|Ian Poulter’s ball lies just outside the long, fescue grass at Muirfield|
Scottish professional golfer, Martin Laird, who mainly plays on the US PGA Tour, was penalised one stroke for a breach of Rule that many amateurs are guilty of, but are less often penalised for. On his third round of The Open Championship at Muirfield, he failed to notify his fellow competitors that he was identifying his ball lying in the wispy, long fescue grass. He had just suffered a nightmare 9 strokes on the previous hole when his hit both his drive and his second shot into the rough, so one can imagine that his mind might have been scrambled at the time. However, he failed to meet one of the requirements of Rule 12-2 for touching a ball to identify it. The relevant part of this Rule states;
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.Martin Laird insists that he did announce that he was going to touch his ball, but it was directed to the ball-spotter and not to Dustin Johnson, who he was paired with, or to the walking referee, neither of whom heard his comment. After his round he commented;
"If I had said, 'Dustin, just went down to find my ball,' or, 'Rules official, I'm going to identify my ball', loud enough for one of them to hear, it would have been fine. It's the fact that none of them heard it, even though I said it. A spotter said to me, 'There's a ball here. I'm not sure if it's yours'. I said, 'I'm going to identify it'. I put the tee in the ground and didn't even lift my ball, just moved it a quarter roll to see the number. At the time I was thinking more about the golf shot I had coming up than about the ruling. It's one of those lovely Rules of golf."I would take issue with part of Martin Laird’s interpretation of this Rule. In my opinion, it is not sufficient to say “I’m going to identify my ball”, loud enough for a fellow competitor or referee to hear. The Rule requires that they are given the opportunity to witness the lifting and replacement of the ball, which means waiting until they have walked over to where the ball is at rest before touching it.
Please note the important point that the ball may not be cleaned beyond the extent necessary for identification, Rule 21b. (edited 24th July 2013)
When a player fails to comply with all or any part of the procedure detailed in Rule 12-2, or if they lift their ball in order to identify it without having good reason to do so, they incur a penalty of one stroke. Of course, no penalty is incurred if the touched ball is not the player’s ball.
Some readers may be wondering why a player has to follow this procedure when all they want to do is ensure that they do not play a wrong ball. It has to be remembered that a fellow competitor/marker has a responsibility to protect the interests of the rest of the field. The identification requirements mean that they have the opportunity to ensure that when the player lifts their ball, they do not clean it, except to the extent necessary for identification, and they return it to precisely the same spot and lie that they had before touching it.
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