Monday, 3 October 2016

Jordan Spieth Ruling: Ryder Cup 2016

Photo: - Jordan Spieth
My congratulations to the excellent USA team who were the deserving winners of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club. The overall match result was almost assured by the time that Jordan Spieth hooked his ball into the water hazard on the par-5 16th hole. His ball came to rest at the water’s edge, but presumably in a position where he thought that he could make a stroke at it. The fact that he was 2-down to his opponent, Henrik Stenson, obviously played a part in his decision to remove his shoes and socks to prepare for an unlikely stroke from the water onto the putting green. But as he took up his stance with one foot in the water, he saw his ball move deeper into the murky water. He wasn’t sure about the ruling, so he called over European Tour Rules official, Jose Zamaro. Surprisingly, he was not confident enough to give a definitive ruling, even after consulting his Rules book, and had to call in the details of the situation to the senior Rules Official for the competition. He then passed on the ruling to Jordan that he had incurred a penalty of one stroke, under Rule 18-2, for causing his ball to move while taking his stance. Even with this penalty it was still possible, if highly unlikely, that he could have holed out with his next stroke for 4, but perhaps wisely, he said, "It’s done now, it’s over" and conceded the hole to Henrik, thus losing the match 3 and 2.

Obviously, I cannot know what was confusing to Jordan Spieth and the official, Jose Zamaro, about the Rules situation, but I am guessing that they may have been unsure about whether Rule 13-4 or Rule 14-6 could have been applicable in the circumstances. Here is my assessment of the situation;

•    Decision 13-4/13: If a player accidentally moves a loose impediment in a hazard (e.g. a stone) there is no penalty, provided the loose impediment was not moved in making the backswing and the lie of the ball or area of the intended stance or swing was not improved. This was not relevant to the Spieth incident.
•    Rule 14-6: If a ball is moving in water in a water hazard, the player may, without penalty, make a stroke at the moving ball. This was not relevant to the Spieth incident.
•    Rule 18-2: If a player causes their ball to move they incur a penalty of one stroke and the ball must be replaced. This applies whether the ball lies in a water hazard, or not. Note that there seven exceptions to this Rule, but none that was relevant to the Spieth incident. Of course, it is possible that a ball could be moved by the natural flow of water, but in this circumstance it was clear that it was the placing of Jordan’s foot at the water’s edge that caused his ball to move.

Footnote 1: On 31st August this year Associated Press reported that Jordan Spieth recalled getting a Rules of Golf book at a junior tournament with instructions to keep it in his bag for quick reference. "I never opened it", he said.

Footnote 2: Jordan Spieth is reported to have earned $147.5 million since 2012 (reference: Money Nation), so he may not think that it is necessary for him to spend time studying the Rules book, but perhaps he should employ a caddie that does!

Good golfing,


I understand that some subscribers to my fortnightly blogs may not have received the usual email with my previous blog, dated 20th September 2016, titled, ‘What a Golfer May Move without Penalty’. You can either catch-up on this blog at this link, or email me at rules at barry rhodes dot com and I will email it to you.

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Anonymous said...

But what if Jordan was only trying to determine if he should take a drop or whether he might be able to hit the ball; he was not taking a stance in an effort to hit the ball but just in an effort to see if he could possibly play the shot, still not sure if he should just take a drop with a penalty?

tonyzed said...

Interesting thought at the end.

Perhaps with his money he could employ his own personal private Rules Official to walk with him.

Barry Rhodes said...


You seem to be missing the point of Rule 18-2. If you cause your ball to move you incur a penalty of one stroke (with seven exceptions that are not relevant here). Jordan incurred the penalty whether or not he subsequently chose to take relief from the hazard for another ons stroke penalty, under Rule 26-1.