hole, before signing his card and returning it to the scorers. The two-stroke penalty dropped Johnson to 12 under for the tournament, just one shot ahead of Dufner. Johnson’s summed it up during a post-round interview by saying,
"There are a number of adjectives that I am calling myself right now. Lucky would be the biggest one I can think of."
I have a good tip for Zach Johnson and all of you who read this blog. When I mark my ball to the side on the putting green I turn my putter upside down and hold it by the club-head. This acts as a trigger for me to replace the ball when it is my turn to putt. I understand that Tiger Woods flips his coin to the ‘wrong’ side in the same situation. It works for us (!) and I recommend that you use a similar trigger.

Good golfing,

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

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Friday, 25 May 2012

Four More Tours Breaches

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There were four, high-profile Rules incidents over the past week; two of them occurring in the same match play semi-final. The most recent one was at Wentworth yesterday when Graeme McDowell was penalised two strokes under Rule 18-2a. A penalty of one stroke for causing his ball to move (fractionally) was increased to the general penalty of two strokes when he failed to replace the ball where it was before he caused it to move (penalty statement under Rule 18). Unfortunately, whilst we can see the ball move in the short video clip above, we cannot see whether McDowell was actually looking at his ball when it moved, as he stood on loose branches a few feet away. For once I salute the TV commentator; Renton Laidlaw, who was spot on in recognizing the breach and immediately suggested, “Another call for one of the army of referees, do you think?” McDowell said that he was not sure whether his ball had moved, but he certainly knows that if there is any doubt the referee should be called. It would have saved him a penalty stroke.

The semi-final of LPGA’s Sybase Match Play Championship threw up two interesting Rules situations. Azahara Munoz (Spain) and Morgan Pressel (USA) had been warned about slow play, even though there were only four players out on the course, and were put on the clock after 11 holes. Ironically, even though Munoz admitted that she had been the slower player of the two until then, it was Pressel who breached the Tour’s slow play guideline by taking 2 minutes and 9 seconds to play her three shots, 39 seconds over the 30-second limit per shot. As she made her putt Pressel thought that she had won the hole to go 3 up with 7 to play, when she was notified that she had lost the hole, due to her breach of Rule 6-7 for slow play. She was therefore only 1 up, Munoz having ‘won’ the hole. One can imagine how this ruling affected Pressel’s disposition and probably contributed to the ensuing controversy on the 15th hole. The American player contended that the Spaniard touched the putting green on her line of putt whilst preparing for her stroke, a breach of Rule 16-1a. The match referee asked officials to review the available videotape of what had happened on the putting green and they reported that they were not able to see any evidence of the Rule being broken. Munoz then made her putt to win the hole and bring the match to all square. Pressel, whose mind must have been frazzled at this stage, bogeyed the next two holes to lose 2 and 1. Azahara Munoz went on to beat Candie Kung in the final and take her first LPGA Tour win.

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The fourth incident of the week did not result in any penalty, but was of interest from a Rules perspective. Brandt Snedeker’s flight from Florida to Spain for the World Match Play Championship was diverted by an on-board emergency. Although he eventually arrived in Malaga his clubs and suitcase did not. They still had not arrived as he stood on the first tee for his match against Thomas Bjorn. He had borrowed a driver from fellow competitor, John Senden, purchased a new putter from the Pro shop and put eight other clubs into a bag. The reason that he did not assemble a full set of 14 clubs was that he was expecting his own clubs to arrive whilst his match was in progress. When that did happen he was aware that he could add up to four more clubs, to a total of 14, as and when he required them. Rule 4-4a;
a. Selection and Addition of Clubs
The player must not start a stipulated round with more than fourteen clubs. He is limited to the clubs thus selected for that round, except that if he started with fewer than fourteen clubs, he may add any number, provided his total number does not exceed fourteen.
Interestingly, although he could select any 4 clubs from his own set he declined to take the putter, as the one that he had purchased was performing so well for him. Like all good stories this one had a happy ending for Snedeker, as he won his match against Bjorn 5 and 4.

