Friday, 26 April 2013

Ignoring a Breach of Rule in Match Play

Pebble Beach : Jeff Gross / Getty Images

I am pleased to report that over the past month I have sold more copies of my new document, ‘So You Are Going to Play Match Play!’ than I expected and better still, have received several compliments from those that have already used it to their benefit (click here for details). I believe that one item of feedback that I received will be of interest, even to experienced match play participants. Unlike stroke play, where you have an obligation to your fellow competitors to report every breach of a Rule that you witness, there is no such obligation in match play, as you may disregard, or overlook any breach of a Rule by your opponent. The reason for this is that only you, or your side, are affected by any breach by an opponent; it does not affect any other entrant in the match play competition

You may ask why a player might want to ignore a breach of a Rule that they witness during their match. Well, there are occasions when a breach may not benefit an opponent in any way and you may consider that to raise it may cause unnecessary friction in an otherwise friendly contest. I had an example of this myself two weeks ago, when I noticed that a foursomes opponent did not mark his ball before lifting and cleaning it on the fairway, as was required by a Local Rule for Preferred Lies that was in operation. I did not want to call the one stroke penalty on the player, a fellow Club member, but I knew that it might upset my own game if I said nothing, as I could have been concentrating on observing whether he continued to breach the Rule, rather than on my own play. This is where you have to be careful. Whilst there is no compunction on you to call the penalty, you still must not say anything to your opponent(s) during play of the hole, as under Rule 1-3 players must not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule, or to waive any penalty incurred by either side. A simple remark to an opponent that you noticed him breach a Rule opens both sides to disqualification from the match, unless they insist on the penalty applying before they finish the hole. However, the breach may be openly discussed by both sides as soon as any player has made a stroke from the next teeing ground. The reason for this can be found in Rule 2-5, which outlines the procedure to follow if a doubt or dispute arises between players in match play. Part of that Rule states;

A claim is considered to have been made in a timely manner if, upon discovery of circumstances giving rise to a claim, the player makes his claim (i) before any player in the match plays from the next teeing ground, or (ii) in the case of the last hole of the match, before all players in the match leave the putting green, or (iii) when the circumstances giving rise to the claim are discovered after all the players in the match have left the putting green of the final hole, before the result of the match has been officially announced.
So, once the result of the hole has been decided and the players have commenced play of the next hole, any discussion on a penalty that may have previously been incurred does not affect that result, as there was no agreement between the sides to waive the Rule.

Returning to the personal situation that I described earlier, I waited until all players had teed off from the next hole and then advised the offending opponent’s partner that he should have a word with his playing partner, to explain that he must mark his ball on the fairway before lifting it. The breach was not repeated during the rest of the match, but had it been I would have felt fully justified in imposing the penalty.

I am not suggesting that players ignore all Rules breaches in match play just because they are in a friendly competition; it is up to each player to make up their own minds, depending on the situation. But please do not extend this choice, as to whether to call a penalty or not, to when you are playing the stroke play format, where you do have an obligation to protect the interests of every other player in the competition. Of course, as I have often said before, the best way to do this, in order to avoid the risk of an unpleasant incident, is to stop a player before he breaches a Rule. Giving information on the Rules is not advice and is to be encouraged in both stroke play and match play.

Good golfing,


‘So You Are Going to Play Match Play!’ details here. Only $7.00, €5.50, or £4.50

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2013 and may not be copied without permission.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Tiger Woods Penalty at the Masters; Is Golf the Loser?

Tiger Woods after his 3rd round at the Masters (

Having just posted a new blog on Friday evening I was not going to add to the ‘noise’ surrounding the Tiger Woods penalty incident, but I have now received so many requests for my opinion and explanation of the ruling that it is easier for me to blog again than to reply to each one individually.

When I was first advised of the circumstances of Tiger’s drop after finding water at the 15th on Friday (I was not watching it live), my first thought was that he must have correctly taken relief under option b) of Rule 26-1, which would have enabled him to drop back as far as he liked along an extension of the line from the hole through where his ball last crossed the margin of the hazard (which was the third time that it crossed the margin). I soon realised that this was not the case and that he had definitely made an invalid drop by dropping about two club-lengths behind where he had last played from, when option a) of Rule 26-1 requires that the ball is dropped ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played. At that point I was sure that Tiger would be disqualified; he played from a wrong place, did not correct the error, did not inform the Committee and he and his marker signed and returned a score that did not incur the penalty that he had incurred. Rule 6-6d states;

