Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Moving Balls - Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson

Mickelson Strikes His Moving Ball
By now most readers will have made up their own mind about the Mickelson incident at the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills. Some may not have seen this updated statement from USGA PR, which in my opinion shows why there was never any possibility of an alternative ruling;

There appears to be some continued uncertainty about the basis of the ruling with Phil Mickelson during the third round of the 118th U.S. Open, and we would like to further clarify previous statements. During play of the 13th hole Mickelson made a stroke on the putting green at his ball, which was moving. As a result, he incurred a two-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 14-5; the stroke made at the moving ball also counted. His score for the hole was 10. Rule 14-5 does not include a serious breach clause or disqualification as part of the penalty statement.

Rule 1-2 did not apply in this situation because Mickelson made a stroke at the ball (defined as the forward movement of the club with the intention of striking at and moving the ball) as opposed to another act to deflect or stop the ball in motion, which are two acts covered by Rule 1-2. Additionally, Exception 1 under Rule 1-2 states that “an action expressly permitted or expressly prohibited by another Rule is subject to that other Rule and not Rule 1-2.” As the act of making a stroke at a moving ball is expressly covered by Rule 14-5, that Rule and the penalty associated with that Rule were applied. The Committee looked at the facts of the situation and determined that there were no grounds under the Rules of Golf for any further penalty, including disqualification.

The key point is that Mickelson made a stroke at his ball in motion, the forward movement of his club made with the intent of striking it to the hole. Rule 1-2, which many have been confused by, relates to a player deflecting or stopping a ball. An example of this would be when a player, after chipping their ball up a steep slope, sees it roll back down the slope and to avoid it ending up in the water of a water hazard, they either stop it or deflect it sideways.

Interestingly, the ruling on this incident would be the same under the new Rules of Golf - 2019, as they are currently drafted.

Agreeing with the USGA ruling does not mean that I condone Mickelson's action, which in my opinion was unbecoming of a professional golfer. I would have preferred if he had apologised and withdrawn before the next round commenced. At least he has since had the sense to correct his original assertion that he had made a deliberate action to “take advantage of the Rules”. In a tweet to a GolfDigest reporter he said,

“I know this should've come sooner, but it's taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend. I'm embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I'm sorry“.

Zach Johnson Delays Making a Stroke at His Ball because it Might Be Moving 
On Friday, at the Travelers Championship, at TPC River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut, Zach Johnson narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 3rd hole. His ball was overhanging the hole (as per the photo above). It is Rule 16-2 that is relevant;

When any part of the ball overhangs the lip of the hole, the player is allowed enough time to reach the hole without unreasonable delay and an additional ten seconds to determine whether the ball is at rest. If by then the ball has not fallen into the hole, it is deemed to be at rest. If the ball subsequently falls into the hole, the player is deemed to have holed out with his last stroke, and must add a penalty stroke to his score for the hole; otherwise, there is no penalty under this Rule.

Presumably, Johnson was aware of this Rule, because he waited to see if the ball was going to drop before slowly walking to the far side of the hole, apparently counting off the 10 seconds on his fingers, and then taking a stance and placing his club behind the ball to tap it in. This is when the ball dropped into the hole and he immediately stepped back. He knew that the 10 seconds time limit had passed before the ball hit the hole, so there was no question of the ball being holed with his previous stroke. However, this did not stop him from calling an official.

Afterwards Johnson clarified his reasoning with these words;

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree. The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

Well, let me tell you why! The bolded part of Rule 16-2 above, says that after the 10 seconds limit the ball is deemed to be at rest. Not at all vague. After this time expires the player may make a stroke at it or mark and lift it. They do not have to be concerned about making a stroke at a moving ball, because it is deemed to be at rest. Even if they replace the ball on the lip and it subsequently falls into the hole the player is deemed to have holed out with their last stroke and has to add a penalty stroke to their score for the hole; so the score will be the same as if they had hit it in the hole (Decision 16-2/0.5).  

The incident can be viewed at this YouTube link

Good golfing,

A reminder that you can ensure that you continue to receiving my fortnightly blogs on the Rules of Golf by subscribing to The Oswald Academy newsletter, which will replace mine over the next few months. Between us, Brian Oswald and I will be endeavouring to keep you updated on all things related to the Rules of Golf, including explanatory articles, incidents and rulings on the Pro Tours, quizzes, book recommendations, teaching materials and tips, seminar information and much more!

