Thursday, 26 July 2012

Relief from Bunkers at the Lytham Open Championship

Photo: Getty Images

I suspect that many golfers were surprised to see that all the bunkers were in play during the Open Championship at Royal Lytham St Annes last week, as many of them contained deep puddles. However, the Rules of Golf provide for casual water in bunkers and there is no reason to declare them out of play unless they are completely flooded. I am aware that some Club Committees make a Local Rule allowing a player to drop out of any bunker filled with casual water, without penalty, despite this being against the Rules of Golf (Decision 33-8/27). I covered this subject, including the relief options available to a player when their ball lies in casual water in a bunker in an earlier blog, Casual Water in Bunkers - Rule 25-1b(ii).

If you were watching last week’s enthralling golf at Lytham, you will probably have seen a number of situations where players found their balls at rest in casual water in bunkers, or in very difficult lies in the saturated sand. I witnessed three interesting situations, which caused me to query the decisions made by the players and their caddies in these circumstances.

The first concerned Graeme McDowell on the final day, when his ball was on lying on the left side of a greenside pot bunker, close to the stacked turf face. He had a very limited stance available inside the bunker and wisely decided that he would not be able to get enough lift on his ball to clear the lip and run it towards the hole from that position. He did have just enough backswing to move his ball sideways into the middle of the bunker, which is the option that he chose (see photo). Now, I realise that there is a world of difference between the skills of a professional golfer as compared to a high handicapper, but I still question whether he would not have been better to deem his ball unplayable and drop a ball in the bunker within two club-lengths, not nearer the hole. Surely, there would have been less risk involved in choosing this option despite the chance of his ball settling a little in the wet sand?

On the same day, Tiger Woods was faced with a very similar situation when he was still in close contention for the title. However, instead of taking one of the relief options available under penalty he chose to smash his loftiest wedge into the wet, clinging sand beneath the ball. His ball bounced back off the turf sods, just missing him, which would have been a one stroke penalty, and landed in an even worse lie against the left face, so close that he could not take any kind of stance in the bunker. There is a wonderful picture of the stance that he was forced to take outside of the bunker, with a full commentary of his predicament at this link. Tiger’s next stroke almost cleared the bunker face, but was diverted way to the right, stopping on the edge of the putting green, 50 feet away from the hole. The result was a 3-putt, triple bogey for the hole, effectively ending his chance of winning. As we know, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and of all players Tiger knows the phenomenal shots that he is capable of. But I am sure that I am not the only one that thought that as with McDowell, he should also have taken the option of dropping his ball in the bunker within two club-lengths not nearer the hole, for a one stroke penalty, before playing that first, almost impossible shot.

Of course dropping a ball in the wet sand can provide its own problems. If a ball is lying on top of the sand it is tempting to try and play it out wherever it lies rather than risking the ball plugging when it is dropped from shoulder height. This is why I was surprised to see Rory McIlroy, having taken the free relief option from casual water in the bunker, standing just outside of it to drop his ball into it. It was not a pot bunker and I doubt whether he was standing more than a foot above the level of the sand, but there is no point in dropping a ball from a higher point than you are required to, especially in the wet conditions prevailing. Some players think that you have to face the hole when you are dropping a ball, but this is not correct. The Rules only require that the player must stand erect, hold their ball at shoulder height and arm’s length and drop it (Rule 20-2a).

I hope that, like me, you enjoyed another wonderful Open Championship. It was heart-rending to witness Adam Scott’s last four holes, but I was delighted that it was Ernie Els that came through, one of our sport’s great ambassadors.

Good golfing,

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

Friday, 20 July 2012

Zach Johnson Takes 5 Drops on Playoff Hole

Several readers have queried why Zach Johnson had to drop his ball five times after dunking his approach shot in the water at the John Deere Classic, on the first hole of a sudden death playoff with Troy Matteson last week. Many had watched the TV coverage and were questioning whether the TV commentator, David Feherty, and Steve Carman, the Tournament Director, had got it right. Check out the incident at this YouTube link and then I will do my best to clarify the issues, which I have to admit are confusing.

