Tuesday, 24 June 2014

When a Ball Is Lost in an Abnormal Ground Condition

Casual water on the 4th hole at Roundel Glen Golf Course
First, the Definition of an Abnormal Ground Condition;
An “abnormal ground condition” is any casual water, ground under repair or hole, cast or runway on the course made by a burrowing animal, a reptile or a bird.
Note that there is no relief from the footprints of animals or birds, which is a common misunderstanding. Also, remember that there is no relief from interference by an abnormal ground condition when the ball lies in a water hazard or a lateral water hazard, Rule 25-1b.

It is the same Rule 25-1b that covers how players may take relief from abnormal ground conditions, but in this blog I want to highlight the fact that if you cannot find your ball that is lost in an abnormal ground condition, it is Rule 25-1c that sets out the procedure that the player must follow, without penalty. For a player to avail of this relief there must be no doubt that their ball did come to rest in the condition. This is the relevant paragraph;

If it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in an abnormal ground condition, the player may take relief under this Rule. If he elects to do so, the spot where the ball last crossed the outermost limits of the abnormal ground condition must be determined and, for the purpose of applying this Rule, the ball is deemed to lie at this spot  ...
I previously blogged on the important subject of ‘Known or Virtually Certain’ at this link. To summarise, the possibility that the ball may be in an abnormal ground condition is not sufficient; there must be preponderance of evidence to that effect. Even when the weight of evidence suggests that a ball is lost in the condition, but there remains a possibility that it could have come to rest outside the defined area, the player should strengthen the evidence by searching for their ball for the permitted five minutes. In the absence of strong evidence that the ball is in the condition it must be treated as lost, and the player has to return to where they last played from under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1). There is no alternative if the player wishes to play out the hole, which is a mandatory requirement in a strokes competition, but not in a Stableford, Par or Bogey competition.

When it is known or virtually certain that a ball is lost in an abnormal ground condition, the reference point for taking relief is the spot where the ball last crossed the outermost limits of the abnormal ground condition. Having determined this point the player must then drop a ball in accordance with Rule 25-1c, which will depend on whether the reference point is through the green, in a bunker or on the putting green.

Obviously, the reason why free relief is available for balls that cannot be found in ground under repair, is that they are areas of temporary adverse course conditions defined by Committees (Rule 33-2a(iii)) and it would be unfair if a player had to take a penalty of stroke and distance because their ball was known to have come to rest in one. However, remember that the same relief applies to balls that are known or virtually certain to be in other abnormal ground conditions, including casual water, holes made by a burrowing animal and, where defined by a Local Rule, environmentally sensitive areas.

One last point, when a ball is found within an abnormal ground condition it is not mandatory to take relief, unless a Local Rule requires it. You will note in the excerpt from Rule 25-1c above that I have highlighted the words, “may take relief”; it does not say “must take relief”.

Good Golfing,

Why not test and improve your Rules of Golf knowledge by working out players’ scores in completing 99 holes of golf, during which multiple Rules situations occur, some of them incurring penalties and some of them permitted by the Rules? My ‘How Many Strokes’ eDocument is fun and educational. Click here

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hunter Mahan and Jamie Donaldson Play Wrong Balls

Photo ©USGA/Fred Vuich
I am sure that most readers will have been as surprised as I was to hear that two well-known Tour Players had played each other’s ball at the US Open at Pinehurst 2 last week. Apparently, both players were playing a Titleist golf ball with a similar slash through the number, which partly explains the circumstances behind their costly mistake. John Wood, Hunter Mahan’s caddie (in the red bib in the photo), gives a further explanation;
“Hunter’s ball had kicked right so I assumed it was the one in the middle of the fairway. Jamie’s ball, to me, looked definitely left. I got up to the ball, I was the first one there. Completely my fault. I went to the ball first, got the yardage, gave the yardage to Hunter, Jamie and Mic went over to their ball and played their ball after Hunter hit his. It was 100% my fault.”

“Not until we got to the green, did we realize what had happened. It was 100% on me. I was the first one to the ball.”

