Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Ian Poulter’s Rules Blunder in China

Getty Images AsiaPac
Ian Poulter was penalised two strokes when he dropped at the wrong place in taking relief from a path, during his second round at the Volvo China Open in Schenzhen. It was yet another case of an experienced Tour professional making an elementary mistake when taking relief from an immovable obstruction, a procedure that most of the 60 million golfers around the world regularly face, so you would think that it should be second nature to professional golfers. But once again, the player’s caddie, his fellow competitors, their caddies, any Rules official that may have been present and a large group of spectators, all watched the drop being made at the wrong place without one of them stepping in to prevent the breach of Rule. The circumstances were that after hitting his drive into dense foliage on the par-5, 13th hole, Poulter deemed his ball unplayable and dropped a ball within two club-lengths of where it was at rest, for a penalty of one stroke (Rule 28). This meant dropping onto a path, an immovable obstruction, from where he was then entitled to take free relief (Rule 24-2a). But, instead of determining the nearest point of relief and dropping within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole, he took almost two club-lengths relief before dropping. Had anyone intervened at this point Poulter could still have picked up his ball and dropped it within the permitted area without incurring the penalty, Rule 20-6;
A ball incorrectly substituted, dropped or placed in a wrong place or otherwise not in accordance with the Rules but not played may be lifted, without penalty, and the player must then proceed correctly.
Unfortunately, no-one said a word before Poulter played his next stroke and because he had played from a wrong place he incurred a penalty of two strokes (Rule 20-7), making three penalty strokes and a triple bogey score of 8 for the hole. He went on to survive the weekend cut by just one stroke and finished the event in a tie for 5th place; Two strokes better would have put him in a tie for 3rd place.

Ian Poulter was pragmatic about the incident immediately following his round. He said;
“(It was a) schoolboy error. I have just made a mistake. We make them and I guess that was a fun one. I took two club lengths as opposed to one and it’s a two shot penalty which turned a bad six into a really bad eight, so not the best of holes. I guess I need to get the Rules book back out and start chewing it. Sometimes we are a bit thick and that was one of those times.”
Quite! There is no need for any further comment from me!

Good Golfing,

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Anonymous said...

Thanks Barry,
I actually watched that incident live with my son and I was explaining how the process works as Poulter proceeded to take the drops. When he got to the point where he was about to take the relief from the path, I proudly announced, “..now this time he must drop within one club length..”, I couldn’t believe it when Poulter measured out two lengths. My son said, “..ah Dad you need to learn the rules..”, so I told him, “.. just because someone is a professional golfer, or a very low handicapper, it doesn’t means he’s good at knowing the rules..”, I hadn’t followed up to see what happened to Poulter, so thanks to your post, my son’s faith will be restored in his Dad (at least for golf rules) ;-)

Actually, what struck me about the incident was that Poulter proceeded with such confidence while taking the drops that it certainly appeared that he knew what he was doing. Tour pros have the luxury of a referee to help clarify any rules issues and to make a decision for them which the player cannot be held responsible for subsequently if it turns out the ref made the incorrect decision. I think this luxury has led to many players not bothering to refresh their knowledge of the rules, however Poulter was really daft not to use this luxury and consult a referee. Watching his actions, I’m convinced he was confident what he was doing was correct.


Barry Rhodes said...


Thanks for these comments. I certainly sympathise with amateur golfers who find many Rules of Golf confusing, but for a professional golfer not to take proper relief from an immovable obstruction is hard for me to fathom.


Mike Reslie said...

As a rules official myself I can only hope that there were none present at this incident. If an official was present and allowed Poulter to follow improper procedure for such a fundamental rule he/she should lose their credentials.

As for Poulter I think both he and caddie need to feast on that Rule Book.

Harry said...

Hi Barry,
I am trying to clarify the need to mark a ball that is declared unplayable and found that you had made a comment in your original blog of Weds 23 Apr 14 regarding Dropping and placing under the Rules where you stated that:
"If a player has deemed their ball unplayable, or is taking relief from a water hazard, they must drop their ball back into play under penalty of one stroke, unless they are playing under penalty of stroke and distance from the teeing ground, when they may tee their ball. A player must also drop a ball when taking relief, without penalty, from an immovable obstruction, an abnormal ground condition or in taking relief when their ball is embedded in its own pitch-mark in a closely mown area. In any of the examples in this paragraph it is not mandatory for players to mark the position of their ball before lifting it, although I recommended that they do so, especially if they intend taking full advantage of the area of relief, so as to clearly demonstrate to their fellow competitors or opponents that they have dropped within the permitted area."

It is the non-mandatory aspect of marking the ball that I would like to get a definitive view on. I am inclined to agree with you but I have been pressed to prove it!
Thanks in advance.

Barry Rhodes said...


A ball that is lifted under Rule 28 does not have to be marked. It is a short Rule, so I recommend that you ask your 'doubters' to read it through in full. It is a very common misunderstanding. Only balls that have to be replaced have to be marked (Rule 20-1). See my blog of 17th October 2012 for more detail.



Alberto Maria Grippa said...

Hi Barry,
I am particularly interested in the procedure followed by Ian Poulter in connection with a similar procedure followed by Fleetwood in the same competition and same situation.
About the fact of the wrong place it is all perfectly clear and it is not part of the question.
What it is puzzling me it is the fact that Ian Poulter did not put the ball in play on the road. He marked the point with a tee and he started with the relief procedure (after the procedure for 26-1).
Fleetwood instead put the ball in play on the road and, meanwhile he was deciding the nearest point of relief, the ball moved and was (erroneously?) stopped by spectators.
Is it possible, in your opinion, to invoke decision 20-3/3a to justify Ian Poulter procedure?
My question is connected with the difficulty I have to understand exactly the meaning and the extent of that decision.
Thank you as usual for your attention
Alberto Maria

Barry Rhodes said...

Alberto Maria,

First let me say that I cannot see that Decision 20-3a/3 has any relevance to the Poulter/Fleetwood drops in China. This Decision refers to a situation where a ball has been moved (e.g. by a spectator) and has to be replaced at the same spot. The player does not have to replace the ball before choosing to drop it under another Rule, e.g. if they deem it unplayable.

Secondly, you say that Poulter did not put the ball in play on the road. This is not evident from any of the reports that I have read and is not mentioned in my blog. In fact, the current publication of Golf Rules Illustrated, in the section on 'Rule 24 Incidents', states;

"The two club-length measurement resulted in him dropping the ball on the cart path, an immovable obstruction.
Now the ball was back in play, Poulter was entitled to take relief from the immovable obstruction and he decided to do so."