If you are receiving this blog by email click on this link to view the video.

(22nd July 2012 - Following comments received from knowledgeable sources I have edited my original post. 23rd July Further edits were made) Zach Johnson’s first drop was from the lateral water hazard and he chose option 26-1c(i) by dropping a ball outside the margin of the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than the point where the original ball last crossed the margin, as designated by the red line. He purposely dropped his ball near to a sprinkler head, so that he could take further relief on the flatter area and might even see his ball roll to the closer mown area just off the rough. When he dropped his ball to the right of the sprinkler head it bounced towards him and in my opinion, to a position where there was no interference with his lie, stance or area of intended swing. However, Carman did allow him to take relief from the immovable obstruction, moving the tee marker to the other side of the sprinkler head, which he adjudged to be the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole.

Now the fun begins. With guidance from Carman, Zach measured the extent of the one club-length relief from the nearest point of relief and placed his tee in the ground, marking the outside limit of the permitted dropping area. On his first drop his ball hit the tee, sending it into the air. This is the point where some experts think that Steve Carman was wrong, because he asked Zach to replace the tee and drop again. Their point is that the Definition of Equipment excludes any small object used to mark the position of a ball and therefore the drop was valid. This would certainly have been the case if the ball first hit the course within the permitted limit and then rolled against the tee marker. However, in my opinion, this was not the reason why he was required to drop again. Initially, I thought that the reason was that when the ball hit the tee, logically part of it was outside of the limit of the drop area making it an invalid drop. In other words it was not 'within' the one club-length. However, this has been challenged by others and another explanation has been offered that because the ball hit the tee, an obstruction, before it hit the course it had to be dropped again. It just shows that even acknowledged experts on the Rules do not always agree with rulings that are made! The same situation occurred with Johnson’s third and fourth drops. Note that because these drops were ruled invalid they do not count as drops and there is no limit to the number of times a ball must be re-dropped in these circumstances. The fifth drop landed inside the permitted area but then rolled outside causing some viewers to claim that the ball should have been re-dropped. However, under Rule 20-2c(vi) a ball may roll and come to rest up to two club-lengths from where it first struck a part of the course before a re-drop is required. Steve Carman then took a good look to check that the ball had not come to rest nearer to the hole and declared it to be in play. 

Zach Johnson went on to make a double bogey on this first playoff hole. Surprisingly, so did Troy Matteson who also had to take relief from the water hazard. So, they had to play the 18th again and this time Zach played a spectacular shot from a fairway bunker to about one foot from the hole and won the tournament with a birdie to Matteson’s par.

Good golfing,

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Saturday, 14 July 2012

Dispute over Competition Result

If you regularly play in Club stroke play competitions you will know that from time to time issues can occur that affect the results, even after they have been announced. For example, this may be due to a Committee member leaving a winning card in the competition box, or a possible discrepancy on a player’s score card that has been signed and returned. Committees need to know the circumstances in which they may, or may not, impose or rescind a penalty after the winners of the competition have been determined. Part of Rule 34-1 states;
In stroke play, a penalty must not be rescinded, modified or imposed after the competition has closed. A competition is closed when the result has been officially announced
So, if the competition winners have been announced, e.g. at a prizes presentation or by the results being posted on a notice board, and it comes to light that a winner may have unknowingly played one hole from the wrong teeing ground, the announced result stands. However, there are some important exceptions to this principle. In the above scenario, if the player did know that they had played from a wrong teeing ground, but continued play of the hole and recorded a score for that hole before signing and returning their score, they must be disqualified if the breach is later revealed. Here are the exceptions to Rule 34-1b;
A penalty of disqualification must be imposed after the competition has closed if a competitor:
(i) was in breach of Rule 1-3 (Agreement to Waive Rules); or
(ii) returned a score card on which he had recorded a handicap that, before the competition closed, he knew was higher than that to which he was entitled, and this affected the number of strokes received (Rule 6-2b); or
(iii) returned a score for any hole lower than actually taken (Rule 6-6d) for any reason other than failure to include a penalty that, before the competition closed, he did not know he had incurred; or
(iv) knew, before the competition closed, that he had been in breach of any other Rule for which the penalty is disqualification.
If a Committee makes a mistake in determining the competition winners, they must bite the bullet and correct their error, with no time limit on them revising the result. Decision 34-1b/6 rules;
Q. In a stroke-play event, the winner's prize is awarded to B. The next day A advises the Committee that he had returned a lower score than B. A check reveals that A is correct and that, in error, the Committee had failed to post A's score. What should be done?
A. Rule 34-1b does not apply to Committee errors of this kind. The prize should be retrieved from B and given to A, the rightful winner.
Of course, it is rare for Committees to make mistakes!

