Monday, 31 August 2015

Jordan Spieth Treads on His Ball

OK, here are two questions for you Rules enthusiasts.
1. Does a player incur a penalty for treading on their ball in play that is lying in a water hazard, but not in water?
2. If the player chooses to take relief from the hazard under Rule 26-1, do they incur a second penalty stroke?
If you have answered, “Yes” to both of these questions then you know more about this Rules situation than the current world No. 1, correction No.2 golfer, Jordan Spieth.

This is what happened to Jordan at The Barclays, Edison, New Jersey, on Friday. After he played his second shot at the par-5 12th hole into a water hazard, he was searching for his ball in the long weeds, when he accidentally stepped on it. He took a penalty drop away from the hazard and made what he thought was 6 for a bogey. But on the next hole, a PGA Tour rules official approached him about the incident. Apparently, Jordan was not aware that he had incurred a penalty for causing his ball to move when he stepped on it, as he is reported by Golf Channel to have offered this rather confusing explanation;

“My intentions were if I see it, I'm going to play it, and if I don't see it, I'm going to take my drop and play it as a water hazard.”
“Because my intention was possibly to still play it, it's a penalty and that was made clear, no matter what I declared to (caddie Michael Greller) ahead of time. I just wanted to be certain about it.”
To clarify the main points of this ruling, when a player treads on a ball it moves, because it is pressed into the ground. Decision 18-1;
Q. A ball lying in long grass slips vertically downwards. Or a ball is accidentally stepped on and pressed down, say a quarter of an inch, in the grass or into the ground. In each case, has the ball moved?

A. Yes, unless the ball returns to its original position. The direction of movement is immaterial.
The penalty is incurred as soon as the ball is moved. Rule 12-1c states;
If a ball is believed to be lying in water in a water hazard, the player may, without penalty, probe for it with a club or otherwise. If the ball in water is accidentally moved while probing, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced, unless the player elects to proceed under Rule 26-1. If the moved ball was not lying in water or the ball was accidentally moved by the player other than while probing, Rule 18-2a applies.
Following the completion of his round, Jordan spoke at length (why, what was there to be discussed?) with PGA Tour rules officials, who informed him the Rules did require him to include the penalty of one stroke for the infraction of stepping on his ball.

I can only think of three possible explanations for this incident;
a) Jordan did not know that by treading on his ball in play he had incurred a penalty, which is why he did not immediately inform his marker of the fact, as is required by Rule 9-3;

A competitor who has incurred a penalty should inform his marker as soon as practicable.
b) Jordan did not know that he had stepped on his ball !!!
c) Jordan realised that stepping on his ball did incur a penalty but chose to carry on by dropping a ball outside of the hazard without saying anything to his fellow competitors (in my opinion, this explanation is extremely unlikely).

So, I conclude that we have yet another example of the lack of knowledge that many professional golfers have about their job of work.

One last point for me to clarify is that when a player chooses to take a penalty stroke relief from the water hazard after causing their ball to move, they do not have to replace the ball before doing so, as is usually the case with a breach of Rule 18-2a.

In conclusion, this additional penalty stroke incurred by Jordan Spieth did not have any material impact on his progress in the tournament, as he missed the cut by five strokes.

Good golfing,

Check out my range of eDocuments designed to assist golfers of all abilities to obtain a better understanding of the Rules at
The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Shortened Stipulated Rounds and Practice

Here is an interesting question on the Rules of Golf;
May a player practice on holes 1-4 when the stipulated, stroke play competition round is holes 5-18?
I am raising this subject in anticipation that there are many Clubs that hold such competitions. My own Club runs 14-hole, semi-open, midweek competitions throughout the summer season. It is a common practice for players who arrive early, to practice on the holes that do not form part of the stipulated round. It has now been brought to my attention that this may be a breach of Rule 7-1b, part of which states;
Before a round or play-off on any day of a stroke-play competition, a competitor must not practice on the competition course
These are the relevant Definitions;
The "course" is the whole area within any boundaries established by the Committee (see Rule 33-2).
The "stipulated round" consists of playing the holes of the course in their correct sequence, unless otherwise authorized by the Committee. The number of holes in a stipulated round is 18 unless a smaller number is authorised by the Committee.
Until this subject was raised with me, I envisaged no problem with players practicing on those holes that were not included in the stipulated round. However, the question was put to me as to whether a ball hooked from the 9th teeing ground that came to rest on the 3rd fairway, a hole not included in the stipulated round, would be in play? Knowing that this regularly happens on my home course and that no-one has ever suggested that a ball played to this position was out of bounds, I realised that the four holes not in play do indeed form part of the 14-hole course.

