Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Doubt as to a Ruling in Stroke Play

Is relief available for this embedded ball? See last paragraph of blog for answer.

It is surprising how many times I hear of golfers in a stroke play competition that have a doubt as to how they should continue play of a hole, because they are uncertain of, or cannot agree on a ruling.  Usually, they gamble on taking one of the options and hope for the best. For example: Is the permitted drop within one club-length of two? Must the ball be dropped, replaced or played from where it came to rest? May a ball be played out of GUR? Is there relief from an area close to a putting green that has obviously been damaged by a course maintenance vehicle? Is there relief for a ball that is embedded in the side of a bunker, as in the photo above? 

It is not surprising that these uncertainties occur during a round of golf. The Rules have evolved over the long history of the game to provide definitive solutions for the myriad of circumstances that can possibly happen on the course and players cannot be expected to know them all. Those who advocate that they should be simplified by drawing a red line over a majority of the clauses making up the existing 34 Rules, plus over twelve hundred Decisions on the Rules, do not satisfactorily explain how the inevitable disputes that would result from such a course of action should be settled, both on and off the course.

Whilst Rule 6-1 places a responsibility on every golfer to know the Rules, there is also a Rule that provides players with a way of proceeding when they don't. The player may play out the hole with two balls, choosing which one they want to count if it has been played within the Rules. To take advantage of this Rule the player must follow the procedure that is set-out in Rule 3-3a, arguably the most underused Rule in the book.

In stroke play, if a competitor is doubtful of his rights or the correct procedure during the play of a hole, he may, without penalty, complete the hole with two balls.

After the doubtful situation has arisen and before taking further action, the competitor must announce to his marker or fellow-competitor that he intends to play two balls and which ball he wishes to count if the Rules permit.

The competitor must report the facts of the situation to the Committee before returning his score card. If he fails to do so, he is disqualified.
Note: If the competitor takes further action before dealing with the doubtful situation, Rule 3-3 is not applicable. The score with the original ball counts or, if the original ball is not one of the balls being played, the score with the first ball put into play counts, even if the Rules do not allow the procedure adopted for that ball. However, the competitor incurs no penalty for having played a second ball, and any penalty strokes incurred solely by playing that ball do not count in his score.
Note that if a second ball is played that fact must be reported to the Committee before returning the score card. This is true even if the player had the same score with both balls.

Rule 3-3 only applies in stroke play; players are not permitted to play a second ball in match play. See this previous blog of mine, which includes the procedure that must be followed when there is a doubt about a ruling in match play.

I recommend that all golfers who play in stroke play competitions (e.g. medal, Stableford and bogey) familiarise themselves with the operation of Rule 3-3. It can be very frustrating to encounter a situation where there is uncertainty over a ruling and the wrong option is chosen, resulting in a penalty of two strokes, or worse still disqualification, which may destroy an otherwise good score for the round.

(Edited July 1st 2013) Answer to the last example above: The ball in the photo above is not embedded in the bunker, as it is buried in the roots of the grass-covered ground bordering the bunker . It is also unlikely that it is embedded in a ‘closely mown area’ although this is not definitive from the photo. If it is embedded through the green in an area that is not mown to fairway height, the ruling as to whether relief is available or not will depend on whether the Committee has introduced a Local Rule permitting relief for embedded balls anywhere through the green, which is increasingly likely as more and more courses adopt such a Local Rule, as per the specimen in Appendix l, Part B, 4ba.

Good golfing,

Now that I have been blogging regularly for approaching five years, many questions on the Rules can be answered by entering a search term in the ‘Search This Blog’ box at the top right corner of my home page. For example, a search on “closely mown area” produces fourteen results, the first three of which contain “Embedded Ball(s)” in the title.

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

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Carl Pettersson’s Ball Moved by Another Ball

Thankfully, the 2013 US Open Championship at Merion GC, Pennsylvania, will be remembered for challenging golf conditions rather than contentious Rules situations, but there was one highly unusual incident that caught my attention. It occurred to Swede, Carl Pettersson, on the morning of the second day, during his weather-disrupted opening round. As he started his backswing for his second stroke on the 5th hole, an errant ball played from a player on the 2nd hole rolled across the fairway colliding with his ball and knocking it several feet away. Watch his surprise as the ball that he was about to strike is deflected away nearly hitting his foot.

