Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Using another Ball as a Backstop

So here is the situation; during the final round of the Safeway Open at the Silverado Resort, California, on the on the par-4 12th hole, Tony Finau (USA), played a difficult shot from a buried lie in a greenside bunker. His ball raced across the putting green and collided with the stationary ball of Jason Kokrak (USA), who had previously pitched up close to the hole from over 30 yards away. Finau’s ball was stopped just two feet from the hole, whereas it definitely would have travelled several feet past, perhaps as much as 30 feet, if Kokrak had previously marked and lifted his ball. The incident can be viewed at this link. Was this favourable deflection off a fellow competitor’s ball a fortunate ‘rub of the green’, or as many are claiming, was it equivalent to cheating by either or both of the players?

The first and perhaps the most important point that I wish to emphasise is that no Rule of Golf was broken in this incident, as there is no suggestion that Finau and Kokrak agreed that Kokrak’s ball should be left close to the hole, so that it might act as a backstop to Finau’s ball. In stroke play, it is Rule 19-5b that is relevant to this situation;

If a player's ball in motion after a stroke is deflected or stopped by a ball in play and at rest, the player must play his ball as it lies. In match play, there is no penalty. In stroke play, there is no penalty, unless both balls lay on the putting green prior to the stroke, in which case the player incurs a penalty of two strokes.

In stroke play, if one player, B, indicates to another player, A, that they would like them to leave their ball where it lies on the putting green, as it could provide an advantage for them, and A complies; or if A gives any indication to B that he will leave his ball where it is, so as to assist B, both players incur the penalty of disqualification. Decision 22-6 states;

Q. In stroke play, B's ball lies just off the putting green. A's ball lies near the hole in a position to serve as a backstop for B's ball. B requests A not to lift his ball. Is such a request proper?

A. No. If A and B agree not to lift a ball that might assist B, both players are disqualified under Rule 22-1.

There has been a lot of comment in the golfing media about the Finau incident, with many reasoning that a player should be penalised if they purposely leave their ball on the putting green while another player is making their stroke from off the putting green, and/or the player making the stroke should always wait until any ball in the vicinity of the hole has been marked and lifted.

My strongly held opinion is that there is absolutely no reason for any tinkering to the Rules of Golf in this regard. The number of times in a year that another ball provides an involuntary backstop to a player’s advantage is minimal and any attempt to account for these rare occurrences would probably worsen the major problem facing golfers today, which is slow play. This year, the R&A introduced ‘Ready Golf’ at its amateur championships and this is a practice followed by an increasing number of Committees in Club competitions, in an attempt to get players to finish their 18 holes in under 4 hours, as used to be the norm. Also, the European Tour has just announced that shot clocks will be used on every hole at the 2018 Shot Clock Masters, in Austria. Several of the proposed, modernised Rules for January 2019 are an attempt to speed up play, such as the option of leaving the flagstick in the hole when putting. It would be detrimental to introduce a Rule requiring players making strokes from off the putting green to wait while balls in the vicinity of the hole are being marked and lifted. If such a Rule were to be introduced in an attempt to prevent ‘backstops’ on the putting green when would it apply? For strokes made from the apron; 10 yards away, 30 yards, 50 yards? How close to the hole must the ball at rest be; within 1 yard, 2 yards, 5 yards? Who is going to measure and with what? It is totally unnecessary and practically unworkable!

Some pundits are suggesting that because of the above difficulties in effectively implementing such a Rule any change in respect of backstops should only apply to professionals, where the prize money won or lost by such rubs of the green may be substantial. I do not agree, in fact I am opposed to any bifurcation of the Rules. Golf is almost unique in that the R&A / USGA Rules of Golf, which were unified in 1952, are the same for everyone who plays the game in competition, with the minor exception of Local Rules introduced to deal with local, abnormal conditions. Long may amateurs and professional golfers face the same consequences and challenges when they play, because it is one game with one set of rules for everybody, with player’s earned handicaps allowing them to play competitively with others who may have more or less ability at the game.

Note: I answered some other questions on using a ball as a backstop, e.g. in match play, in this earlier blog.

