Wednesday, 29 April 2015

AimPoint Green Reading and the Rules

I have been asked to write an article about the AimPoint system, which claims to assist golfers on the putting green by applying the science of predictive putt technology, green reading instruction, and player performance analysis. I want to start by emphasising that I have never used AimPoint, or any competing system, and do not intend to do so. This article does not make any recommendation about its usefulness, but is intended to clarify its usage with reference to the Rules of Golf.

For those that are not familiar with AimPoint, it is a popular system, apparently used by a number of Tour golfers, designed to assist players with their putting, by applying their estimates of distance, level of the green at the mid-point of the putt and the grade of slope on either side, to reference charts, so as to determine an actual distance number/break for them to play.

In my opinion, use of AimPoint on the course does not breach any Rule of Golf. Those that disagree (yes, there are some) suggest that the charts may breach either Rule 8-1 -Advice, or Rule 14-3 - Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment. Rule 8-1 does not seem to be relevant, as it deals with asking for or giving advice to a person, as evidenced by all the Decisions on that Rule. This is the wording of Rule 8-1;

During a stipulated round, a player must not:
a. give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or
b. ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies. 
So, that leaves us with Rule 14-3. Let me first establish that AimPoint charts are a player’s equipment which, as the Definition confirms, includes anything worn or carried by the player. The charts are also artificial devices, similar to that described in Decision 14-3/5;
Q. A booklet contains illustrations of the holes on a course, including isolated trees, bunkers, etc. Superimposed on each illustration is a yardage scale in increments of ten yards. Thus, a player using such a booklet can estimate how far his ball lies from a putting green or a tee. Is use of such a booklet during a round contrary to Rule 14-3?

A. No. Although such a booklet is an artificial device, its use has been traditionally accepted and Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies.
Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 states;
A player is not in breach of this Rule if he uses equipment in a traditionally accepted manner.
In my opinion, numbers and diagrams written on a piece of paper (or stored electronically) can be considered as a sophisticated extension of the type of information that many players and caddies pre-prepare before an important round, or in other words, traditionally accepted aids.

There are two other Rules considerations relating to the use of AimPoint and similar green reading systems; touching the line of putt and undue delay. Decision 16-1a/12 clarifies that a player may not intentionally walk on their line of putt;

Q. A player walked on his line of putt. Did he incur a penalty for a breach of Rule 16-1a?
A. Yes, if he did so intentionally. No, if he did so accidentally and the act did not improve the line.
So, a player may not stand anywhere on their line of putt, which incidentally includes a “reasonable distance” on either side of the line. This seems to diminish the potential accuracy of the data that could be obtained about the line of putt, as the player must walk away from the intended line of putt. Walking alongside the intended line of putt could also be detrimental to the lines of fellow competitors, or opponents, faced with similar putts, or putts that transverse the line being walked, which at the very least is a breach of common etiquette on the greens.

With regard to undue delay, the use of the charts is inevitably going to take some additional time. I am not suggesting that a player should be penalised for occasional instances of spending time working out a line of putt using this method, especially if it is done whilst others are making their strokes. But if players habitually take extra time over their putts to apply this method I think that a Committee would be justified in warning them that this practice was causing an unacceptable delay to the play of their fellow competitors, which could result in penalties or sanctions. I am sure that I am not the only golfer that thinks that slow play is already one of the biggest problems facing the future of our game.

(Edit 1st May 2015: Several readers have pointed out that the original AimPoint system has been modified to a less complicated and easier to use version, marketed as AimPoint Express. My concerns remain.)

Good golfing,


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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Edoardo Molinari's Unusual Disqualification

This week, we have another example of why caddies should spend more of their spare time familiarising themselves with the Rules of Golf, Local Rules and Conditions of Competition. On Friday, popular Italian golfer, Edoardo Molinari, was disqualified from the European Tour's Shenzhen International in China, following a penalty incurred by his caddie, who hitched a short ride on a golf cart between the 9th and 10th holes.

The caddie’s action incurred a penalty of two strokes (Decision 33-1/9.5), but Molinari was not aware of what had happened and returned his signed score card to the Committee, without including the penalty that had been incurred. This resulted in his later disqualification for returning a score card with a score for the 10th hole lower than was actually scored, due to the omission of the penalty.

