Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Open Championship Rules Round-up

Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Zach Johnson – Tapping down on line of putt
Several people have queried two similar incidents concerning Open Championship winner, Zach Johnson, on the putting greens of the 15th hole and then on the final hole of his play-off with Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman. There is no doubting that on both occasions he did appear to tap down something on his line of putt, close to the hole. I did not see the earlier incident but was watching the second. You may have seen that after receiving permission to repair damage to the putting green on his line of putt, which the commentators speculated was an old hole plug, he subsequently tapped down something that was closer to the hole. It is my recollection that Johnson had already repaired a pitch mark prior to the lengthy discussion with two Rules officials relating to the other damage on his line. So, it is my belief that he returned to this original damage and tapped it down again, which is permissible. There is no restriction in the Rules as to how many times damage on a putting green caused by a ball or an old hole plug may be repaired. I suspect that he was also re-repairing damage made by a ball on the 15th hole, as professional golfers are acutely aware that they may not tap down spike marks, especially since the Simon Dyson’s disqualification, suspension and fine, which I covered in this blog.

I also noticed that Zach Johnson has a habit of hovering his putter over his line of putt, as he is assessing the break, which is slightly disconcerting when watching on TV, because you cannot judge whether his club has touched the putting surface, or not.

JB Holmes – Second Opinion
There was an interesting exchange on Friday regarding a situation with JB Holmes on the 15th hole.  He was asking for relief from a temporary immovable obstruction (TIO) from a very difficult lie in a gorse bush. The walking referee did not think that relief was warranted and called for a second opinion from the roving official, European Tour official, John Paramor, who confirmed the ruling that there was no relief, much to Holmes annoyance.

Unfortunately, once again, the commentary and discussion from the ESPN TV pundits was confusing. Initially the commentators asserted that a player may call for a second opinion if they do not agree with a referee’s ruling. JR Jones, Deputy Chairman of the Championship Committee from the R&A put them right by correctly stating that a player is not entitled to a second opinion, although a wise Rules Official will always offer to obtain a second opinion in doubtful situations.  Paul Azinger chose to argue this point by saying that in the States, a player is entitled to a second opinion. Rule 34-2 is clear and shows that Azinger is wrong;

If a referee has been appointed by the Committee, his decision is final.
There is already a problem with players calling for on-course rulings whenever they are faced with a Rules issue; imagine how the game would be slowed down even more if they were entitled to wait for a second opinion every time the initial ruling did not suit them! Talking of slow play, this incident took 30 minutes to resolve!

Another TV commentator error was brought to my attention, relating to amateur, Paul Dunne’s ball that had come to rest on a practice putting green. The comment was that he may take relief. No, he must drop off the wrong putting green under Rule 25-3, it is not an option. You may consider that this is not important, but golfers learn from watching televised golf and I suggest that the producers have a duty to ensure that the information supplied is correct.

Jordan Spieth - Line of Play Relief from Sprinkler
I covered the subject of Local Rules providing relief from sprinklers (immovable obstructions) just off the putting green in this blog. There was an interesting ruling concerning Jordan Spieth on the Old Course’s 5th hole. His ball came to rest on the putting green in such a position that a sprinkler head that was off the green intervened on his line putt, part of which was through the fringe. The Local Rule in Appendix I, Part B, 6, providing relief from immovable obstructions close to the putting green was in effect. Part of this Local Rule states;

If the player's ball lies on the putting green and an immovable obstruction within two club-lengths of the putting green intervenes on his line of putt, the player may take relief as follows:
The ball must be lifted and placed at the nearest point to where the ball lay that (a) is not nearer the hole, (b) avoids intervention and (c) is not in a hazard.
Of course, wind was the main subject of contention on the Saturday of the Open. Should the R&A have sent players out at 7.00 am in the prevailing conditions? Had the conditions changed at all between play starting and then being stopped? Should they have suspended play on every hole at the same time? Had the putting greens been cut too low, so as to achieve an ‘acceptable’ stimpmeter reading for one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments?

Wind was the cause of an amusing incident, which almost led to a two strokes penalty, when strong gusts moved Dustin Johnson’s ball off the putting green. Jordan Spieth saw that the ball in motion was heading for his ball and moved quickly towards it, presumably to try and mark and lift it before it was struck. Fortunately, he did not, because the relevant part of Rule 1-2 states;

A player must not (i) take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball…
The incident can be viewed at this link. (Edit 22nd July 2015: When a ball is on the putting green it is Rule 16-1b that applies ruling that when another ball is in motion, a ball that might influence the movement of the ball in motion must not be lifted.)
Remember that wind is not an outside agency. If you cause your ball to move you incur a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced; if wind is definitely the cause of your ball moving, there is no penalty and the ball must be played from where it comes to rest, whether this is farther from, or nearer to, the hole.

All in all, I am sure that you will agree that this was another fantastic Open Championship at the ‘Home of Golf’. Many congratulations to Zach Johnson, a worthy winner.

Good golfing,


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Sam said...

I read your comments on Zach touching his line of putt. The footage is available on iPlayer.

Clearly he can be see to repair a pitch mark in his line some 4-5 ft from the hole in his line. Subsequently he had a ruling on damage closer to his ball which he subsequently repaired.

However, after fixing the damage he then moved towards the hole a tapped down on his line approx. 1-2 ft from the hole. This was clearly not either of the previous repairs and surely leaves him in a 2 shot penalty situation?

Barry Rhodes said...


Not if it was damage previously made by a ball, or was an old hole plug!


Anonymous said...

I think it was Curtis Strange that said that on the PGA Tour players are entitled to a second opinion. Imo, it is within the Committee's discretion to have the referee consent, or even offer, a second opinion to a player.

John Mofitt said...

The rule is The player may repair an old hole plug or damage to the putting green caused by the impact of a ball.
When Zack J pressed down on his line of putt he he pressed down on a badly repaired surface that was originally a pitch mark. When he pressed down the mark was not clearly identifiable as a pitch mark. If this is the case he should have been penalised.
Thank you john Moffitt

Barry Rhodes said...


Agreed. I can confirm that all referees are encouraged to seek a second opinion whenever there is any doubt about a ruling. However, this is at the referee's discretion and is not a player entitlement.


Barry Rhodes said...


You say, "When Zack J pressed down on his line of putt he he pressed down on a badly repaired surface that was originally a pitch mark." It is my belief that this was indeed the case and therefore no penalty was incurred. As there has been no official follow-up that I am aware of, it seems that everyone who has a responsibility for upholding the Rules of Golf agrees.


Anonymous said...

Barry, in an open championship are players technically allowed to practice putt on the greens during play? I have heard this is an option, however they choose not to as it would slow play considerably.
Thx, Ian

Barry Rhodes said...


Nearly all the tours' stroke play events have a Condition of Competition prohibiting players from practicing after completing play of a hole. Presumably, the reason is not to slow play down even more. This Condition is not introduced in The Ryder Cup and some other match play events.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Barry. I thought that since the Open is not run by a specific tour (PGA or European Tour) that the rule of practice putting was not in play? Ian