Wrong Score for Hole
The competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified. If he returns a score for any hole higher than actually taken, the score as returned stands.
What we were not aware of, as the controversy broke, is that the Masters Rules Committee, comprising Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters competition committee, Jim Reinhart, an Augusta National member and a former Rules of Golf and chairman of the USGA, and Mark Russell vice president of competitions for the PGA Tour, had determined earlier in the evening that Tiger had not taken an improper drop (!!!). Obviously, video evidence is not as accurate as we had imagined. In a press conference on Saturday Ridley commented;
"Having determined that we did not feel there was a rules violation, we did not talk to Tiger, so he completed his round, signed his scorecard, and the first day was over,"
Unfortunately for the Rules Committee, after his round Tiger, who was unaware of either his invalid drop or of their ruling, opened up the can of worms by stating that he purposely dropped his ball two club-lengths further back from where he had previously played from, so as to improve his chances on his 5th stroke. This personal confirmation that he had dropped in a wrong place meant that the Rules Committee were forced to reconvene on Saturday morning to discuss the incident again in light of the admitted breach, and to determine the appropriate penalty. In his press conference Ridley explained;
"I told Tiger that in light of that information that we felt that he had, in fact, violated Rule 26 under the Rules of Golf and that he was going to have to be penalized," Ridley said. "I also told him because we had initially made the determination that he had not violated the rule … that under Rule 33-7 that there was ample reason not to impose the penalty of disqualification but to waive that penalty and impose a two-shot penalty. We had made a decision before he finished his round, before he finished his scorecard, and I think he's entitled to be protected by 33-7, and that's our decision, and others agree with us. Disqualification this morning was not even on the table."
The relevant part of Rule 33-7 states;
A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.
Many reporters assumed that the Rules Committee had waived the penalty of disqualification under Decision 33-7/4.5, which they have confirmed was not the case. You can see from this extract from that Decision why this would have been embarrassing for the Committee after Tiger’s interview with ESPN;
….if the Committee is satisfied that the competitor could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts resulting in his breach of the Rules, it would be justified under Rule 33-7 in waiving the disqualification penalty prescribed by Rule 6-6d. The penalty stroke(s) associated with the breach would, however, be applied to the hole where the breach occurred.
Rule 6-1 categorically states that the player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the Rules, so dropping in a place not permitted by the Rules would not qualify for the penalty of disqualification to be waived under this Decision.

So, to be absolutely clear, the Committee waived the penalty of disqualification, because they considered that this was an exceptional individual case where such a penalty would have been too harsh. I am not aware of any other situation where a player who did not know a Rule of Golf (or if they did, they forgot about it) has been favourably treated in this way. I am therefore surprised at the ruling and believe that it may have adverse consequences in the future in similar situations.

The most disappointing feature of this incident is that it could turn some people off the game because of the perceived complexity of the Rules and the way in which they are administered. More than a day after the penalty of only two strokes was confirmed the golfing public is totally divided as to whether Tiger should voluntarily withdraw from completing this year’s Masters. The results of a poll carried out on the esteemed golf journalist, Geoff Shackleford’s website, resulted in 47% saying he should withdraw, 50% saying he should not, with 3% unsure. I am one of the 47%, because I cannot help thinking that the Committee may have arrived at a different ruling if a less ‘noteworthy’ player had been involved. Also, I think that it will take a long time for the doubters amongst those that take an interest in Golf and its Rules, to forget this seemingly biased ruling. It is probable that Tiger may have won more respect and popularity by withdrawing from the Masters, acknowledging that he did in fact return a wrong score card and accepting the same penalty of disqualification that amateurs all over the world have suffered for similar innocent mistakes. One eminent player who believes that Tiger should withdraw and definitely has the right to make such a call, is Greg Norman, who twice disqualified himself while leading tournaments; once in the 1990 Palm Meadows Cup on the Gold Coast for an illegal drop two days earlier, and the other as defending champion in the 1996 Greater Hartford Open for using a possibly non-conforming ball. In both cases, he pulled out as soon as the potential infractions were brought to his attention.

I am writing this blog just before the final round starts, with Tiger lying 4 strokes off the lead. I am hoping that he does not win, as I think that there would be a tsunami of criticism against him, which could affect his future performances. There are occasions in sport where winning is not everything.

(Edit: On May 1st 2013, The R&A, USGA issued a statement addressing the Tiger Woods Ruling at the 2013 Masters Tournament. Click here for details.)
(Edit 2: 'Without Fear Or Favor - How Tiger Woods could have turned a misstep into a giant step forward'; click here for a great article by Jerry Tarde of Golf Digest that supports my opinion on how Tiger should have dealt with this situation).

Good golfing,


The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2013 and may not be copied without permission.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Practice Swings and Practice Strokes


Some golfers are confused as to the difference between a practice swing and a practice stroke, neither of which appear in the Definitions section of the Rules book. The main feature of a practice swing is that there is no intention by the player to move any ball. It occurs when a player simulates a stroke, usually in preparation for making one. It may also be used as a loosening-up or training exercise while waiting to play. Conversely, a practice stoke is made with the intention of striking at and moving a ball, even if it is a plastic ball. The only practice strokes that are permitted during a stipulated round of golf are practice putting or chipping on or near the putting green of the hole last played, a practice putting green, or the teeing ground of the next hole to be played in the round. But wait until your fellow competitors or opponents have also finished playing the hole before you indulge in practice chips or putts. A practice stroke may never be made from a hazard during a round (Rule 7-2) and the player must not unduly delay play because they are practicing (Rule 6-7). Strokes made in continuing the play of a hole, the result of which has been decided, are not practice strokes. Any other practice stroke made during a round that has not been suspended incurs a penalty of two strokes in stroke play or loss of hole in match play (Rule 7-2).