Edoardo Molinari’s tweets - read from the bottom
Now, the Rules of Golf do not prohibit a player, or their caddie, from using a golf buggy during a competitive round of golf. Part of the Definition of Equipment states;
Equipment includes a golf cart, whether or not motorised.
However when competition Committees want to require players to walk in a competition, they introduce a Condition of Competition with similar wording to this;
Players must not ride on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorised by the Committee.
This condition applies to most tournament events and all players are aware of the restriction, Of course, exceptions have been allowed where a player has a valid medical certificate for a disability that prevents them from walking the stipulated round.

Many have asked why Molinari was penalised, when it was his caddie that took the ride. It is Rule 6-1 that states;

The player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the Rules. During a stipulated round, for any breach of a Rule by his caddie, the player incurs the applicable penalty.
I have seen many comments from golfers who suggest that the Rules are too complicated and that in cases like this, a player should not suffer for the fallibility of their caddie, particularly when they are not aware of it. So, I want to point out how fallacious this suggestion is. If there was no Rule that penalised the player for their caddie’s actions, when a Rule of Golf was breached, the caddie would be able to remove loose impediments lying close to a ball in a bunker, tap down a spike mark on an intended line of putt, hold back the branch of a tree interfering with a comfortable stance, etc. Obviously, if there was an attempt to list what a caddie may and may not do regarding the Rules, it would require additional, unwelcome detail, making the Rules more complicated, not less. It has taken over 250 years to refine the Rules of Golf to where they are now, dealing with every conceivable situation; it is not easy to simplify them, though I know that the Ruling Bodies are constantly trying to do so.

Good golfing,


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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

2015 Masters Rules Incidents

I am sure that Augusta National’s Masters Tournament Committee is very pleased that there were no controversial Rules incidents this year. However, I was able to uncover three minor incidents that should be of interest to readers.

Graeme McDowell and the Bumblebee
Having encountered a venomous cottonmouth snake during his practice on Tuesday, Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell, had another run-in with nature during his final round on Sunday. He noticed that there was a bumblebee hovering over his ball-marker on the 4th putting green and in trying to brush it away, he accidentally knocked his ball-marker several inches away from where it was marking the position of his ball. Apparently, he was then wrongly advised by a watching Rules official that he had incurred a penalty of one stroke and he must replace the ball-marker where it was. Presumably, the official reasoned that as the ball-marker was not moved in the act of marking the ball, Rule 18-2a had been breached. McDowell reportedly said;

"It was clumsy so I reckoned I deserved the penalty."
Fortunately, a couple of holes later, he was approached by none other than Sir Michael Bonallack, Augusta member and past Captain of the R&A GC, and the European Tour's Chief Referee, John Paramor, who gave him the welcome news that no penalty had been incurred. Part of Rule 23-1 states;
On the putting green, if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved in the process of the player removing a loose impediment, the ball or ball-marker must be replaced. There is no penalty, provided the movement of the ball or ball-marker is directly attributable to the removal of the loose impediment. Otherwise, if the player causes the ball to move, he incurs a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2a.
Note that insects are defined as loose impediments in the Definitions at the front of the Rules of Golf book.
"I asked Sir Michael and John if there was any chance they could stay with me for the rest of the round, as they were the only way I'd get back shots around here,"
joked McDowell, who having made Friday’s cut, found the putting very difficult and finished with disappointing rounds of 76 and 73.

Tiger and the Chair.
If you were watching the final round, you may have seen Tiger Woods hit a wild drive into the trees, resulting in his ball coming to rest under a chair with bushes and trees close by. Unfortunately, the cameras did not stay with this situation and when they returned to his predicament he was about to play his ball clear of any obstruction or bushes. This confused me at the time, but I guessed that the chair must have been fixed and that he had taken relief from an immovable obstruction. However, a subscriber has since clarified that Tiger was given free relief from a temporary immovable obstruction (TIO) on his line of play. A TIO is a non-permanent artificial object that is often erected in conjunction with a competition and is fixed, or not readily movable. Examples include, but are not limited to, tents, scoreboards, grandstands, television towers and lavatories. As a high handicapper I was able to take line of play relief from a TIO once, when I played the Irish Open course on the day after the tournament and the spectator stands had not been dismantled.

Dustin Johnson’s Ball Moves

During his final round, Dustin Johnson was trying to get a read on a birdie putt when his ball started rolling down the steeply undulating green towards the hole. As regular readers will know, because Dustin had not addressed his ball and did not cause it to move, he had to play his next stroke from where it came to rest, in this case about 15 feet closer to the hole. And yes, he made his birdie. You can view the incident on this six seconds Vine clip. How is it that whenever this has happened to me, my ball ends up much further from the hole?

