US Open Refereeing

By David Rickman, The R&A's Director of Rules and Equipment Standards

The spectacular seventh hole at Pebble Beach.The 110th US Open Championship was staged over the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California from 17 – 20 June. It was my pleasure to serve on the Rules Committee for the second Major Championship of the year.

This was my first visit to this famous course on the Pacific coast, just south of Monterey. It is such a beautiful course, especially the stretch between the fourth and the tenth which runs along the spectacular coastline, that it was, at times, difficult to concentrate on the golf and refereeing!

In order to ensure that I was properly prepared and familiar with the course, I walked it on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday prior to the start of the Championship. Just as the players practice on the course, so the Rules Committee members walk the course, checking the course boundaries, reviewing the margins of the water hazards, including one very large lateral water hazard, sometimes known as the Pacific Ocean, which is in play on nine holes. We also familiarise ourselves with the relief procedure for all the grandstands, TV towers, tents and toilets that are all over the course.

At the US Open, they operate a system of “Walking Rules Officials” (WROs), so you are assigned to a particular group each day. Essentially, you are meant to act like a good waiter in a restaurant - you are close at hand if needed, but you shouldn’t crowd or constantly hover over the players. The  WROs are supplemented by experienced Tour and USGA officials who act as rovers, giving any second opinions requested and dealing with any pace of play issues. At my own request, I was a WRO for all four days of the Championship.


Round One, 2.09 pm, 10th tee – Ross Fisher (England), Brandt Snedeker (USA) and Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa)

The Championship started at 7.00am, but my afternoon assignment meant that I had time for an equipment standards meeting in the morning! I was having a quiet day until Louis Oosterhuizen misjudged his second shot to the par-four 16th hole and flew the green, his ball coming to rest in a lateral water hazard, behind a grandstand!

He conceded that his ball was not playable in the hazard and, therefore, he dropped under penalty of one stroke from the water hazard, before taking free relief from the grandstand, which was still between him and the hole. Quite a complicated Rules situation, which you just have to take in stages! All of “my players” had to work hard to stay at or around par. Ross Fisher’s 74 was the best of the three scores.

Ruling of the Day – On the 17th hole, a par three, Ryan Moore’s ball came to rest 30 yards over the green, at the very edge of the grass bordering the Pacific Ocean. His ball was inside the lateral water hazard, very close to a permanent fence – an immovable obstruction – and underneath the tee-sign for the 18th hole – a temporary immovable obstruction (TIO). Very wisely the WRO called for a second opinion and, fortunately, Andy McFee, a Senior Referee on the PGA European Tour, was on hand to assist. Having established that Moore could make a reasonable stroke despite the fence – there’s no free relief from an immovable obstruction when your ball lies in a water hazard – he was granted relief from the TIO. Sweden's Robert Karlsson ran into trouble on the 18th hole.

Rounds of the Day – Paul Casey – 69; Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Ian Poulter, - 70; Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell - 71. A strong showing from the European players and a portent of things to come.


Round Two, 2.09 pm, 10th tee – Trevor Immelman (South Africa), Robert Karlsson (Sweden) and David Toms (USA)

As with round one, I was enjoying a quiet day until we got to the 18th hole. Robert Karlsson hooked his second shot into the ocean. We estimated where his ball last crossed the margin of the lateral water hazard, which resulted in his two club-length option (Rule 26-1c) consisting of concrete sea wall and bunker! He asked if he could drop the ball on the edge of the sea wall, so that it would bounce and roll into the bunker and not plug in the sand. But this was not an option as the sea wall had been declared “through the green” and an integral part of the course, so it would have been a re-drop situation (Rule 20-2c(i)).

Fortunately for Karlsson, the USGA had introduced a Local Rule and established a series of dropping zones on the edge of the fairway for anyone in this situation and he elected to proceed under this additional relief option, under penalty of one stroke. Despite double bogeying the hole, the Swede shot the best score of the group, a 72.   

Rulings of the Day – At the first hole, Shaun Micheel played his third shot from an awkward lie, on the edge of a greenside bunker. The ball didn’t come out of the long grass very cleanly and there was a suspicion of a “double hit”. The incident was reviewed on television and when the footage was slowed down it was clear that he had hit the ball twice in the course of the stroke. Micheel had to add a penalty of one stroke (Rule 14-4) to his score for the first hole.

Round of the Day – Phil Mickelson – 66.


Round Three, 2.10 pm, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spain) and Justin Leonard (USA)

83 players made the cut – the leading 60 players and ties and anyone within 10 strokes of the leader – meaning that the tee times ranged from 9.00am to 3.50pm.

I was off at just after 2pm and enjoyed a quiet day all the way round until the 18th hole. Rafael Cabrera-Bello’s tee-shot was hooked into the ocean, last crossing the margin of the lateral water hazard only a short distance in front of the tee, so he chose to play again from the tee (Rule 26-1a). His next stroke stayed well away from the ocean, but the ball came to rest under the front lip of a fairway bunker. At the Spaniard’s request, I confirmed that his ball was in the bunker and gave him his options under the unplayable ball Rule. He chose to drop back on a line, in the bunker, keeping the point where the original ball lay directly in line with the flagstick (Rule 28b). After his shot from the bunker, he finally reached the sanctuary of the fairway, but the damage was done and he eventually signed for an eight on the par-five 18th hole. 

Ruling of the Day – A relatively quiet Rules day for all of the WROs, so I have to mention my favourite ruling of the week, which actually happened in round two! On the 11th hole, a par four, Ty Tryon’s ball came to rest on a cart path, embedded in a cheeseburger! In taking relief from the cart path, an immovable obstruction, he was able to take relief from everything, as he was permitted to clean his ball! After experiencing a very wet US Open at Bethpage last year, I’m pleased to report that this was just about the only embedded ball all week!

Rounds of the Day – Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson – 66.


Graeme McDowell, the first European winner of the US Open for 40 years.Round 4, 1.05pm, John Mallinger (USA) and Soren Keldsen (Denmark)

My final refereeing assignment of the week was to accompany the eighth-last group on Sunday. There were no Rules issues on the first nine holes and John Mallinger was one under par at the time, but ran into problems at the 10th hole.

Having driven into the lateral water hazard on the right, he dropped a ball within two club-lengths of where it last crossed the margin (Rule 26-1c). Not a complicated ruling, but I was asked to supervise as his caddie was positioned inside the hazard to stop the ball from rolling all the way down to Carmel Beach below! This is allowable provided the ball has rolled into a position that requires a re-drop and there is no likelihood of it coming back (see Decision 20-2c/4).

The ball, when dropped, rolled into the hazard twice, where the caddie fielded it. The ball was then placed where it first struck the ground when re-dropped. After another visit to the hazard, Mallinger eventually holed a good putt for a double-bogey six!  

Ruling of the Day – Dustin Johnson’s tee-shot at the third hole went well left of his intended line, rattled around in some trees and finished somewhere behind the 16th green. This area included a lateral water hazard, but it also included areas of rough and long grass.

The five-minute search for the American’s ball was unsuccessful and, therefore, his only option was to return to the tee and play under penalty of stroke-and-distance (Rule 27-1a). Even though his ball was subsequently found in the lateral water hazard, it was too late and he couldn’t proceed under the water hazard Rule as there was neither “knowledge or virtual certainty” that the ball was in the hazard when the five-minute search period expired (see Decision 26-1/1).   

Round of the Day –Graeme McDowell – 74, to win by one stroke.


All in all, it was an excellent week at a very well organised Championship in a beautiful location. And to cap it off, the first European winner in 40 years!