Fortunately, the Rules provide a solution for this potential problem. The Note to Rule 7-1 includes this statement;

Note: The Committee may, in the conditions of a competition …. permit practice on the competition course or part of the course (Rule 33-2c) on any day of or between rounds of a stroke-play competition.
I will be making a recommendation to the Committee at my Club to introduce a Condition of Competition that specifically permits players to practice on those holes that are not included as part of the stipulated round on the day of any competition.

Good golfing,


If you are receiving weekly issues of either my ‘Rhodes Rules School’ ‘Photo Series’, or ‘How Many Strokes?’ series, remember that you can purchase the full sets in a single document and be advanced to the first issue of the current series, ‘9 Questions About …’. Click on the links for details.

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

Monday, 17 August 2015

Stones in Bunkers and Ant Hills

Aug 2015: Jordan Spieth removes bunker stones at Chambers Bay
Jordan Spieth encountered a Rules situation during his first round at the Whistling Straights PGA Championship, when he found that his ball was lying on a stone in a bunker. The first point to note is that by definition stones are loose impediments wherever they lie. So, when a ball and a stone lie in or touch the same hazard, the stone may not be removed. However, if a Committee determines that stones in bunkers may pose a danger to players, they may implement a permanent Local Rule stating that they are movable obstructions and this was the case at Whistling Straights. I understand that some Committees grant this relief for stones throughout the course and not just to bunkers, though personally, I have not come across this extension to the specimen Local Rule in Appendix l, Part B, 5, which states:
Stones are, by definition, loose impediments and, when a player’s ball is in a hazard, a stone lying in or touching the hazard may not be touched or moved (Rule 13-4). However, stones in bunkers may represent a danger to players (a player could be injured by a stone struck by the player’s club in an attempt to play the ball) and they may interfere with the proper playing of the game.

When permission to lift a stone in a bunker is warranted, the following Local Rule is recommended:

“Stones in bunkers are movable obstructions (Rule 24-1 applies).”
Jordan was entitled to remove the stone lying beneath his ball before making his stroke from the bunker. Because the Local Rule deemed stones in bunkers to be movable obstructions, Rule 24-1b applied. This permits a player to lift their ball when it lies on a movable obstruction and remove the obstruction. Spieth’s ball then had to be dropped in the bunker, as near as possible to the spot directly under the place where his ball lay on the stone, but not nearer the hole.

Bubba Watson and the Ant Hill
As long-time readers of this blog will know, many tournament players (and their caddies) are not as aware of the Rules of Golf as they should be. Bubba Watson spent a few minutes unsuccessfully trying to persuade a Rules Official that he was entitled to relief from one of the many ant hills on the Whistling Straits course, because, a) his ball lay in a "dangerous situation", and b) ants are burrowing animals. Quite rightly the Rules Official denied Bubba relief because, a) most species of ants are clearly not dangerous, although, as the Rules Official correctly pointed out, some species, such as fire-ants, can be, but they are not present on the Whistling Straits course, and b) the definition of burrowing animals specifically excludes insects;

A "burrowing animal" is an animal (other than a worm, insect or the like) that makes a hole for habitation or shelter, such as a rabbit, mole, groundhog, gopher or salamander.
Decision 23/5 shows that ant hills may be treated as a loose impediment;
Q. Is an ant hill a loose impediment?
A. Yes. A player is entitled to remove an ant hill under Rule 23-1.
Note that if that if ants on a course are considered to be dangerous, a Committee would be justified in stating that their ant hills may be treated as ground under repair, but this would be unusual (Decision 33-8/22).

Most of the videos of this Rules incident have been taken down, but at the time of writing this link was still live. Scroll down below the Vine clip, to the video with the statement, “Just watch and learn as professor Bubba Watson teaches everyone about animals”. The video is about 5 minutes long and could take a little while to load, but I think that Rules enthusiasts will be interested in the exchange and will probably not be surprised that Watson, his caddie and the TV commentators all got the ruling wrong. Even the Rules Official (Graeme Scott from the Australian Tour), who presumably had been briefed on rulings that could arise on the course, asked for a second opinion.

As he prepared to address his ball amongst the ants Bubba joked, "Ow, It Bit Me", presumably sarcastically, in the direction of the Rules Official. As it happened he could have (should have?) saved himself, the official and his fellow competitor, Hunter Mahon, over five minutes wasted time, as he went on to birdie the hole from his 'antsy' lie.

Good golfing,


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

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Fallen Tree Branches

There was an interesting Rules situation at my own Club a few weeks ago. Following a summer gale, two large branches were blown down from a mature tree on the course. One branch was hanging down from the tree and the other was completely detached and lying on the ground. It happened overnight and a mid-week semi-open competition was under way before the greenkeeping staff could remove the branches and before the Committee could consider whether the immediate area should be marked as temporary ground under repair.

