Friday, 15 March 2013

Tiger’s Ball Unplayable in a Palm Tree

Tiger Woods suffered a minor setback on the 17th hole of his 3rd round at WGC - Cadillac Championship at the TPC Blue Monster Course at Doral Golf Resort & Spa in Miami, Florida. His faded tee shot kept drifting in the wind and dropped straight into one of several palm trees to the right of the fairway, lodging where the leaves grow from the stem.

If you are receiving this blog by email click on this link to view the PGA Tour video of Tiger's stroke into the palm tree.

There are a few interesting issues in this Rules situation. The first is whether the player is able to positively identify their ball. At the very start of the video clip the person to Tiger’s left appears to be using binoculars to locate the ball. Decision 14-3/3 confirms that standard eyeglasses and binoculars that have no range-finder attachments are not artificial devices within the meaning of the term in Rule 14-3 and may therefore be used by the player, or anyone else, to find and identify a ball. If a player can clearly see a ball in the tree, which is most likely theirs, but they cannot positively identify it by its markings, then they have to treat their ball as lost and proceed under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1).

Interestingly, the Rules permit a ball to be identified by the testimony of a spectator (Decision 27/12). I remember an incident involving Phil Mickelson in the 2001 NEC Invitational in Ohio when, although neither he nor his caddie had put his usual identification marks on a ball that he had played into deep rough, they received timely notification of TV camera evidence showing that a ball they had found in the area was indeed the ball that Phil had played and so he was permitted to continue with it.

Having identified his ball and wisely decided not to climb the tree to play it as it lay (!) Tiger deemed it unplayable and took relief under penalty of one stroke. In the circumstances, where the ball was lodged high in the palm tree, he obviously had to substitute another ball, but had he been able to retrieve his original ball he could have chosen to clean it and continue play with it. In taking relief, the reference point for the drop under Rule 28 options b) and c) is immediately below the place where the ball lay in the tree. The option that Tiger chose was to drop a ball within two club-lengths of that reference point not nearer the hole, but he also had the option of dropping a ball behind the reference point keeping that point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped. Of course, the third option under Rule 28 is to proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1, by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played, which in Tiger’s case was the teeing ground.

A final interesting Rules point is that if a player deems their ball unplayable in a tree overhanging a putting green and they opt to take relief under Rule 28c, they must drop their ball on the putting green; one of the few occasions where a ball does not have to be placed on the putting green (Decision 28/11).

Good golfing,

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Anonymous said...

Barry, in this situation of a ball in the tree, can a spectator identify a players ball in the tree? Meaning they are standing there and see the ball land in the tree?
can they climb up and say yes it has your mark on it? is that enough? as the rules states the player must identify it?

How far does that rule go for identification purposes in this situation?

there is discussion (27-12) that a spectator can identify a ball, yet 27-15 says the Player must identify it?

can you please clarify?

Barry Rhodes said...


The responsibility for playing the proper ball rests with the player. Decision 22/15 clarifies that a player may positively identify their ball based on information given by the spectator. So, providing the player can see a ball in a tree and there is a witness that can attest that it is definitely their ball, because they saw the ball land there, the player may deem it unplayable. Similarly, if someone climbs a tree and confirms that they have found a ball there with the specific markings that positively identify it as belonging to the player, they may also deem it unplayable. However, the ball does have to be found. It is not sufficient for someone to see a player’s ball disappearing into a tree and not falling to the ground.