Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Dustin Johnson (again) and Line of Play

The camera tower on Dustin'Johnson's line of play
No, I am not revisiting the circumstance of the main Rules issue at last week’s US Open, which I covered in blog last week, but Dustin Johnson (DJ) was involved in a second incident, which caused confusion amongst many viewers during his final round.

Having hooked his ball into deep rough on his 10th hole, DJ summoned a Rules Official to help him determine the relief that he was entitled to from a television tower that he said was on his line of play to the hole. Before continuing, I want to emphasise that the relief that DJ was seeking was under a Local Rule for temporary immovable obstructions, which does not apply in the rounds of golf that most of us play. A temporary immovable obstruction (TIO) is a non-permanent artificial object that is often erected in conjunction with a competition and is fixed or not readily movable. Examples of TIOs include, but are not limited to, tents, scoreboards, grandstands, television towers and lavatories.

Typically, a Local Rule relating to TIOs only applies in tournaments that have the above listed immovable obstructions and I am not going to attempt to explain how this relief is determined, as it is complicated and most likely would confuse readers. Regarding the DJ ruling, I am confident that the point from which he could drop his ball, was correctly determined. I know for a fact that prior to any tournament the officials go out onto the course to discuss any possible Rules issues that may arise, especially regarding TIOs, hazard margins, dropping zones, etc. One point that I want to clarify is that having received relief without penalty from a TIO on the line of play, the player does not then have to attempt to play their ball along that line of play, even if they are good enough to do so! So, having properly been given relief, which permitted him to drop a ball and eventually place it outside of the deep rough, because it had twice rolled outside of the permitted area, DJ then chose to play his ball directly over the television tower and not around it. He was quite within his rights to do so, gaining the advantage because of his awareness of the applicable Local Rule. Readers who would like to read a specimen of a Local Rule for TIOs can click on this link to Appendix l Part A, and scroll down to 4b Temporary Immovable Obstructions, but please note that this does not necessarily contain the same wording that was on the hard card for last week’s US Open.

Line of Play
The above Rules incident provides a good opportunity for me to remind golfers that there is no line of play relief from immovable obstructions that are off the putting green. Relief under Rule 24-2 is only available when an immovable obstruction interferes with the player's lie, stance or the area of their intended swing. These are the limited circumstances when a player may take line of play relief, other than from TIOs, as above;
•    If a player’s ball lies on the putting green, they may take line of play relief from an immovable obstruction on the same putting green (e.g. an artificial hole plug or wire netting protecting a damaged area). Rule 24-2b(iii).
•    If a player’s ball lies on the putting green they may take line of play relief from an abnormal ground condition on the same putting green (e.g. casual water or ground under repair). Rule 25-1b(iii).
•    Many courses have immovable obstructions, such as sprinkler heads, just off the putting green. In such circumstances, it is fairly common for Committees to introduce a Local Rule that permits line of play relief, without penalty, for players’ balls that lie within two club-lengths of an immovable obstruction that is located within two club-lengths of the putting green. (See this blog of mine for more detail).

Note that there is one more exceptional instance where a Committee may make a Local Rule providing line of play relief from an immovable obstruction. Decision 33-8/18 states;

If a wire fence is erected to protect players on the tee of one hole from errant shots played at another hole, and it is relatively close to the line of play of the other hole, it would be permissible to make a Local Rule allowing a player whose ball is in such a position that the fence intervenes on his line of play to drop the ball, without penalty, not nearer the hole in a specified dropping zone.
Good golfing,


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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Dustin Johnson and the USGA

Dustin Johnson talking to the referee on 5th putting green
I am starting this blog with a certain amount of apprehension, as I know that keen followers of golf will have already made up their minds about the way that the USGA dealt with the contentious Rules situation that arose during the final round of the US Open in Oakmont Country Club, Pennsylvania last Sunday. If you have not read the USGA statement of the circumstances surrounding the way that Dustin Johnson (DJ) was advised that he may have incurred a penalty and the subsequent imposition of a penalty stroke after all players in the competition had completed their rounds, then I suggest that you do so before continuing to read this blog. It certainly clarified some of the issues that I had, which means that it is no longer necessary for me to explain them. I am copying the USGA statement for your convenience at the end of this blog.

First, I would like to address a basic misunderstanding that was widely spread by media commentators, some of them Professional golfers, which caused confusion amongst their audiences. There is a distinction between addressing a ball and grounding a club;
  • A player has ‘addressed the ball’ when he has grounded his club immediately in front of or immediately behind the ball, whether or not he has taken his stance. 
  • A club has been ‘grounded’ when the grass is compressed to the point where it will support the weight of the club (from Decision 13-4/8)
So, DJ definitely did not address his ball, but the videotape clearly shows that he grounded (or soled) his putter to the side of his ball, brushed the grass twice with practice putts, grounded his club again and then hovered it immediately behind his ball, just above the grass, withdrawing it quickly when he saw that his ball was beginning to move off its spot. You can view this sequence of events and hear the explanation of Jeff Hall, Managing Director, USGA Championships, at this Fox Sports link following the advertisement.

