Earlier this year Spieth began asking an unusual Rules question. He admitted that when the putting greens get “shiny” his putter has a tendency to slip on the ground. In practice, he wets the bottom of his putter for added traction, either with a damp towel, or by licking his thumb and rubbing it on the bottom of the putter. When he enquired as to whether this action breached any Rule of Golf in competitive golf, no-one could give him a definitive answer. During last week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship, at Doral, Florida, he said;
“I’ve spoken to commentators, players and nobody knew the answer if you can do it. I didn’t know if it was legal so I’ve never done it on the golf course [during a tournament round], so I asked an official once I knew the course was like that [on Saturday]. He asked me what my intentions were and I told him to make it easier to set the putter down.”The official was not prepared to make an on-the-spot ruling and went away to confer with others officials, returning a few holes later. It would seem that the tournament officials were split and so they called the USGA, who also declined to give a definitive ruling, but, until they had discussed it further, they were ruling that he (Spieth) should not lick his fingers and then apply it to the sole of his putter, though he was permitted to use a wet towel to clean his club.
Slugger White, Tour Vice President of Rules and Competitions, later said;
“They [the USGA] are going to talk about it, we’ve all kind of said, ‘no’. The intent was there. His intent was to keep the putter from moving around.”The relevant Rule is 4-2a;
During a stipulated round, the playing characteristics of a club must not be purposely changed by adjustment or by any other means.Decision 4-2/4 even refers specifically to saliva;
Q. A player spat on the face of his club and did not wipe the saliva off before playing his next stroke. Is this permissible?So, one can appreciate the difficulty faced by the Ruling Bodies; by applying saliva to the bottom of his putter Spieth was arguably not changing the putter’s playing characteristics in any way that could influence the movement of his ball, but his intention was to control the movement of his club to benefit his stroke in the playing of the hole. Presuming that this ruling will be ratified, the question remains as to whether using a dampened towel to ‘clean’ the sole of the putter, so as to achieve the same result, is allowable under the Rules, because it is using equipment in a traditionally accepted manner, as permitted by Exception 2 to Rule 14-3.
A. If the purpose of doing this was to influence the movement of the ball, the player was in breach of Rule 4-2b as saliva is "foreign material."
J.B. Holmes Plays from a Wrong Place
In another incident at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, J.B. Holmes was penalised two strokes for playing from a wrong place. He had taken relief from a lateral water hazard (red stakes/lines) by dropping on the opposite side of the reference point where his ball had crossed the margin, equidistant from the hole. But instead of dropping within two club-lengths of that point, he went back nearly 25 yards to play his next shot, a fairway wood over a line of trees. Fortunately, he was advised of the error before completing the hole and teeing off at the next hole, or he would have been disqualified for a serious breach of Rule 20-7. Presumably, he did not follow the Solheim Cup in 2013, where several players, caddies, team captains and officials all failed to get this Rule right, making the same mistake as J.B. Holmes. If you have any doubt about this you should read Rule 26-1, or view my video on taking relief from a lateral water hazard at this link.
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