Good golfing,

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

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Kevin Na Chooses to Play off the Path

I have not seen the TV coverage of the final round of the Player's Championship in TPC Sawgrass last Sunday, but I have received several enquiries asking why Kevin Na was permitted to play his ball from off the road on the 18th hole after taking relief. It was suggested that this was a breach of the Rules as he had not taken complete relief, as required by Rule 24-1b (see this blog on taking complete relief).

Once again the TV commentators seem to have caused some of this confusion by speculating that he was given the option of taking relief because a curb at the side of the path interfered with his stance. In fact, this was not the case. The walking Rules Official had informed Na that he was entitled to take free relief because his ball was lying in an abnormal ground condition close to the path, apparently caused by recent crowd damage. He then proceeded according to the Rules, which was to determine the nearest point of relief where there was no interference from the abnormal ground condition and was not nearer the hole, and drop his ball within one club-length of this point, which happened to be on the asphalt path. Na dropped his ball on the path and it came to rest in a position where it did not have to be re-dropped.  Because the asphalt path is an immovable obstruction he could then have taken free relief again by determining the nearest point of relief from it, not nearer the hole, and dropping a ball within one club-length of that point. However, he obviously decided that the lie that he had after placing his ball on the road was likely to be better than dropping the ball on the trampled grass at the side of the road. It is not mandatory for players to take relief from immovable obstructions (Rule 24-2b) and he chose not to do so. Hindsight suggests that he made the right decision as he was able to play a great shot onto the green and made his par with two putts. 

I hope that you noticed that I wrote this whole piece about Kevin Na without mentioning his multiple waggles. Duh!!

(Edited 20th May 2012: Click here for the official explanation of this incident from John Van der Borght, Manager, Rules Communications, USGA.)

Good golfing,

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

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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Unusual Use of Equipment

Two weeks ago I heard about a player who received a useful tip during a lesson from his Club Pro. It was to help him keep his head still during his stroke until after the moment of impact. The advice was to tuck his chin into his chest, take his shirt into his mouth and bite on it until his stroke was over. He was pleased at how well this worked for him and used the technique during his next medal competition with great results. However, he was less pleased when he was then disqualified from the competition for using equipment in an unusual manner. Part of Rule 14-3 states;
The player must not use… any equipment in an unusual manner:
a. That might assist him in making a stroke or in his play; or
b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play; or
c. That might assist him in gripping the club, except that:
(i) gloves may be worn provided that they are plain gloves;
(ii) resin, powder and drying or moisturizing agents may be used; and
(iii) a towel or handkerchief may be wrapped around the grip. 
Perhaps the harshest occurrence of a penalty incurred under this Rule was at last year’s USGA Senior Women’s Amateur at the Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Andrea Kraus, 50, of Baltimore, Md., was playing in her first USGA Senior Women’s Amateur and was lying dormie 7 after the 11th hole when she was disqualified. Her caddie had a short string of yarn attached to his divot repair tool that he had used during the round to judge the direction of the wind. I do understand the reasoning behind the disqualification, but would be surprised if every Rules official would have arrived at the same ruling.

Examples of equipment that may not be used in an unusual manner in a golfing context are;

  • (Edit: Note that this Decision was revised at January 2014 and compasses are now permitted on the course). A compass, which could be used to determine wind direction, the direction of the grain in the greens, or for some other similar reason. (Decision 14-3/4). It is for this reason that iPhones, which have an inbuilt compass that cannot be removed, may not be used during competitions as a distance measuring device, even if there is a Local Rule permitting the use of distance measuring devices. (See this link for more information on this subject).
  • A weight suspended on a string and used as plumb line. Decision 14-3/11.
  • A bottled drink on the putting green used as a level to gauge the slope of the green. Decision 14-3/12.5
  • A golf ball warmer or hand warmer purposely used to heat a ball. Decision 14-3/13.5 (but see below).
  • A music or broadcast listening device, whether or not using headphones, while making a stroke or for a prolonged period of time during a stipulated round. Decision 14-3/17.
There are two important exceptions to Rule 14-3, which can be summarised as ‘for medical reasons’ and ‘traditionally accepted’;
1. A player is not in breach of this Rule if (a) the equipment or device is designed for or has the effect of alleviating a medical condition, (b) the player has a legitimate medical reason to use the equipment or device, and (c) the Committee is satisfied that its use does not give the player any undue advantage over other players.