Korean LPGA Void Round
Another instance of Rules being wrongly blamed occurred last week at the KB Financial Star Championship at Black Stone Golf Club, in Incheon South Korea. Two players were penalised when it was realised that they had marked and lifted their balls, thinking that they were on the putting green, when in fact they were on the apron of the green. One of them, Hye-Jin Choi, was a co-leader of the tournament before the penalty was assessed. Then it was discovered that four other players had done that same thing, but had already signed and returned their score cards. The situation escalated when some competitors threatened to withdraw if the penalties were removed, while others said they would do the same if the penalties were enforced. There is no doubting that this was a bizarre shambles, but it had nothing to do with inadequacies, or unnecessary complications, in the Rules of Golf. Perhaps the competition Committee were to blame, or the on-course officials, or the greenkeepers, or the Korean LPGA, or the players, or their caddies, but definitely not the Rules! The KPLGA resolved the impasse by deciding to void the first round, wiping out all players’ scores.

Good golfing,



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The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

When the Rules of Golf Can Help You

I have regularly drawn attention to incidents in which a professional golfer’s lack of knowledge of the Rules of Golf has resulted in them incurring a penalty. There were two more of these in the past couple of weeks;
1. Matthew Southgate was penalised for not replaying his putt when his ball in motion was diverted from the hole by a leaf that was blown against it by the wind. If only he had read my blog on the subject at this link
2. During The Presidents Cup, Jordan Spieth was penalised loss of hole when he purposely stopped his opponent, Louis Oosthuisen’s, ball in motion after it had passed the hole, reasoning that it would not count in the outcome of the hole, as Jason Day, had already made a birdie. There is a full video of the ruling and the animated discussion that followed at this Sky Sports link (after the ad!). (Edit: the original Golf Channel link was taken down)

I would like to redress the balance of these apparently inequitable rulings by highlighting some of the many ways where a player’s knowledge of a Rule can be a distinct advantage;

When taking relief from a lateral water hazard, always check out the option of dropping within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than a point on the opposite margin of the hazard equidistant from the hole to the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the hazard (see the diagram above).
When taking relief under the Rules a player may choose to drop a ball on the fairway even if it was lifted from the rough, providing it is dropped within the permitted area.
It is worth understanding what animals are indigenous to the course you are playing, so that you can take advantage of the relief permitted from the abnormal ground condition of a hole, cast or runway made by a burrowing animal, reptile or bird (yes, some birds do nest in an underground burrow!).
When a ball being dropped under the Rules rolls twice into places requiring a re-drop you must place the ball on the spot where it hit the ground on the second drop. Consider carefully before choosing the best place to land the dropped ball, so that it is likely to roll to a more advantageous position.
You may draw a ring around the circumference of your golf ball to assist you in lining up putts and your intended line of play on the teeing ground.
You may test the condition of any bunker before a round, or during your round, providing your ball does not lie in or touch that or a similar bunker.
In match play, you may leave any ball on the putting green as a backstop, as there is no penalty if your ball strikes it wherever it is played from. But your opponents may require that the ball that could be of assistance to you is lifted before the stroke is made.
Also in match play, you may choose to cancel your stroke and play again if your ball is accidentally deflected by an opponent his caddie or his equipment.
You may clean a ball that has been lifted under the Rules with these three exceptions; a) to determine if it is unfit for play, b) for identification, c) because it is assisting or interfering with play.
You may have any other ball lifted if it interferes either physically or mentally with your play.
You may remove any easily movable obstruction (i.e. any artificial object) from anywhere on the course, including from bunkers and water hazards.
You may move any player’s equipment, or a removed flagstick, if you think that it might influence the movement of a ball that is in motion.
You may take relief from a wooden stake supporting a young tree, which is an immovable obstruction, even if there is no Local Rule providing relief from staked trees.
You may drop another ball under the Rules, without penalty, if it is known or virtually certain that the original ball is lost in an abnormal ground condition (e.g. GUR).
You may play on your own for all or any part of a four-ball match, or four-ball best-ball competition, if your partner is absent.
You may lean against a tree, or an immovable obstruction, to steady yourself whilst playing a stroke.
You may ask anyone the distance from any point A to any point B, as information on distance is not advice.
You may remove loose impediments in the area where you are going to drop a ball before dropping it.

Good golfing,



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The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2017 and may not be copied without permission.