Rules Blog - The Players

Players Champion KJ ChoiTPC Sawgrass, scene of The Players delivered a thrilling final round with KJ Choi of South Korea eventually winning at the first hole in the play-off with David Toms of the USA.

I was delighted to attend the event, joining the normal PGA Tour staff as one of the twelve invited guest officials from various golf organisations around the world, including  the European, Canadian, Asian, South American, Sunshine and Japanese tours, as well as Golf Canada, the USGA and the PGA of America. Quite an international flavour to the PGA Tour's flagship event.

The Players moved from its traditional March date in the golfing schedule a few years ago – when it was played in March the course would be overseeded to get it ready, but the date switch requires no such overseeding. Compared to Scotland, the winters in this part of northern Florida are not particularly cold and harsh, but the grasses used on the TPC, various types of Bermuda grass, need quite a bit of heat to grow. The winter,  therefore requires a considerable amount of effort to be put in by the course superintendent and his staff to get the course right. It was. From tee to green it was in excellent condition.

Runner-up David Toms tees-offAt 7215 yards, the course is by no means long by modern professional standards, but it asks a lot from the players. Tee-shots on par-fours and fives require players to shape the ball, left to right or right to left, and positioning is key, as the second shots to the small and well-protected greens require pin-point accuracy. 

Preparation is vital, not just for the competitors but from the Rules staff as well, and the many water hazards took two days to clearly mark with paint – lots of paint – and stakes. That is time well spent though as players, and officials, need to know when a ball is in a water hazard or not, and whether it is a normal water hazard, defined by yellow stakes and lines, or a lateral water hazard, defined by red stakes and lines. There were also drop-zones employed, as additional options, at the fourth, 13th and 17th holes.

The 17th - one of the most famous par-three holes in golf. In many ways it is quite unlike the rest of the course, much of which meanders through the trees. You come to the 17th and the course just opens up; all of a sudden you are in a huge bowl, surrounded by spectators, TV towers, and hospitality tents. The 17th measures only 137 yards, but its island green surrounded by water is a real test of nerve.

Angel Cabrera finds shelter, while play is suspended.Where it is not possible, or it is impracticable, to drop back on a line in accordance with Rule 26-1b – i.e. dropping back on a line, keeping the point where your ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard in line with the hole), then the  margin should really be defined as a lateral water hazard. This gives the player the option of dropping a ball within two club-lengths of where the ball last crossed the margin, but not nearer the hole than that point, or dropping a ball on the opposite margin at the equidistant point from the hole; Rule 26-1c.

In the case of the 17th island green, this option could lead to a player dropping a ball on the putting green and not having to take on the water at all, after having hit his first ball into the water. The water, the test of nerve, is an intrinsic feature of the hole, though, and it would negate this intrinsic feature, designed by Pete Dye, to allow a player to drop on the putting green. Therefore, as permitted by the Rules, the margin is defined as a water hazard, rather than a lateral water hazard. As a concession, a drop zone is installed on one of the forward tees as an additional option, but you still need to take on the water - there is no escape!

Storm damage at SawgrassNobody wishes for a suspension of play, but they happen all too frequently. Players, officials and greenstaff are used to them, but they certainly bring their challenges.

There was a suspension of play during Saturday's third round. At 12:30, warnings showed up on the Tour's electronic scoreboards advising spectators to prepare for lightning and showers. At 1:02pm, officials blew their horns - one prolonged note - signalling an immediate suspension of play – players had to stop straight away and were not allowed to finish the hole that they were on. At that point only five players had finished their rounds.

Players were transported back to the cavernous clubhouse, where they stayed for over four hours - many playing table tennis - before play was resumed at 5:29pm. After such a long suspension, the practice range was reopened about 45 minutes before the resumption to allow the players to warm up again, before they were transported back out onto the course. Phil Mickelson plays to the 18th greenPlay was then stopped again at 8:04pm due to failing light, resulting in 34 players having to return earlier than expected on the Sunday to complete their third rounds. 

Keeping players, media and spectators informed of what is happening and what is planned with any suspension is important. Checking that you have gathered all the players off the course when play is suspended, getting them all back out onto the course and into position, checking the course and making sure it is playable, amending starting times and groupings...there is a lot going on and the various stoppages went as well as could be hoped for.

So it was a pleasure and really interesting to attend The Players; each time I attend an event I learn something new and benefit from the experience, and this was no different. It was also a great opportunity to meet and learn from some of my Rules colleagues from the PGA Tour and around the world, many of whom I will meet again at Royal St George's for The Open Championship in approximately two months time. Not long to go...