“I still can’t grasp what happened. It doesn’t make any sense to me…You are out here every day for 17 years, you know where the ball goes in the fairway. I can’t grasp where the ball ended up…but that is no excuse, it was my fault. I went to the ball first.”
So, what are the Rules issues in this situation? Well, both players incurred a penalty of two strokes for playing a wrong ball, Rule 15-3. They had to correct their error by playing their own ball from where it lay before it was moved by the other player. If the exact spot and lie was known they could have placed their ball there, but in most cases this is not the case and the ball has to be dropped, as near as possible to where it was at rest, Rule 20-3c. In the Mahan/Donaldson incident the players realised that they had switched balls before making their next stroke, but it would not have mattered if they had played more than one stroke with a wrong ball, or if they had incurred a penalty with that ball; the maximum penalty for playing a wrong ball in stroke play is two strokes. However, the competitor must correct their mistake by playing the correct ball or by proceeding under the Rules, e.g. if their original ball is lost or unplayable. If they fail to correct their mistake before making a stroke on the next teeing ground or, in the case of the last hole of the round, fail to declare their intention to correct their mistake before leaving the putting green, they are disqualified.

Do you always mark your golf balls to minimise the possibility of playing a wrong ball? Here is a relevant tip from my eDocument, ’99 Tips on Using the Rules of Golf to Your Advantage’;
7. Ensure that you put personal identification marks on all your golf balls. Be bold with how you mark your ball so that you can immediately recognise it. In my experience, having a distinct personal identification mark on your golf balls is the easiest way to avoid playing a wrong ball and can save you many penalty strokes over the course of a year. The Rules say that players should put an identification mark on their ball, but my advice is to make this a must. Rule 12-2.
(Click here if you would like to benefit from reading my other 98 tips!)
I wonder if you noticed how many players in the US Open had marked their ball with a line around all or part of the circumference. One of the pundits on the channel that I was watching even commented on it. This way of marking a ball can be very useful in lining-up a tee shot or a putt and is completely within the Rules, which may surprise some readers, as it seems at odds with Rule 14-2b, part of which states;
A player must not make a stroke with his caddie, his partner or his partner’s caddie positioned on or close to an extension of the line of play or line of putt behind the ball.
A line drawn on the ball would seem to be a better way of lining-up a tee shot or putt than to have a caddie or partner standing immediately behind you in breach of Rule 14-2, which personally I would find distracting anyway.

Good golfing,


The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Penalty Imposed After Competition Is Closed

Jason Millard (photo by Getty Images/Chris Condon)
Two seemingly similar Rules situations were brought to my attention this week that had completely different outcomes. One concerned an American Professional, Jason Millard, and the other an amateur with a conscience.

On Monday June 2nd, Jason Millard qualified for the US Open in a sectional qualifier in Memphis, Tennessee. However, a nagging thought kept worrying him as to whether he might have unintentionally touched the sand in a bunker on the 18th, his final hole of 27 played on the day. He recalls;

“I got in the bunker and looked up at the flag and back down, then back at the flag, I looked down the last time before I took my swing and I think I feel the club hit the sand. I may never know. I think I see a little indentation from where the club hit it, but it happened so fast. I was actually in the act of making my swing when I thought I saw it. It was like a blur. That image keeps popping in my head.”
Millard did notify his fellow competitor, Tommy Gainey, but he was on the other side of the green and didn’t see anything. He told a Rules official, who informed him that it was his call and his call alone. He finished the hole and signed his card, earning a place in the US Open field by one stroke. If he had given himself a two-stroke penalty, he would have missed a playoff by one.
"I literally thought about it for every single second of the day," Millard told Golf Channel. "I just kept asking myself what to do. I kept saying, 'I'm not 100 percent sure,' so I never did anything. But it kept on eating at me inside. It's heartbreaking but what I was feeling in my heart didn't feel right. It's the right decision and I am sticking with it."
Five days later, as he was travelling to Pinehurst, he decided that he had to call the Championship Committee, to bring the matter to their attention. Daniel Burton, USGA Vice President and Chairman of the Championship Committee, commended him for doing so and explained that they had no option but to disqualify him under exception (iii) to Rule 34-1b, which states;
Exceptions: A penalty of disqualification must be imposed after the competition has closed if a competitor: …
… (iii) returned a score for any hole lower than actually taken (Rule 6-6d) for any reason other than failure to include a penalty that, before the competition closed, he did not know he had incurred; …
Unfortunately, this is just another bad break that Jason Millard has suffered in the past two years. I recommend you read this moving article by Jason Sobel, of Golf Channel.

