PGA Championship Rules Blog
By Shona McRae, Manager - Rules of Golf
I was invited to be a Rules official at the recent PGA Championship, which, for the second time, was held at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, a course which is often rated within the top twenty in the US. I’d heard a lot about it, namely the number of bunkers on the course…and they certainly featured during this Championship.
Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, you could be forgiven for thinking when standing on the first tee that you were on the coast in the UK or Ireland. The undulating ground, tall fescue grasses, and the many small bunkers (reportedly over 1,200) are reminiscent of links courses back home.
I spent the first couple of days walking the course, becoming familiar with the layout and contemplating the type of rulings that could potentially arise. This year, the USPGA Championship was broadcast in 3D, which inevitably led to more cameras and their related equipment being situated on the course. To facilitate the wall-to-wall coverage, and to produce the best pictures, the cameras are positioned on scaffold towers at every hole with some of these being positioned in the hazards. As an official, these temporary structures and the implications for relief are something that is worth reviewing in advance.
Mid-week, prior to the first ball being hit on Thursday, the PGA of America host a meeting for all the Rules officials to discuss the Local Rules unique to Whistling Straits. Whilst the Rules of Golf are the same worldwide, each course has unique characteristics and conditions, due to the local topography and climate, so Local Rules need to be in place to cater for these. Again it is essential to review these in advance and discuss them with other officials to ensure you are familiar with the conditions and the relief that can and may be granted.
It was the weather that produced the surprise on Thursday morning. Thick fog descended on the course preventing play for three hours and 10 minutes. I was stationed on the sixth hole (a 355-yard par four) and when play finally got underway, I found a spot behind the sixth green so I could view the tee by looking back down the fairway and have quick access to the green in case I was needed.
I had just the one ruling during the first round. Anthony Kim managed to embed his ball in the grass bank outside of the greenside bunker. He was entitled to relief under the Local Rule so I asked him to drop the ball as close as possible to the spot where it lay, no nearer the hole. But as this was on a steep bank, the ball inevitably rolled into the bunker. He, therefore, had to re-drop it and, amazingly, the ball came to rest on a tuft of grass on the steep bank. It left him with what appeared to be an impossible shot, but he somehow managed to take a stance by kneeling on the ground and made the stroke!
Day two, but still round one due to the fog delay, and again we woke to fog shrouding the course. This time it lifted more quickly and play got under way around 9.20am. Round one was completed and immediately round two commenced. The sixth hole for round two was shortened with the tee moved forward to make it a drivable par four of 320 yards. With the wind behind, Matt Kuchar was the first to give it a go and unfortunately, pulled his tee shot to the left into the lateral water hazard.
This proved to be the first of many rulings I gave that day involving the lateral water hazard, as any tee shot left was likely to end up rolling down the bank and away. Relief under penalty was available to the player by measuring two club-lengths from the point of entry not nearer the hole, but this meant the players were dropping the ball on a cart path. It was optional to take relief from an immovable obstruction, such as a cart path, so many of the players chose to play from the path as the option for a drop from the path was not very attractive – the nearest point of relief was on a steep hill, in thick rough; not an appealing option!
It was not possible to complete round two that day and play was suspended, resuming on Saturday morning. The logistics of taking players from the course and returning them to the spot where they discontinued play was quite an operation and involved courtesy transport, drivers and Rules officials to co-ordinate to ensure everyone was in position for the start of play. With better weather on Saturday, rounds two and three were completed, ensuring that the tournament would finish, as planned, on Sunday.
Sunday proved to be a day of drama and excitement with one of the 1,200 bunkers becoming the “story” of the Championship. I was stationed on the fifth hole for Sunday, so was able to finish my duties and return to the 18th to watch the excitement of a play-off unfold. Although many of the bunkers were positioned outside of the ropes, there were no sandy waste areas on this course. The Local Rules, which were posted in prominent areas in and around the Clubhouse with copies also given out at the first tee to the professionals, clarified that all areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers were to be played as bunkers (hazards), despite the fact that the bunkers outside the ropes could possibly contain footprints and irregularities due to the huge volume of fans.
It was, therefore, very unfortunate that Dustin Johnson did not recognise that his pushed tee shot on the 18th hole had landed in one of these hazards. By grounding his club in the sand, Johnson breached Rule 13-4b and incurred a two-stroke penalty, missing the chance of a play-off by one shot.
The play-off that ensued between Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer saw more drama on the 18th when Watson put his second shot into the lateral water hazard. Kaymer strategically placed his second shot short of the hazard and played onto the green in three, leaving him two putts for the Championship.
For me, the week provided an opportunity to experience how the PGA of America organise one of the year’s four Major Championships and I take home with me memories of a great Championship and a wonderful venue, which is sure to see more action and drama both when the USPGA Championship returns in 2015 and subsequently when it hosts the Ryder Cup in 2020.