With the Open Championship starting at Royal Lytham & St Annes on Thursday, I would like to draw your attention to the four short video clips that the R&A has posted of breaches of the Rules that occurred at previous Open Championships staged at the same venue. Click here to view the R&A videos.

Good golfing,


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Friday, 6 July 2012

Grounding Your Club in a Bunker

You must not touch the loose impediment on your backswing
– Rule 13-4c

This week I am attempting to clarify the subject of grounding your club in a bunker. Part of Rule 13-4b states;
…the player must not: …
b. Touch the ground in the hazard or water in the water hazard with his hand or a club
Most of us are aware that the above Rule means that we cannot touch the sand with our club before making a stroke from the bunker. So, we correctly hover our club a little above the sand when preparation for our shot. But, here are some related facts that you may not be aware of for when your ball lies in a bunker;
•    You may not touch any sand in the bunker on your backswing before making your stroke (Decision 13-4/31). This can sometimes be very difficult when your ball lies at the back of a steeply-sloped bunker. It might even mean playing out sideways or backwards to avoid the penalty of two strokes or loss of hole.
•    You may not touch any loose impediments in the bunker with you club other than when you make your stroke, which commences with the forward motion of the club made with the intention of striking the ball. Loose impediments are anything natural, including divots, loose moss, leaves, twigs, stones, etc. (Rule 13-4c). Of course, you may touch stones if there is a Local Rule permitting the removal of stones from bunkers. You may also move loose impediments in order to find or identify a ball that is believed to be lost in a bunker, but they must be replaced if the ball is found or identified in that bunker (Rule 12-1b).
•    But, you may touch any grass, bush, tree or other growing thing with your club at any time, including on the backswing preceding your stroke (Note to Rule 13-4). So, if your ball lies at the back of a bunker and you cannot make your stroke without brushing growing grasses that overhang the lip of the bunker with your club, there is no penalty for doing so, either with a practice swing or your actual stroke.
•    Providing you do nothing to test the condition of the bunker, or any similar hazard;

  • no penalty is incurred if you touch the sand or loose impediments in a bunker as a result of or to prevent falling, (Exception 1.(a) to Rule 13-4);
  • you may touch the sand in a bunker when removing an obstruction (e.g. a rake), in measuring or in marking the position of, retrieving, lifting, placing or replacing a ball under any Rule (Exception 1.(a) to Rule 13-4);
  • you may lay a club, or clubs, in a bunker whilst you are playing out of it (Exception 1,(b) to Rule 13-4).
•    You may smooth sand in the bunker, providing this is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and you do not improve the position or lie of your ball, the area of your intended stance or swing, or your line of play with respect to your next stroke (Exception 2 to Rule 13-4).
•    You do incur a penalty if you casually lean on your club in the hazard while waiting for another player to play (Decision 13-4/2).
•    There is no penalty if you accidentally touch your ball with your club, providing it does not move (Decision 13-4/12).

Good golfing,

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

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