Note: If you are receiving a copy of this blog by email you can view the video at this link.

A stray ball is an outside agency. The part of the Definition of Outside Agency that relates to stroke play states;
In stroke play, an outside agency is any agency other than the competitor’s side, any caddie of the side, any ball played by the side at the hole being played or any equipment of the side.
An outside agency includes a referee, a marker, an observer and a forecaddie. Neither wind nor water is an outside agency.
Other examples of outside agencies on a golf course are objects that are moved by the wind, animals, reptiles and birds, spectators, course furniture and balls that players themselves have not put in play.

After Carl Pettersson‘s ball had been moved by the stray ball he did follow the correct procedure by replacing his ball on the spot where it was and there was no penalty. Fortunately, he managed to put this unusual incident behind him and made par for the hole. Rule 18-1 is the relevant Rule, Ball at Rest Moved by Outside Agency;

If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced.
The stray ball in motion, which had been played by another player from another group, had to be played from where it came to rest after being accidentally deflected by Pettersson’s ball at rest. The relevant part of Rule 19-1 states;
If a player’s ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency, it is a rub of the green, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies.....
When asked about the freak incident on the 5th hole, Pettersson said,
"I was getting ready to go and pulled the club back and a ball bounced and hit my ball, so I managed to stop. I've never seen that or experienced that before. Luckily I wasn't in my down swing because if I would have missed the ball I don't know what the ruling would have been on that.”
Well, if he had missed his ball it would have unfortunately been counted as a stroke, as he intended to hit it, but there would have been no additional penalty under Rule 18-2, Ball Moving After Address, because it was obviously known that he did not cause his ball to move, Decision 18-2b/11. I covered the subject of a ball moving after address on this blog.

What if Carl had not jumped out of the way and his ball had hit him on his foot? No penalty would have been incurred for him deflecting the ball as the Rules required him to replace the ball where it was as soon as it was moved by the outside agency. If he failed to replace his ball he would incur a penalty of two strokes under Rule 20-7a(ii) for playing from a wrong place. (This paragraph edited June 20th 2013).

If any of the above has confused you, try to at least remember one of the guiding principles of the Rules of Golf; a player is entitled to the lie and line of play that they had when their ball came to rest.

Another minor Rules incident occurred on the final day at Merion when Rory McIlroy bent his 9-iron in frustration, having struck two balls in succession into the water hazard on the par-4 11th hole, resulting in a quadruple bogey 8. Follow this link to see how he did it and a brief explanation of the ruling from Senior Rules Director, USGA, Thomas Pagel (following the advertisement).

Good Golfing,

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


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Guan Tianlang Makes a 'Schoolboy' Rules Error

Guan Tianlang – Photo Getty Images

I take no pleasure in highlighting another Rules breach by the 14-year-old Chinese golfing sensation, Guan TianLang. You may remember that he became one of the very few players to have ever been penalised for slow play in a major tour event when the penalty was imposed on him under Rule 6-7 at the Masters last April. He had received two separate warnings about his slow play from European Tour chief referee John Paramor, on his 12th and 16th holes, before being penalised one stroke on the 17th, after he had exceeded the US PGA Tour 40- seconds time limit for a stroke by a ‘considerable margin’.

Guang’s most recent breach almost defies belief for a golfer of his undoubted ability. On the second round of the Fedex St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, Juang walked into a bunker on the par-5 16th hole and picked-up his ball, because he wanted to make sure that it was indeed his ball. I have not been able to confirm whether he had marked where his ball was lying in the hazard first, but what is clear is that he failed to inform either of his fellow competitors in the group, Steven Bowditch (Australia) and Steve Lebrun (USA). Rule 12-2 outlines the procedure that must be followed for a player to identify their ball in play;
The responsibility for playing the proper ball rests with the player. Each player should put an identification mark on his ball.
If a player believes that a ball at rest might be his, but he cannot identify it, the player may lift the ball for identification, without penalty. The right to lift a ball for identification is in addition to the actions permitted under Rule 12-1.
Before lifting the ball, the player must announce his intention to his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow-competitor in stroke play and mark the position of the ball. He may then lift the ball and identify it, provided that he gives his opponent, marker or fellow-competitor an opportunity to observe the lifting and replacement. The ball must not be cleaned beyond the extent necessary for identification when lifted under Rule 12-2.
If the ball is the player’s ball and he fails to comply with all or any part of this procedure, or he lifts his ball in order to identify it without having good reason to do so, he incurs a penalty of one stroke. If the lifted ball is the player’s ball, he must replace it. If he fails to do so, he incurs the general penalty for a breach of Rule 12-2, but there is no additional penalty under this Rule.
Note: If the original lie of a ball to be replaced has been altered, see Rule 20-3b.
According to eyewitnesses, Bowditch confronted the teenager about his lack of knowledge of the Rule and at the end of the round reportedly refused to sign his score card, although he did eventually consent to do so once the penalty was imposed by the officials. Bowditch’s irritation may have reflected the critical view held by several tournament Pros that the 14-year-old amateur golfer is repeatedly taking the place of tour professionals who need the starts.

