Rules Blog - US Open


Like our own Open Championship, the US Open has walking referees with each game, supported by ‘roving’ officials on carts, who handle pace of play issues and any second opinions required on rulings.

It is great to have the rare opportunity to walk with games this week, rather than rove, although the undulating Congressional course, which measures in excess of 7,500 yards, is a bit of a hike!

I actually played the course in 2009 when we had a joint Rules meeting with the USGA in Washington DC. I remember thinking then how tough it was, and we were playing from front tees and on slower greens. The USGA is very up front in stating that the US Open course set up is intended to provide the toughest examination the players will have all year, and it is interesting to see first hand how they go about achieving that goal.

Prior to Championship commencing, the members of the Rules Committee can be seen out pacing the course, looking for potential Rules trouble spots, and ensuring that they are familiar with the course and the Local Rules. I had three separate trips around the course, the first on my own, and the other two with fellow referees. It is like the referee’s version of practice rounds, except that we spend most of our time looking at the places that player’s don’t want to be, like water hazards, grandstands and out of bounds, as that is where the rulings are most likely to occur.

KJ-ChoiFollowing a very detailed Rules briefing from the USGA on the Wednesday evening, I was pleased to be starting early on Thursday morning at 7.44 with KJ Choi, Paul Casey and Matt Kuchar. There was a little bit of Rules activity during the first 11 holes, with relief being granted from a sprinkler head in the rough, assistance with identification of a ball and a question about restoring the bunker after one player had played from it while another player’s ball lay close-by in the hazard.

On the 12th hole, KJ Choi hit his tee-shot left into a position, where the scoreboard for the 11th hole was on a direct line to the hole. These scoreboards are temporary immovable obstructions, and this means that the player is entitled to ‘line of sight’ relief. The crowd around the ball had to be moved, and I was explaining the relief process to the player, when I turned around to find an elderly gentleman on a disability scooter right next to me. He had obviously been unaware that KJ had hit his ball into the area and had simply driven his scooter through the crowd and into the middle of the ruling! He quickly realised that he didn’t want to be there, had started to panic a little and was trying to reverse his scooter out of the situation, and coming perilously close to backing into the player’s golf bag.

We suspended the ruling for a minute in order to assist with the safe exit of the scooter and its driver, and KJ then dropped under the Local Rule. His next shot the clattered off the trunk of a very large tree, and the ball careered about 50 yards backwards, but fortunately he was now nearer to the fairway. The rest of the hole, and the round, passed without further incident.

Harrington-CinkThe second day saw me walking with Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink and Angel Cabrera. The policy for the walking referees at the US Open is to walk near the rope line and wait for players to call you over should they need any Rules assistance. In situations where they have a straightforward ruling, like taking relief from a lateral water hazard, they may not ask for assistance, and, provided they are proceeding correctly, there is no need to get involved in the ruling. There were two occasions when players in my group found the water, and simply got on with things without needing any assistance from me.

The only ruling was when the balls of Cabrera and Harrington came to rest next to each other in a bunker, requiring Cabrera to mark and lift his ball. Harrington’s stroke altered Cabrera’s lie, so the bunker had to be raked to recreate the lie and the ball placed in that lie.

We also had a suspension of play for lightning when we are on the 10th hole. Harrington was about to play a chip shot from the greenside rough when the countdown for the suspension began. I elected to stop him from playing so that the siren did not go off in the middle of his stroke. He was actually quite pleased that play was stopped before his stroke as he had some mud on his ball, and when play is suspended the player may lift the ball and clean it or substitute another ball when play is resumed.

I sign off from this blog on the Saturday morning of the Championship, with Rory McIlroy way out in front. The US spectators adore him, and I think nearly everyone here is hoping he wins, although the Rules officials are, of course, unbiased!