A practice swing may incur a penalty if the player stands too close to their ball while practicing and accidentally causes their ball to move. Unless this accidental striking of the ball occurs on a teeing ground, when the ball has not been put into play, there is a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced. Otherwise, a practice swing is not a practice stroke and may be taken at any place on the course, provided the player does not breach the Rules.

There are a few Rules myths about practice swings. It is a fallacy that a player must not make a practice swing on a teeing area, although some courses may wish to impose such a restriction so as to protect these areas. The casual flicking of a range ball for the purpose of tidying up the course, is not a breach (Decision 7-2/5), nor is hitting a ball to a player who is standing some way away as an act of courtesy (Decision 7-2/5.5), but a player who takes their usual stance and set-up before striking a stray ball back to the range area would incur the general penalty. Contrary to what many golfers might tell you, a penalty is not incurred when a player knocks down leaves of a tree while practicing his stroke, if there are still so many leaves or branches remaining that the area of intended swing has not been materially affected (Decision 13-2/0.5). See this earlier blog of mine for more detail on this situation.

When play of a competition has been suspended by the Committee, a player may practice anywhere other than on the competition course, until the resumption of play.

Good golfing

The Masters signals the start of a new season of golf for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. If you are involved in Club or Society Golf Committees you may be interested in using one of my three quizzes to remind players of some of the most commonly breached Rules of Golf. There are three quiz sets; ‘General’, ‘Match Play’ and ‘Juniors’, each containing 36 questions and answers with the appropriate references for the doubters and a handy check sheet for fast and accurate marking of the answer sheets. Click here for details.

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2013 and may not be copied without permission.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Golf Can Be So Unfair!

There are probably over 60 million golfers worldwide and I guess that at least 59 million of them consider that the Rules of Golf have treated them unfairly at some time or other. Despite the fact that the R&A and USGA have been refining the Rules of Golf for more than 200 years, to deal equitably with every possible situation that can possibly happen on a golf course, I would guess that a large majority of players think that they are now unnecessarily complicated and work against players’ best interests. I should quickly point out that I am not one of them. I have learned that every Rule, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, is there for a logical reason, to minimise misinterpretation, misunderstandings, mistakes and even mischievousness!  I don’t pretend to have any inside information on the rationale behind any Rule or Decision, but I am aware of the huge amount of dedicated work that goes on behind the closed doors of many national golfing bodies around the world to provide informed input to the two Ruling Bodies. They in turn consider, appraise, formulate and then publish the bi-annual changes to the Decisions on the Rules of Golf and the four-yearly changes to the Rules of Golf, always acting in the best interests of the game and those that play it.

However, leaving the Rules aside, there are undoubtedly areas of our beloved game that favour one player over another. For example, those that can afford to do so may purchase the very latest technology drivers for additional length off the tee, use more expensive balls that impart more spin, employ local caddies with an intimate knowledge of the course being played, hire a motorised golf cart to preserve their energy, or more accurately decide on their club selection by reference to a state-of-the-art distance measuring device (where permitted by a Local Rule).

A personal bugbear of mine, as a high-handicapper (over 18), is that in cub competitions the prizes are geared in favour of the low-handicap players (less than 10), even though the majority of entrants are usually not in that category. It is much more difficult for a high handicapper to win a competition that extends over multiple rounds (e.g. match play events, leagues or golfer of the year), because they play to their handicap less frequently; the best golfers are more likely to win gross score, longest drive and nearest the pin competitions; and in four-ball competitions, where three-quarters of the full handicap is the norm, a 20-handicapper loses 5 strokes, whereas a 4-handicapper only loses 1 stroke; etc.

And then there are the commonplace, ‘unfair’ occurrences that can happen to any of us on the course; balls settling in a divot hole on the fairway; a ball rebounding off course signage or a stake; having to play a ball off a maintenance vehicle tyre track that we think should have been defined as ground under repair; a fellow competitor’s loud cough during a backswing; a mud ball; a gust of wind drifting a faded ball into a water hazard; the arrival of  a rainstorm at the start of an afternoon round following a morning of balmy sunshine; and having to drop a ball in a less favourable position when taking a mandatory drop under a Local Rule (e.g. from a staked sapling). Of course, in this respect, most of us remember these ‘unfair’ incidents on the golf course and conveniently forget that there are probably just as many occasions when lady luck appears to be on our side.

I will finish by repeating a story told by Sean Connery, who played the first James Bond and is a passionate golfer;

The great Jack Nicklaus summed things up neatly during a charity match on the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he and I were playing against Ben Crenshaw and Glen Campbell. I asked him what he considered to be the most important factor to overcome in the game of golf. His reply, "It's an unfair game."
Good golfing,

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2013 and may not be copied without permission.

I have had a great response to my new document, ‘So You Are Going to Play Match Play’. This 10-page document appears to have struck a chord with those of you that play match play golf and realise that several different Rules apply to this format. Click here for more information.