Guan’s lack of Rules knowledge was not a significant issue on this occasion, as he missed the weekend cut by 4 strokes, but one hopes that his two brushes with the Rules in less than two months will have taught him an important lesson for his promising golfing future.

A more entertaining incident occurred during the same FedEx St. Jude Classic when a duck moved Robert Karlsson’s ball on the 11th green. We can view what happened thanks to

Readers receiving this blog by email can view the video by clicking here.

The relevant Rule is 18-1;
If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced. 
Good Golfing,


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

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Disqualified for Wearing the Wrong Spikes!

If you are playing any round of competitive golf, by that I mean playing in a competition where there are other competitors that are not playing in your group, then you are not only playing to the 34 Rules of Golf, as jointly published by the R&A and USGA, but are also subject to the Local Rules and Conditions of Competition in operation. Whereas, Local Rules are introduced to clarify the course marking, or to provide relief from local abnormal conditions that are not covered by the Rules themselves, Conditions of Competition are the foundations on which a competition is built.

As with the Rules of Golf, a player cannot avoid being penalised for a breach of a Local Rule or Condition of Competition because they were not aware of it. Two-time US Open winner, Lee Janzen, learned this the hard way last week when he was disqualified for wearing …. wait for it  …. the wrong type of spikes!

Below is an extract from the letter that was emailed to all the 2013 US Open Championship qualifier entrants more than a week before qualifying commenced.

Via's, Jay Coffin

Janzen confirmed that he did not bother to read these instructions.
“It never entered my mind,” he told “Considering I've played professional tournaments every week for 24 years now, I had no reason [to look at the rules sheet] to see if I was conforming.”
I presume that he now wishes that he had, because following his first-round on the North Course in Woodmont Country Club in Maryland, he was approached by an official and asked if he was wearing metal spikes. When he confirmed that he was he was told that this was not permitted and was disqualified.

Janzen was not pleased. He complained that he has never not worn metal spikes, even in several previous US Open qualifiers. One imagines that he may have been even more vociferously critical of the reason for his disqualification had he not just taken 75 strokes for a 3-over par score that probably would not have been good enough for him to progress much further anyway.

Of course, the reason that some (most?) courses prefer players to wear soft spikes rather than metal spikes is to prevent damage, particularly to the putting greens. Damage made by spikes must not be repaired if it might assist the player in his subsequent play of the hole, Rule 16-1c. Interestingly, there have been instances where amateur golfers have sued their Clubs for disallowing them from wearing metal spikes; usually after they have injured themselves by slipping over whilst wearing soft spikes, as if no golfer wearing metal spikes has ever suffered the same misfortune. To my knowledge, no-one has ever been awarded material damages on such a claim, but the threat has led to some Clubs adjusting their policy on the matter. I know that at my own Club they changed the mandatory instruction to wear soft spikes to a ‘recommended’ request!

If you think that the above disqualification penalty was harsh, I suggest that you check out my blog entitled, ‘The Worst Golf Ruling Ever?’ at this link.

Good golfing,


If you have a question on the Rules of Golf, try entering a search query in the ‘Search This Blog’ box at the top right of my web site home page. You will often find the answer contained in previous blog items. For example if you enter ‘”spike marks”, you will be directed to my blog, ‘Rules of Golf: Spike Marks - Rule 16-1c’.

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