So, nobody doubts that the ball moved, the question is did the weight of evidence indicate that it is more likely than not that DJ caused his ball to move, even though that conclusion is not completely free from doubt. The factors that have to be taken into account when arriving at a conclusion are set out in Decision 18-2/0.5, which is too long for me to reproduce here, but can be viewed on-line at this link.

In my opinion, it was more likely than not that DJ did cause his ball to move by disturbing the grasses next to his ball creating a domino effect whereby grasses that were under the ball were moved, resulting in the ball settling into a different spot. It is interesting to note that in similar circumstances during Saturday’s play, Shane Lowry called a penalty on himself and replaced his ball, admitting that he had caused it to move slightly, even though he did not touch it with his club. (Edit 4th July: If you think that the Ruling Bodies were unduly harsh on DJ take a look at this incident of him causing his ball to move when he was not assessed a penalty, because it was ruled that his ball settled back to its original spot).
One point that other reporters do not seem to have picked-up on is that when the referee asked, "You didn't ground your club [did you]?" DJ replied, "No". When it became obvious to those reviewing the videotape that he had, it surely worked against him. I am not suggesting that he was lying; he probably thought that the referee meant, did he address his ball, but his answer to the question asked was clearly wrong. The reason why the distinction between addressing the ball and grounding the club is so important, is that for four years prior to January of this year there was a Rule, part of which stated; If a player's ball in play moves after he has addressed it (other than as a result of a stroke), the player is deemed to have moved the ball and incurs a penalty of one stroke. The reason that I have greyed this is that this Rule 18-2b no longer exists, which presumably had escaped the attention of TV commentators and some Pro golfers who jumped in to criticize the USGA, using the lack of address as to why there was no penalty. The same overall test as to whether a player has caused their ball to move (in Rule 18-2) now applies to all actions by a player anywhere on the course, whether they have addressed their ball, or not.

The one outstanding question that I have, which was not directly covered in the USGA statement, is why the penalty was only one stroke, when the penalty statement under Rule 18 states;

*If a player who is required to replace a ball fails to do so, or if he makes a stroke at a ball substituted under Rule 18 when such substitution is not permitted, he incurs the general penalty for breach of Rule 18, but there is no additional penalty under this Rule.
My guess is that because the referee accepted that DJ had not caused his ball to move he had tacitly approved that the ball did not have to be replaced, which is the case if the player has not caused their ball to move. Therefore, it would have been inequitable to impose the additional penalty stroke and I certainly agree with that, although I would prefer that it had been properly explained. (Edit 22nd June, 2016: It has now been pointed out to me that Decision 34-3/7 deals explicitly with this situation).

Finally, on the matter of whether players should be informed that they may have incurred a penalty whilst continuing their round out on the course, which is the point that seems to have enraged most viewers of this engaging, US Open final round. It seems an easy decision on the face of it; make a snap judgement as to whether a penalty was incurred, telling the player if the ruling goes against them and reflecting it on the scoreboard; or ignore the fact that there may have been a breach and let the players get on with it. In the former scenario, the player, their fellow competitors, caddies, even spectators, are not given a chance to provide evidence on the matter in question; in the latter case, the rights of every other competitor in the field are effected, if it subsequently is proven that a breach had occurred. There is no perfect solution. The Rules have evolved to where they are now with the accumulated experience of more than 250 years of competitive golf. Far from being ‘amateurs’, which is an accusation made against them by many who should know better, those engaged with USGA and R&A are golf enthusiasts, who work tirelessly to ensure that competitors in golf competitions, wherever they are played, at whatever level, are playing to the same Rules.

Good golfing,


P.S. I do not intend to engage in lengthy discourse with readers that disagree with my opinions on this matter, but I will post any comments that add to the discussion, providing they are reasonably expressed.

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2016 and may not be copied without permission.

USGA Statement Regarding Dustin Johnson Ruling

The USGA wishes to congratulate Dustin Johnson on his victory and thank him, and the other players in the field, for their professionalism and grace throughout the championship. Dustin is a wonderful champion, a talented golfer and a gentleman.

Our team at the USGA has seen and heard a great deal of discussion and debate about the ruling on Dustin’s ball moving during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club. In addition to the explanations we offered upon the conclusion of the final round, we add these comments.

Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned. While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leader board after we informed Dustin on the 12th tee that his actions on the fifth green might lead to a penalty. This created unnecessary ambiguity for Dustin and the other players, as well as spectators on-site, and those watching and listening on television and digital channels.