At the other end of the scale, I recently received a question from an amateur golfer who had won a prize at their Captain’s prize day. During their round they had played a ball into mud on the far side of a water hazard. Not knowing whether the ball would be found or not they played another ball, from where they had last played. The original ball was found in the hazard in a playable lie and so the player continued play with it. This was the wrong thing to do, as the other ball was now in play, because you may not play a provisional ball if the original ball is known or virtually certain to be in a water hazard. However, the player was not aware that they had incurred a penalty until several days later, when they read a ‘Rhodes Rules School’ issue on playing a provisional ball. The person immediately phoned a member of the Committee, saying that under the circumstances they wished to return the prize. I explained that this was not necessary as part of Rule 34-1b (the same Rule as above) states;

In stroke play, a penalty must not be rescinded, modified or imposed after the competition has closed. A competition is closed when the result has been officially announced or, in stroke play qualifying followed by match play, when the player has teed off in his first match.
Unlike the Millard case above, none of the four exceptions to this Rule applied to this case, as the player was not aware of any Rules breach until well after the competition had closed and the result had been announced.

Good golfing,


The complete sets of 'Rhodes Rules School' 'Photo Series and 'How 'Many Strokes?' series are available for purchase for a modest charge at these links;

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Matsuyama Wins Memorial without a Driver

There were at least three interesting Rules incidents at last week’s Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, Dublin, Ohio.

Hideki Matsuyama stepped up to the teeing ground of his final hole needing a birdie to force a playoff with Kevin Na, who had finished more than two hours earlier at 13 under. The young and rising Japanese star pushed his drive into trees, but his ball took a favourable bounce and landed back on the fairway. This was not enough to stop him venting his frustration at the bad shot by slamming his driver into the ground, splintering the shaft and rendering it unplayable. However, his next stroke was a beauty, leaving him a clutch, five foot putt to equal Na’s total, which he comfortably made. Now, this is the interesting Rules question. As Matsuyama’s driver was not damaged in the normal course of play he was not permitted to replace it during the stipulated round (see this blog of mine on damaging clubs in anger). But this does not apply to a play-off, which constitutes a new round, Decision 4-3/12, so Matsuyama was entitled to replace his broken club. Unfortunately, he did not have a spare driver in his locker (!) and had to drive again from the 18th teeing ground with his 3-wood, finding a fairway bunker. Nevertheless, he put his bunker shot to about 10 feet and then made the putt to beat Na, who bogeyed this first playoff hole.

Justin Rose found himself in the Rules news again after calling a penalty on himself at the side of the 12th green on Friday. Apparently he still called over a Rules Official as he was confusingly reported to say;

“It was pretty obvious, I wanted them to verify that it wasn’t a triple hit. After what happened at TPC (Sawgrass) I wanted to make sure.”
Surely, he should know that the penalty is still one stroke if he had hit his ball three times with a single stroke! Rule 14-4 states;
If a player’s club strikes the ball more than once in the course of a stroke, the player must count the stroke and add a penalty stroke, making two strokes in all.
Well those two were pretty straightforward, but how about this one. Was Scott Langley’s putt holed after his 10 foot putt on the par-3 16th hole on the final day? Below is the wording of the relevant Rule 16-2; read it and then take a look at the video clip and make your own decision!
When any part of the ball overhangs the lip of the hole, the player is allowed enough time to reach the hole without unreasonable delay and an additional ten seconds to determine whether the ball is at rest. If by then the ball has not fallen into the hole, it is deemed to be at rest. If the ball subsequently falls into the hole, the player is deemed to have holed out with his last stroke, and must add a penalty stroke to his score for the hole; otherwise, there is no penalty under this Rule.

If you are receiving this blog by email please click here and scroll down to view the video clip

Good Golfing,

P.S. If you are not receiving these weekly blogs by email enter your email address in the 'Subscribe via email' box at the top right of the page.

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2014 and may not be copied without permission.