Rules in Focus

A feature of the new randa.org will be the ‘Rules in Focus’ section. Every two weeks we’ll take the chance to question one of our Directors of Rules, David Rickman or Grant Moir, about a topical Tour ruling or commonly-asked rules query.

If you would like to get in touch to ask a question of your own, send your question to rulesinfocus@randa.org. If your email is chosen, we’ll put it in front of the men responsible for administering the Rules in 124 countries and on behalf of 30 million golfers.

Here are a few examples from our archive:

Three photos showing the removal of a large obstruction.Should Tiger have been allowed so much help to move a boulder in that famous incident?

David Rickman : The relevant Decisions – 23-1/2 and 23-1/3 – were both in the Decisions book before the Tiger incident, which occurred in the 1999 Phoenix Open. Tiger’s ruling was right on the basis of these published Decisions, but we did look at Rule 23 and these interpretations in light of that case, and another one shortly after on the European Tour.

We certainly talked at committee level about a possible limit – two people, the player and his caddie, the player’s ‘side’, everyone in the group? And we ultimately decided to leave it alone. I think the feeling was that the Woods case was an extreme example, and as the old saying goes, ‘hard cases make bad law’.

You could have a very strong caddie being able to move something, and a weaker caddie not. It did seem strange, but is it fair, is it equitable? Well, it’s just how it is. We felt that the Rules ended up being right – a stone is a loose impediment and it’s down to whether or not you can move it if it’s not embedded.

If you think of a big branch, where it may not be it’s heaviness as much as its awkward shape that’s the issue, getting a number of people to move that perhaps doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

The back of the Rules book encourages golfers to ‘do what is fair’, but sometimes certain Rules just don’t seem fair.

David Rickman : People want fair answers – answers where everyone watching thinks, ‘Yes, that’s the right thing to do’. But simplicity and fairness don’t always pull in the same direction. What they’ve got to remember is that what seems fair to them may not be fair on the rest of the field. But I do accept that to ‘do what is fair’ can be open to interpretation.

Richie Ramsay gets word of the penalty on the 17th hole in action during the quarterfinals of the 2006 US Amateur at Hazeltine National Golf Club. Why are you penalised for touching the line of a putt even lightly, perhaps to guide your partner?

David Rickman : It’s interesting looking at this because Rule 8-2/b has remained essentially unchanged for 100 years. It was certainly in the 1908 Rules. I imagine it’s there on the basis that if you don’t touch, you can’t damage or improve the putting surface, so there’s no question of there being an issue. The last well-known case was Richie Ramsay, who lost a hole in the quarter-final of the 2006 US Amateur when his caddie touched his line. It’s a tough prohibition – if you touch it lightly what harm can it do? But it’s not a question we’re often asked – not many people seem to have an issue. You could never really define ‘lightly’ either.

So how is the Nick Price putting style, in which he first places the putter on the ground in front of the ball, deemed okay?

David Rickman : A lot of people do it. I was interested to see when this permission came in and it was actually in the first general set of Rules The R&A issued in 1899. So it’s a very traditional method of addressing the ball on the green, and I think Rule 16-1a(ii) is simply drafted to say that as long as you do it lightly and don’t press anything down, there’s no problem.

That seems at odds with the line of putt’s ‘sacredness’…

David Rickman : It’s been around a long time and I think it’s one of those thought-to-­be-reasonable exceptions the Rules do allow. The Rules Committee is not without heart – it does allow people to try and play the game. It’s a bit like grounding the club lightly behind the ball through the green – technically, are you improving its position marginally? I think the answer probably is, yes.

Click here to visit the 'Rules in Focus' section of the website.