Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Accidentally Moving Ball (-Marker) on the Putting Green

An absorbing 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, Scotland, was relatively Rules incident free, but there was one ruling that may be of interest to readers, not because it played any part in the ups and downs of the player concerned, but because of the changes in the relevant Rule over a 4-year period.

As he was sizing up his putt on the 18th hole of his second round at the 147th Open, Erik van Rooyen dropped his putter on his ball-marker, but he did not know whether it had moved off its spot, or not. I am going to assume that the ball-marker was moved, albeit marginally, to explain the various rulings relating to this simple incident over a short period.

Pre – 2017:  
The penalty for a player causing their ball or ball-marker to move on the putting green, whether accidentally or purposely, was the same as for anywhere else on the course; a penalty of one stroke and the ball had to be replaced under Rule 18-2. An exception to this was if the movement occurred as a result of the specific act of marking the position of or lifting the ball (Rule 20-1).

From 1st January 2017, provided the recommended Local Rule had been introduced:
The R&A and the USGA introduced a new Local Rule to the Rules of Golf that eliminated any penalty when a ball or ball-marker was accidentally moved on the putting green. This Local Rule was adopted by the R&A and the USGA in all of their championships, qualifying competitions and international matches and they recommended that all Committees adopt the Local Rule, although it was not compulsory to do so, as it was not a Rule of Golf.

From 1st January 2017, if the recommended Local Rule had not been introduced:
The ruling would be the same as pre-2017, with a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2.

From 1st January 2019:
Under the new, modernised Rules of Golf the action incurs no penalty and no Local Rule is necessary;

Rule 13.1d. When Ball or Ball-Marker Moves on Putting Green
There are two specific Rules for a ball or ball-marker that moves on the putting green.
(1) No Penalty for Accidentally Causing Ball to Move. There is no penalty if the player, opponent or another player in stroke play accidentally moves the player’s ball or ball-marker on the putting green.
The player must:
• Replace the ball on its original spot (which if not known must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2), or
• Place a ball-marker to mark that original spot.

Erik van Rooyen led the 2108 Open Championship at one stage, but finished tied in 17th place on 2 under par. The circumstance of the incident can be viewed at this Golf Channel link. (Edit 25th July 2018: Unfortunately this video was removed today. You can hear EvR talking about the incident at this link.)

Probably the most (in)famous incident of a Pro golfer getting a penalty for accidentally moving his ball on the putting green was during the 1997 Australian PGA Championship at New South Wales Golf Club, when former Australian Pro golfer, Mike Clayton, twirled his putter in the air in frustration at missing a putt. You can view his golfing embarrassment by clicking on this YouTube link

Good golfing,



Nearly There! I hope to be in a position to deliver my eBook, ‘666 Questions on the NEW Rules of Golf 2019” within the next couple of weeks. You can be one of the first to start absorbing the new Rules in the easiest way possible by adding your name to my growing pre-order list. Just email me at rules@barryrhodes.com. The target price is $12.99.

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

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Phil Mickelson and the Rules

When I finished writing my previous blog, less than two weeks ago, little did I imagine that I would be writing so soon about Phil Mickelson’s professed knowledge of the Rules of Golf. Let me remind you what he said at that time, during an interview with Curtis Strange on Fox Sports (which can be viewed at this link);

 “Look, I don’t mean, I don’t mean disrespect by anybody I know it’s a two-shot penalty. And at that time, I just didn’t feel like going back and forth and hitting the same shot over. I took the two-shot penalty and moved on. It’s my understanding of the Rules. I’ve had multiple times where I’ve wanted to do that. I just finally did.” [My bolding]
…But I know it's a two-shot penalty, hitting a moving ball. I tried to hit it as close to the hole as I could to make the next one. And you take the two shots, and you move on.”

As many subscribers have reminded me, if Phil’s understanding of the Rules was as good as he claimed, he would almost certainly have been better off waiting for his ball to come to rest behind the bunker, then picking it up and replacing it on the putting green where he had just putted from, for a single penalty stroke, under Rule 28a or Rule 27-1. I have mentioned this option many times in previous blogs, including this one, titled ‘Stroke and Distance Penalty’.