The question that this scenario raises is whether a player may move the branches before playing their stroke, or not. The first point for me to make is that no relief is available; any part of a tree is natural and cannot therefore be an immovable obstruction, which only applies to artificial objects. However, if any part of the tree is completely detached, it is a loose impediment, notwithstanding its size. The first sentence of Rule 23-1 states;

Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty.
Of course, the player must take care to ensure that they do not cause their ball to move while removing a loose impediment, or they will incur a penalty of one stroke, under Rule 18-2a, and the ball must be replaced. Thanks to Tiger Woods and the 2,000 lb boulder (see this blog), most of us know that it is permissible to obtain assistance from anyone to remove a large loose impediment.  However, if there is no assistance on hand to move the large, loose impediment, it is permissible for the player to break off any part of it that interferes with their stroke. Decision 23-1/4 confirms;
Q. If part of a large branch which has fallen from a tree (and thus is a loose impediment) interferes with a player's swing, may the player break off the interfering part rather than move the whole branch?
A. Yes.
So, in the photo above, the player of ball X may remove all of part of the detached branch lying beside their ball, providing they can do so without causing their ball to move.

The situation with the branch that is still attached to the tree is different. Rule 13-2 prohibits a player from improving their intended stroke by moving, bending or breaking anything growing. Because the branch is still part of the tree it is deemed to be growing. This is the case even if a branch is dead and still attached to a tree.
Decision 23-7 conveniently sums up the main point of this blog;

Q. Is a fallen tree a loose impediment?
A. If it is still attached to the stump, no; if it is not attached to the stump, yes.
It’s Whistling Straits Again!
I cannot see or hear the name, Whistling Straits, without being reminded of the penalty that Dustin Johnson incurred when grounding his club in one of the 1,000+ bunkers on this rugged course, which probably cost him the PGA Championship, 5 years ago. Click here for a reminder of his breach. I understand that the area that contained the infamous ‘non’-bunker is now covered by a corporate stand! If only it had been there in 2010! As you watch the 2015 PGA Championship unfold, be aware that Whistling Straits is the host venue for the 2020 Ryder Cup matches.

Good golfing,


Those of you that make book purchases through Amazon will know that you can write a short review against the title. I would be grateful if anyone that has purchased my '999 Questions' book (and found it useful!) would write a short review to help others that may be considering purchase. Click on this Amazon link page for the paperback version.
The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Making a Stroke from Water inside a Water Hazard

Martin Kaymer plays out of water at BMW International Open
If a ball lies in water in a water hazard, most golfers would be advised to take their punishment and take relief under penalty of one stroke. However, I suspect that there are few of us that have not tried to play that miracle stroke from water, however rash it may have been at the time. For this reason I am listing the main do’s and don’ts when you are faced with this circumstance. The don’ts first;

•    Don’t touch the ground in the hazard with your club, or you will probably incur a penalty (e.g. Michelle Wie’s breach, which I covered in this blog). Note that there are exceptions, such as to prevent yourself falling.
•    Don’t touch the water with your club, even on the backswing (e.g. Graeme McDowell’s breach, which I covered in this blog).
•    Don’t touch or move any loose impediments in the hazard, such as moving pebbles in the hazard with your feet whilst taking a firm stance (e.g. Aaron Baddeley’s breach, which I covered in this blog).
•    Don’t move a loose impediment on your backswing (e.g. Brian Davis’s breach when he moved a dead palm frond on his backswing in his one hole playoff against Jim Furyk in the 2010 Verizon Heritage tournament.)
•    Don’t wash your club in the water if your ball is still in the hazard after you have made your stroke.
•    Don’t forget that you may still drop outside the hazard for a penalty of one stroke, Rule 26-2. (e.g. Rory McIlroy choosing to take this relief under penalty, which I covered in this blog).

And some of the Do’s, or more accurately, May’s;

•    You may use your club to stop falling (Exception 1a to Rule 13-4).
•    You may take more than one club in the bunker (Exception 1b to Rule 13-4).
•    You may touch anything growing in the hazard with practice swings or your backswing (Note to Rule 13-4).
•    You may remove any movable obstruction from the hazard, such as a tin can (Rule 24-1).
•    You may search for a ball in water in a water hazard by probing with a club and there is no penalty if you cause it to move while doing so, but the ball must be replaced (Rule 12-1c).
•    You may play a ball that is moving in water, but don't wait for it to move to a more advantageous position (Rule 14-6).

If you would like to see how Martin Kaymer played his stroke out of the water hazard (photo above) and how it earned him European Tour Shot of the Month for June 2015, click here.

Good golfing,


I now have over six years of weekly articles on my blog site, covering most areas of the Rules of Golf. You can often find the answers to your Rules questions by entering a short search term in the 'Search This Blog' box at the top right corner of my blog pages.

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