Subscribing is free, you may unsubscribe without question at any time and your email address will not be passed on to any other party. Please click here to ensure that you keep up to date on the new Rules. 

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2018 and may not be copied without permission.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Word and Phrase Changes in the New Rules

No More ‘Rub of the Green’ !

Part of Rule 19-1 states;

If a player's ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by any outside agency, it is a rub of the green, there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies. [There are some exceptions].

OK, don’t panic, my headline does not mean that there will be a change to the ruling in this circumstance. The relevant part of the new Rule 11.1a states;

If a player’s ball in motion accidentally hits any person or outside influence:
• There is no penalty to any player. [This Rule goes on to confirm that the ball must be played as it lies and there are similar exceptions to the current Rule].

The point of my headline is that the rather quaint term, ‘rub of the green’, which was originally used in the game of lawn bowls to describe any hindrance or impediment that diverts the bowl from its proper course, has quite rightly been dropped from the modernised Rules of Golf that will be effective from 1st January, 2019, as it is an outdated idiom that most golfers have difficulty interpreting in a golfing context. Having recently started compiling my book of questions, answers and explanations on the new Rules* I have discovered many other changes to the words used, which the Ruling Bodies expect will make it easier for all golfers to read and understand the modernised Rules.

Another phrase that does not appear is ‘through the green’, to be renamed as the ‘general area’ of the course, which includes all of the course except for the teeing area the player must play from in starting the hole they are playing and the putting green they are playing to, all bunkers, and all penalty areas. Although ‘bunker’ remains and has a Rule to itself (Rule 12), the word ‘hazard’ does not, as water hazards will be included in the new term, ‘penalty areas’ (Rule 17).  

I know from the correspondence I receive that many golfers have problems in distinguishing between ‘fellow competitors’ (who are in the same group in stroke play), ‘opponents’ (on the other side in match play) and ‘partners’ (members of the same side in four-balls, foursomes and team events). From 2019 a ‘fellow competitor’ will become ‘another player’ in the same group, which should help clarify any confusion.

Some words we have been accustomed to using in a golfing context that do not appear at all in the new Rules are; ‘address’; ‘permit’ (now ’allow’); ‘closely mown’; ‘invalid’ (but ‘valid’ does occur twice); ‘margin’ (now ‘edge’); and ‘stipulated’. Several words and short phrases have subtle changes; ‘abnormal ground condition’ to ‘abnormal course condition’; ‘casual water’ to ‘temporary water’; ‘conditions of competition’ to ‘terms of the competition’; ‘nearest point of relief’ to ‘nearest point of complete relief’’ (another welcome clarification); ‘outside agent' to 'outside influence’; ‘teeing ground’ to ‘teeing area’; and ‘undue delay’ to ‘unreasonable delay’. From January 2019, a ball is no longer ‘deemed’ unplayable, but the player may ‘decide’ to take unplayable relief’; they will not ‘incur’ a penalty, they will ‘get’ a penalty (this is probably the only language change that I am uncomfortable in using!) Two additional, but minimal changes are ‘score card’ becoming ‘scorecard’ and ‘stroke and distance’ becoming ‘stroke-and-distance’.

Though it does not appear in the current Rules book, some of us involved with interpreting the Rules have been using the term ‘flagline’ to describe a relief that is sometimes available, e.g. from a water hazard or for an unplayable ball, that keeps the relief reference point directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind that point the ball may be dropped. The new Rules use an even better description, ‘back-on-the-line’ relief. 

Something about the language used in the Rules of Golf that has bothered me for some time is that they have exclusively referenced male players, with a brief note at the front of the current Rules book stating;

In the Rules of Golf, the gender used in relation to any person is understood to include both genders.

Most of my subscribers and readers will know that I choose to use the singular form of 'they', which is widely recognised as being grammatically acceptable English, in order to avoid being gender specific, so I am pleased to acknowledge that the R&A and USGA have eliminated this language discrimination in the new Rules by using ‘his or her’ and ‘he or she’ throughout. Well, almost throughout! I have spotted that the word ‘him’ is used twice, in Rule 4.3 and Rule 10.3a, in the published proof copy. Hopefully these can be corrected before the final print!

Good golfing,

* The working title for my new book is, ‘666 Questions on the New Rules of Golf – 2019’. Please email me at if you would like to be placed on a pre-order list, with no obligation to purchase. This eBook's target price is US $12.99 (delivered as both .pdf and .mobi files).

The above content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2018 and may not be copied without permission.