US PGA Championship - Rules Blog

Shona McRae, Assistant Director - Rules, blogs about an incident-filled US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

PGAI arrived on Kiawah Island in the dark so I did not quite appreciate what a unique place I would call home for the next week.  I checked into my villa and got some sleep before heading out to the Ocean Course, venue for the 94th US PGA Championship, just south of Charleston in South Carolina.

This is the third time I have had the opportunity to referee at the US PGA Championship so I had a good idea of how the week would take shape.  The first day on site, the team of referees are left to review the course at their leisure.   Armed with a copy of the Local Rules and an air horn and radio, I headed out to the first tee to walk the course – a course that I was very much looking forward to see since reading so much about it following the “war on the shore” Ryder Cup in 1991.

However, my course walk was cut short after 12 holes, when I received the news over the radio that play was to be suspended due to lightning.  So it was straight into action and on the count of three, I sounded my air horn.  One long blast to signal an immediate suspension of play.  Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson were on the 12th tee so I advised them where the nearest evacuation vehicles were situated and we all made a dash for them.  I am pleased I did because the thunder storm that followed was quite something!

PGAAs with most Pete Dye designed courses, the Ocean Course is quite special with some unique features within the sand dunes.  Not only is there the amazing ocean view to enjoy but the wildlife is quite fascinating to watch, albeit from a distance since much of it can harm you.  The island is swamp land and there are many alligators and rattle snakes living wild on the course and in the ponds and lakes around the residential properties on the island.  I made a mental note to be very careful as to where I would situate myself when refereeing!

Being a links course, there are, of course, a lot of sandy areas that have been incorporated into the design, and it is very difficult to distinguish between these sandy areas and what is normally considered to be a bunker. 

Because of this difficulty of differentiating between bunkers and waste land and the implications this has on applying the Rules of Golf, the PGA of America decided that there would be no “bunkers” on the golf course.  This meant that any sandy area, whether natural, prepared or enclosed with grass were deemed to be through the green.  So while normally a player is restricted in his actions within a bunker, for this Championship only, the player could move loose impediments, take practice swings and ground his club lightly in all of these sandy areas. 

It was certainly odd to witness players taking practice swings in what looked like a bunker but of course it was not.  This was something that we, the referees, were reminded of during our briefing meeting the day before the Championship started.  This is a very useful meeting and allows all of the referees a chance to discuss any potential concerns that they may have.  We were also briefed on the weather forecast for the Championship days – hot, humid and more than a 50% chance of electrical storms – so the air horns would get some use.

PGADay One of the Championship, I was based on Hole 12.  A short Par 4, 412 yards long with an alligator-infested lateral water hazard protecting the green.   I gave just one ruling on one of the hottest days of the year in South Carolina.  Brendan Jones had put his second shot into the hazard and wanted to take relief under Rule 26-1c.  He queried whether he could drop the ball on the green when measuring the two club-lengths from the point of entry.  I confirmed that this was permitted since Rule 26-1 is one of the few Rules that allow a ball to be dropped on the putting green. 

Day Two of the Championship was quite a different day weather wise.  The wind had picked up which provided some respite from the heat and humidity but made the course play very long.   I was situated on Hole 6, where I had a couple of rulings relating to Decision 13-2/1 which involved me guiding the player to fairly take their stance without causing any improvement in the tall seaside grasses. 

However, the ruling of the day involved Michael Hoey, who late in the evening contacted the PGA Rules Committee with his concerns that he may have breached a Rule.  Hoey embedded his ball deeply in a sandy area on the 8th hole.  In an effort to identify the ball as his, he brushed away sand as is allowed under Rule 12-1a.  However, he failed to re-create his lie by replacing the sand on the ball.  This would normally incur a two-stroke penalty but because he had failed to include this in his scorecard Hoey was disqualified under Rule 6-6d. 

I was back refereeing on Hole 12 for Round 3.  The first call over the radio I got was to inform me that an alligator was crossing the 12th teeing ground.  A wave of mild panic set in!  My referee training to date has never contemplated such a situation, so I have to admit to being slightly unprepared for this.  However, help was on hand from one of the roving referees who drove up to the teeing ground in his golf cart and that was enough to encourage the alligator to slip back into the water.  Phew!

RoryI also heard over the radio that Rory McIlroy found his ball lodged in a tree on the 3rd hole.  It was in an unplayable situation so McIlroy dropped a ball within two club-lengths of the point on the ground immediately below the place where he had found it in the tree under penalty of one stroke (Decision 28/11).

The day progressed well until mid-afternoon, when it was noticeable that the storm clouds were gathering.  At 4.50pm the referees were instructed to sound the air horns for a suspension of play.  The group that were on the 12th green had still to putt out so I advised them to mark the position of the ball with a ball-marker and also for good measure, a tee, so it was easily spotted when play was resumed.

Unfortunately, the thunder and heavy rain did not abate in time to restart play before dark so play resumed on Sunday.  Once Round 3 was completed, the draw was done for Round 4 with the players setting out in groups of three from a two-tee start with the aim to conclude the Championship as normal on the Sunday evening.

While I did not have any rulings of note during Round3, there were three of interest on the final day of play.  Carl Pettersson was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the 1st hole for a breach of Rule 13-4c when he moved a loose impediment in a lateral water hazard, while his ball was in the hazard.  In making his backswing, Pettersson’s club brushed the grass behind the ball (not a breach) but at the same time moved a leaf (loose impediment) in breach of Rule 13-4c. 

PGAActing within the spirit of the game just as Hoey had done two days earlier, Zach Johnson also brought a breach to the attention of the Rules Committee and was assessed a one-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 18-2b when his ball moved after he had begun his stroke.  Under the Rules, when a ball moves after address, it must be replaced, unless the movement happens after the player has begun the stroke or the backward movement for the stroke and the stroke is made.  Although Johnson did not have to replace the ball, he still incurred the one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2b.

Joost Luiten also received a one-stroke penalty for a breach of Rule 14-4 for striking the ball more than once.  In an attempt to tap in a very short putt, with a one-handed action, Luiten struck the ball with the putter but on the follow-through, the heel of the putter brushed the ground, causing the toe of the putter to strike the moving ball a second time.

Finally, it was fantastic way to end the week to see Rory McIlroy storm to victory over this unique course.  His quick but certainly efficient approach to playing the game is great to see and his win at Kiawah Island secures him the number one spot in the world rankings.   Well done Rory and to the PGA of America for organising another excellent major Championship.