2. A player is not in breach of this Rule if he uses equipment in a traditionally accepted manner.
Here are some examples of situations where the second exception applies;
  • Although a booklet containing information on the length and topography of the holes on a course (stroke-saver) is an artificial device, its use has been traditionally accepted
  • A putter may be used as a plumb-line to assist in determining the slope on a putting green (as in the photo above).
  • Although a hand warmer is an artificial device, its use solely to warm the hands is traditionally accepted. Decision 14-3/13.
  • A towel or handkerchief may be wrapped around the grip of a club to assist in gripping it. Rule 14-3c.
So, golfers should think twice before using any type of equipment in an unusual manner; it is probably not permitted by the Rules unless it meets the above exceptions.

Good golfing,

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

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Friday, 4 May 2012

Amended Decision on Improving Line of Play

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With so much discussion centered on the change to the Definition of ‘Addressing the Ball’ and its effect on Rule 13-2b, a significant clarification to the Rules of Golf has received less attention than I think it deserves. It concerns a less rigid interpretation of the word ‘improve’ with regard to Rule 13-2, Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play.

I have provided an illustration of this in the photo above. Prior to 1st January this year a player would have incurred a penalty if they replaced the partly attached divot on their line of play to the hole, even though they intended their next stroke to be a full 9-iron to the putting green. Decision 13-2/0.5 confirms that there is no breach of the Rules unless the player intends to putt across the repaired area, which is obviously highly unlikely in this scenario.

In explaining this change I am going to quote freely from the new Decision 13-2/0.5, which clarifies that, in the context of Rule 13-2,

“improve” means to change for the better so that the player gains a potential advantage with respect to the position or lie of his ball, the area of his intended stance or swing, his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole, or the area in which he is to drop or place a ball.
Therefore, merely changing an area protected by Rule 13-2 prior to making a stroke will not be a breach of Rule 13-2, unless it creates a potential advantage for the player in his play.

The Decision lists three useful examples that are unlikely to create such a potential advantage.

  • If a player repairs a small pitch-mark on his line of play five yards in front of his ball prior to making a 150-yard approach shot from through the green;
  • If a player accidentally knocks down several leaves from a tree in his area of intended swing with a practice swing, but there are still so many leaves or branches remaining that the area of intended swing has not been materially affected; or
  • If a player whose ball lies in thick rough 180 yards from the green, walks forward and pulls strands of grass on his line of play and tosses them in the air to determine the direction of the wind.
Conversely, examples of changes that are likely to create such a potential advantage and therefore incur the general penalty are:
  • If a player repairs a pitch-mark through the green five yards in front of his ball and on his line of play prior to making a stroke from off the putting green that might be affected by the pitch-mark (e.g., a putt or a low-running shot);
  • If a player accidentally knocks down a single leaf from a tree in his area of intended swing with a practice swing, but, as this was one of very few leaves that might either interfere with his swing or fall and thereby distract him, the area of intended swing has been materially affected; or
  • If a player pulls strands of grass from rough a few inches behind his ball to test the wind, but thereby reduces a potential distraction for the player, or resistance to his club, in the area of his intended swing.
The second examples in both of the above sections provide welcome clarification to a golfing situation that occurs quite regularly on the course and has caused much confusion over the years. I know that personally I have been involved in several discussions about whether a player incurs a penalty because they have dislodged a leaf, or leaves, while simulating the stroke that they are about to make.

The new Decision summarises the situation on improving the line of play as follows;

The determination as to whether a player has gained a potential advantage from his actions is made by reference to the situation immediately prior to his stroke. If there is a reasonable possibility that the player's action has created a potential advantage, the player is in breach of Rule 13-2.
On a totally different matter, I have just heard about the Tiger Woods lost ball incident at Quail Hollow. There will be a lot of criticism for the ruling that was given in his favour but after reading this account I think that the walking Rules Official probably made the right call.

Good golfing,

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

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