During any competition, the priority for Rules officials is to make the correct ruling for the protection of the player(s) involved and the entire field. In applying Rule 18-2, which deals with a ball at rest that moves, officials consider all the relevant evidence – including the player’s actions, the time between those actions and the movement of the ball, the lie of the ball, and course and weather conditions. If that evidence, considered together, shows that it is more likely than not that the player’s actions caused the ball to move, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty. Officials use this “more likely than not” standard because it is not always apparent what caused the ball to move. Such situations require a review of the evidence, with Decision 18-2/0.5 providing guidance on how the evidence should be weighed.

Our officials reviewed the video of Dustin on the fifth green and determined that based on the weight of the evidence, it was more likely than not that Dustin caused his ball to move. Dustin’s putter contacted the ground at the side of the ball, and almost immediately after, the ball moved.

We accept that not everyone will agree that Dustin caused his ball to move. Issues under Rule 18-2 often require a judgment where there is some uncertainty, and this was one of those instances. We also understand that some people may disagree with Rule 18-2 itself. While we respect the viewpoints of those who disagree, our Committee made a careful and collective judgment in its pursuit of a fair competition played under the Rules of Golf.

In keeping with our commitment to excellence in all aspects of our work on behalf of the game of golf, we pledge to closely examine our procedures in this matter. We will assess our procedures for handling video review, the timing of such, and our communication with players to make sure that when confronted with such a situation again, we will have a better process.

We at the USGA deeply appreciate the support of players, fans, and the entire golf community of our championships and our other work for golf – and we appreciate your feedback as well. We have established an email address (comments@usga.org) and phone mailbox (908-326-1857) to receive comments. We thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

We all share an abiding love of this great game. Let us continue to work together for its good.


Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Nearest Point of Relief across Immovable Obstructions

It is surprising how many golfers do not properly understand the concept of nearest point of relief. You cannot play many rounds of golf without having to determine the nearest point of relief, e.g. when taking relief from any immovable obstruction, ground under repair, casual water or staked trees where a Local Rule mandates taking relief from them. I have covered several aspects of determining nearest point of relief in previous blogs and will now take this opportunity to remind readers that if you have any question on the Rules, one of the best ways of finding an answer, together with the appropriate reference to the Rule or Decision number, is to use the ‘Search This Blog’ facility at the top right corner of every one of my blog pages. So, if you enter the words “Nearest Point of Relief” you will receive many relevant links to my blogs, the fourth of which is titled ‘The Rule of Golf that is broken most often…‘, which also links to my short video on this same subject. I have now authored over 400 blogs, covering most Rules scenarios and this search feature is a great way to check any ruling that you may not have been sure of during a round.

This recently received question relates to an interesting point on nearest point of relief, which I don’t think that I have blogged about previously. 

“On our course we have a gravel filled drain running alongside the left hand side of the 16th fairway. It is very narrow, only 8 inches wide. Is it permissible to determine the nearest point of relief by taking your stance on one side of the ditch with the ball on the other side (i.e. the drain is between the player and his ball)?”

The answer to this question is, ‘Yes’ if the point on the other side of the drain is the nearest point of relief. In fact, the player must use this point to determine the permitted area where they may drop their ball, which is within one club-length of that point not nearer the hole. The reason for this being the nearest point is that there is no mental relief from an immovable obstruction in the Rules of Golf; so just because the narrow gravel strip lies between the toes of the player’s normal stance and where their ball would be positioned if they were using the club with which they would normally use for a reasonable stroke from that place, does not mean that they may drop on the near side of the immovable obstruction. In the diagram above, which is not quite the same as in the question, the nearest point of relief for the ball in the gravel drain for a right-handed player is at point Y (for yes) and not at either of the two points marked X (for wrong). Note that the player’s stance for the wrong point X on the left side of the drain would be further away than in the diagram, which represents the player’s stance for the correct nearest point of relief. Of course, once the nearest point of relief has been determined the player may then drop their ball anywhere within one-club-length of that point, not nearer the hole, using the longest club they carry, which may be back on the near side of the gravel path. Please remember that there is only one nearest point of relief, except in the comparatively rare occurrence when ball lies in a position where there could be two equidistant points, and in most situations that point will be at a different place for left and right-handed players. Also remember that the nearest point of relief does not necessarily mean that the player will be able to drop in a more favourable position; sometimes it is better to play a stroke, even though there is interference, rather than taking relief in a less favourable position by taking the correct relief under the Rules.

(Edit 8th une 2016: There was an error in this paragraph which I have now corrected.)

Now here is a point that many (most?) golfers would not realise; in some cases the nearest point of relief may be through an immovable obstruction, unless there is a Local Rule that states otherwise. Note 3 to Rule 24-2 states;
The Committee may make a Local Rule stating that the player must determine the nearest point of relief without crossing over, through or under the obstruction.
Personally, I do not know of any course where this Local Rule has been introduced, but if your ball is on the ‘wrong side’ of a wall, fence, or something similar, you should definitely check the Local Rules before determining your nearest point of relief.

Good golfing,


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The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2016 and may not be copied without permission.