Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Butch Harmon Errs on the Rules

Butch Harmon is rightly recognised as one of the best golf instructors in the game and I regularly enjoy his incisive contributions on the UK’s Sky Sports Channel, but it does seem that he needs to brush up his knowledge on the Rules of Golf. Many readers will have seen the extraordinary incident on the 2nd hole, during the 3rd round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla, when Jason Day’s drive hooked across Floyd’s Fork, a lateral water hazard with an infinite boundary to the left side, coming to rest in deep vegetation. Instead of taking the option of a penalty drop within two club-lengths of the place where his ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, which was not far from where he had teed-up, Day’s caddie, Colin Swatton, took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers and waded across the creek in a seemingly impossible task of finding the ball amongst the calf-high weeds. Amazingly, the ball was found within the permitted five minutes search time in a lie that Swatton thought could be playable. So Day then removed his shoes and socks and crossed the creek to play his tricky, second shot on the hole in bare feet. As he addressed his ball, I had flashbacks of Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie and was predicting a similar outcome.

It was during this episode that I think I heard the TV analysts make four incorrect statements regarding the Rules, but unfortunately the commentary has not been made available, so I cannot check their exact words. The four statements, two of which were from Butch Harmon and two from ex-Tour Golfer, Howard Clarke, who was the on course reporter, can be summarised as follows;

  1. You cannot push aside long grasses surrounding a ball to identify it. – Howard Clarke
  2. You cannot make practice swings in a hazard if it means touching the long grasses while you do so. – Howard Clarke
  3. You cannot play a ‘wrong ball’ from a hazard. – Butch Harmon
  4. You cannot take clubs into a hazard. He also intimated that when a wedge was thrown across the creek by Swatton to be deftly caught by Day, a penalty would have been incurred if it had been dropped inside the margin of the hazard. – Butch Harmon
Let me address these erroneous comments in turn.
  1. In searching for a ball anywhere on the course, the player may touch or bend long grass, rushes, bushes, etc., but only to the extent necessary to find or identify the ball. Rule 12-1.
  2. When making a practice swing, a player may touch, with their club or otherwise, any grass, bush, tree or other growing thing, providing they do not improve the position or lie of their ball, the area of their intended stance or swing, or the line of play. Rule 13-2 and Note to Rule 13-4.
  3. Since January 2008, when Rule 15-3 was amended, a player is penalised for playing a wrong ball from a hazard. At the same time a related change was made to Rule 12-2, permitting a player to lift a ball in a hazard in order to identify it, providing they follow the correct procedure.
  4. Players are permitted to take clubs into a hazard and lay them down. Exception 1b to Rule 13-4.
Against all the odds, not only did Jason Day extricate his ball from the 'jungle grass' bordering the creek, he then hit a magnificent third shot onto the green and sank the putt to make a very unlikely par and provide more evidence that my predictions are often wrong.

Be Fore-warned!
This link is to a report in the Irish Times of an award of almost €275,000 ($370,000) to a lady who was hit by a golf ball whilst standing on the terrace of her own Clubhouse, located South of Dublin, by a ball struck by a player who happened to be playing in the same group as her husband. This substantial award took into account the fact that no-one had shouted the customary warning of “FORE”.

Good golfing,


P.S. Congratulations to Rory McIlroy (and Rickie Fowler). The future of golf is in very good hands!

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


Anonymous said...

Barry. A question. Having watched the Jason Day incident closely I was sure he touched and moved grass / weeds with his club as he address that ball in the hazard to play it. Isn't that a penalty?
Murray N

Barry Rhodes said...


No penalty.It is similar to the practice swing that I clarified in the blog. Players are permitted to touch and move anything growing on their address/backswing, but not loose impediments.


Hacker the first said...


Last year, playing in a three ball group, one of our gang took a practice swing before playing his 2nd shot and, in doing so, his club flicked a leaf off an adjacent tree. The third member of the group insisted that a penalty had been incurred. Assuming our third man to be correct (he thinks that he always is!) the penalty shot was added. Was this the correct procedure?


Barry Rhodes said...


The third member was almost certainly wrong. Read my blog on this subject, dated 5th September, 2011, for the reason why. It is a common misunderstanding.

In any case, if the player had materially improved his intended line of play he would have incurred a penalty of two strokes, not one.