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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.
- 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 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.
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