Following another incident just two weeks later, on Sunday at The Greenbrier Classic, there is more evidence that perhaps Phil’s understanding of the Rules is not quite as good as he thinks. He made an elementary mistake that in my experience few amateur golfers would make, getting him a penalty of two strokes. The circumstance was that he had teed his ball on the 7th hole when he noticed that there were wisps of fescue on his intended line of play, which was going to be a low stinger. So he walked forward off the teeing area and trampled down the offending grasses. When he returned to his ball, something clicked and he said, presumably to his caddie and brother, Tim Mickelson;

“I’m not sure that what I just did is legal. ….. I’ll ask somebody.”

As was later confirmed to him by Robbie Ware, a course Rules official, his action was a breach of Rule 13-2. These are the relevant parts of that Rule;

A player must not improve or allow to be improved:
… his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole
… by any of the following actions:
… moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed
… creating or eliminating irregularities of surface,
… However, the player incurs no penalty if the action occurs:
… in creating or eliminating irregularities of surface within the teeing ground

When the official returned in the Rules car to confirm the penalty Phil asked him;

“Had I picked up my tee and moved it to the side where it didn’t affect the shot, I would have been OK?”

Robbie Ware's reply was incorrect;

“No problem, it’s just when it’s on … when it’s on your line of play.”

Phil cut in;

“I had that thought and thought why don’t I move it just in case … and I didn’t, so OK.”

Err no, they were both wrong! Once the original line of play had been improved Phil could not have avoided the penalty by moving his ball to another part of the teeing ground before making his stroke. It is Decision 13-2/14 that is relevant in this circumstance;

Q. On the teeing ground, a player broke off a branch of a tree which was interfering with his swing. The player maintained that such action was not a breach of Rule 13-2 because his ball was not yet in play. Was the player correct?

A. No. The player was in breach of Rule 13-2 for improving the area of his intended swing. Although Rule 13-2 allows a player to eliminate irregularities of surface on the teeing ground, it does not allow him to break a branch interfering with his swing. The penalty would apply even if the player, before playing his next stroke, re-teed elsewhere on the teeing ground - see Decision 13-2/24.

Note that had the fescue, or any other irregularity of surface, been within the teeing ground it could have been tapped down or removed, without penalty. The whole incident, including the confusing commentary by Brian Bateman and Robert (?) and the on-course dialogue between Phil Mickelson and Robbie Ware, can be viewed at this PGA Tour link. (Pay special attention to the commentators’ uninformed and confusing analysis!).

After this event, on its social media accounts, the PGA Tour tried to emphasise the positive by saying that this was another incidence of a player calling a penalty on himself. That is not quite how I saw it!

Unfortunately, this episode provided yet another example of TV golf commentators, who presumably make a good living from their chosen profession, continuing to embarrass themselves by not having a clue about the correct ruling for occurrences that are just slightly out of the ordinary. Surely, they have enough ‘off-air’ time that they could usefully spend brushing up their Rules knowledge. The mind boggles as to what it will be like next year when the new modernised Rules come into effect!

Returning to Phil Mickelson, who brought this spotlight on himself with his earlier claim that he knows the Rules, I am pleased to partly redress the balance by drawing readers’ attention to another interesting Rules incident from two years ago, when he did take advantage of a fairly obscure Rule on the par-5 18th hole of Torrey Pines North course. Click here for a short video of the situation (that follows the ad).

Good golfing,



Phil Mickelson features in other Rules incidents in my book, ‘Pros Getting it Wrong!’ that contains 99 articles on memorable Rules of Golf incidents, most of them relating to golfers competing in Professional Golf Tour events. Each of the wide ranging articles highlights a breach of a Rule of Golf with interesting nuggets of information, including explanations of the rulings, comments from the players and officials concerned, links to videos showing the circumstance of the breach and the consequences of the penalties imposed. Click here to purchase the eBook file from me, or if you prefer a paperback, it can be purchased from Amazon (a more expensive option).

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