Good golfing,


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The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Rule 15 - Substituted Ball; Wrong Ball

Having been asked to explain the differences in the Rules between a wrong ball and a ball that has been substituted, I am pleased to say that I have been given permission by John Jelley, of New Hampshire Golf Association, to reproduce in full, his excellent article on this subject. I am grateful to him for saving me the task of authoring a similar article in this 2015 Masters week!

Rule 15 - Substituted Ball; Wrong Ball

The Rules of Golf did not contemplate the possibility of playing a wrong ball until 1812, when the R&A of St. Andrews stated simply, "If the player strikes his adversary's ball with his club, the player loses the hole”. Since that time a few changes in Rule 15 have occurred, but none more important than the introduction of the concept of a substituted ball.

So what is the difference between a substituted ball and a wrong ball? First we should look at Rule 15-1, which states, "A player must hole out with the ball played from the teeing ground unless the ball is lost, out of bounds or the player substitutes another ball, whether or not substitution is permitted”. Rule 15-2 goes on to discuss a substituted ball, telling us that any time we are allowed to play, drop, or place another ball in completing the play of a hole, we may substitute a ball. An obvious example would be when we find our ball in a water hazard. Even though we have retrieved the original ball, Rule 26 allows us to drop a ball when proceeding under that Rule. So we are allowed to substitute a ball in this case.

Now what happens when we substitute a ball when we are not allowed to do so within the Rules? Well, if we do not correct the error before playing a stroke, then we have violated Rule 15-2, and we incur a penalty under the applicable Rule. An example would be where our ball lies on a cart path and we take relief under Rule 24-2, but we drop a different ball than the one that was on the cart path. That ball is also a substituted ball, but since we were not allowed to substitute a ball, we are penalized under Rule 24-2. So any time we are playing, dropping or placing a ball, Rule 15-2 applies.

Now what about a wrong ball? Rule 15-3 covers this situation, but first, we should look at the definition of a ‘wrong ball’. A wrong ball is any ball other than the player’s ball in play, provisional ball, or a second ball played under Rule 3-3 (doubt as to procedure in stroke play) or Rule 20-7c (ball played from a wrong place-serious breach). A wrong ball includes another player’s ball, an abandoned ball, and the player’s original ball when it is no longer in play. A substituted ball is not a wrong ball.

When is a player’s ball no longer the ball in play? One example would be when it lies out of bounds. If we play such a ball, it is a wrong ball. Another example is when we have been searching for our ball for more than five minutes. If we find the ball after five minutes, that ball is no longer the ball in play. If we then play the found ball, we have played a wrong ball.

What happens if we play a wrong ball? In match play, we lose the hole. In stroke play, we incur a two-stroke penalty and we must abandon the wrong ball and proceed with the original ball. If we tee off at the next hole without correcting our mistake, we are disqualified.

So in our example of playing our ball after the five minute time limit allowed for search has expired, we must abandon that ball, add a two-stroke penalty, and then proceed with our provisional ball, or if no provisional ball was put into play, we must return to where we last played the original ball and put another ball into play, with the additional one-stroke penalty for a lost ball.

Obviously, numerous bad things can happen when we play a wrong ball, and there are numerous decisions dealing with this situation. But if you know the difference between a wrong ball and a substituted ball, then you can get through these tough situations with minimal damage to your score.
Copyright John Jelley, PGA, NHGA.
(Edit 7th April 2015: A reader has kindly pointed out that the Note to Rule 24-1, and Note 2 to both Rules 24-2 and 25-2, state that if a ball to be dropped or placed under these Rules is not immediately recoverable, another ball may be substituted.)

The photo at the head of this article is from this YouTube video of an incident in 2008 when Ian Poulter, having marked his ball on the putting green, carelessly threw it into the adjacent water hazard. He was saved from the penalty of two strokes, for substituting a ball during play of the hole, when his personal physio waded into the deep water and retrieved it, so that he could hole out with the same ball that he had marked on the putting green.

Now, it is almost time for me to put my feet up and enjoy another wonderful week of Professional Golf at its very best. What price a European winner of the Masters for the first time in the 21st century?

Good golfing,

John Jelley's original article is at this link.