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,


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John said...

So the moral to the story is we're better off not knowing the rules. This may hurt your readership.

Barry Rhodes said...


I hope that your comment is tongue in cheek. Of course, every player is responsible for knowing the Rules, Rule 6-1. However, I think that it is eminently sensible that a player cannot be disqualified weeks after an event because someone realises that they breached a Rule that no-one, including the player, was aware of at the time.