Rules Blog - WGC Accenture Match Play Championships

Kevin Barker, The R&A’s Assistant Director – Rules, recalls an eventful week refereeing at the World Golf Championships – 2012 Accenture Match Play Championship, Ritz Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, Arizona…

Tuesday

WGCYeeha! First time I’ve ever seen a desert course. It’s like the backdrop to a cowboy film and I expect to see John Wayne riding over the hill any second now…

The course is in superb condition although I find the pristine green fairways a little surreal considering the surrounding desert. Don’t miss the fairway is the clear message – bushes, cacti and rocks everywhere.

I’ve reviewed the golf course twice now; once yesterday with Andy McFee from the European Tour, then I walked the front nine holes on my own today before doing the back nine with Gary Todd from the Sunshine Tour. It’s always useful to have someone else there to chat things through with, great for sorting out those nagging areas of doubt. Then we had our Rules meeting with all the other referees from the various tours: Asian, Canadian, Japan, European, Tour de las Americas, Sunshine, PGA, Nationwide and Champions, as well as Dean Ryan from Golf Canada, who is an advisory member to our Rules of Golf Committee.

At the meeting we run through the Local Rules and conditions of competition, we hear from the course superintendent and the weatherman, it snowed last year but we’re told it should be nice and warm this time - good. All useful information and it helps me to concentrate on what will unfold over the next few days.

Whilst match play may have been the original form of golf, it is seldom played at the professional level nowadays, stroke play being the normal diet of tournament professionals and referees alike. Whilst the vast majority of the Rules in match play and stroke play are the same, not all are and I write a mental note to “stay focused.”

Better do some more revision before it starts tomorrow…

 

WGCWednesday

First round. I’m on the first hole today so it’s an early start…and a late finish as matches tied after 18 holes have to keep going until a winner is determined. Quite a few matches are tied and make their way down the first for a second time, one of them being Hunter Mahan v Zach Johnson, at which point I have my first action of the day.

Johnson pushed his drive into the scrubby desert. After weighing up his options he decided to have a go at it, but rifled the ball into the bank ahead. An embedded ball.

Fortunately just the previous day we’d had quite a long discussion at our Rules meeting about embedded balls in the desert areas, were the areas sand or not? If they were sand then the Local Rule for an embedded ball through the green (that is used every week on the most professional tours) would not apply, as the Local Rule does not apply to balls embedded in sand outside closely-mown areas, i.e. fairways.

It was decided that the areas were not to be treated as sand – they were a mixture of sand, soil and stones. Part of the thinking was also the fact that often the material clumped together: if it was treated as sand there was a real risk that a player would remove such clumps from around his ball and be penalised under Rule 13-2 for improving his lie by “removing or pressing down sand”, sand being a loose impediment only on the putting green. Just ask Rory McIlroy what happened to him a few weeks ago in Abu Dhabi…

Anyway, two drops, a substituted ball (his original rolled into an area thick with thorn bushes and could not be retrieved) and two places later we had the ball in play…although all Johnson could do was to hack the ball out sideways towards the fairway and quickly followed that up by conceding the hole.

 

Thursday

WGCSecond round. Each match has a referee and I have Tiger Woods v Nick Watney to referee today. Feeling a bit nervous! I’ve not refereed either player before, nor have I experienced the 40 or so other people inside the ropes – TV, journalists, security, sponsors invites, etc. – that accompany Woods every time he plays. Whilst his current form is somewhat unpredictable, he is clearly still the number one draw for fans and media alike.

Once the action gets going then I settle down and concentrate on the job in hand. I get asked a few times whose turn it is to play first and a couple of times I turn to the “Shot Link” people (they analyse each and every shot) for some help; Watney requires relief from a grandstand; and then in the closing stages Watney flies his tee-shot at the par-3 16th over the green. I have no idea where the ball is but the TV cameras have followed the ball flight. I receive a message over my radio - always carry a radio… and make sure it is switched on! - that the ball is in one of the hospitality areas. The Chief Referee, Mark Russell, sensing some trouble, says he’s on his way. So, it seems, is every media person on the golf course!

Watney’s ball is lying on the veranda at the back of the hospitality area and we share a joke that he could always open the door and play through the hospitality area to the flagstick that is clearly visible on the other side. Mark arrives and after a few minutes Watney has his ball back in play.

It looks as if the tie will go to extra holes but Woods fails to hole a five footer at the last – the kind of putt you would have expected him to hole without a thought a few years ago.

 

Friday

Today I’m out with John Senden and Sang Moon Bae. It’s a tight match that again goes to the 18th hole but Bae holds on for a win. A few rulings, nothing particularly complicated, the hardest thing I find is to keep track of the score as you have to call it out at the end of each hole. Seems simple but you’re concentrating on the Rules side of things and it’s all too easy to get to the end of a hole and wonder who won it! I wonder if the spectators understand my Scottish accent…we’re now into the quarter finals.

 

WGCSaturday and Sunday

For the quarter and semi-finals I’m an observer. The observer’s role is to be in front of the referee, to give him advance warning of where the balls are, whether there is a Rules issue or not. If you are a referee, to have an observer working in front of you can be really helpful; to have just a couple of minutes forewarning of what a ruling might be is invaluable. It allows you to gather yourself, check the Rules and Local Rules, and to know what you need to do. A few things crop up each round and I relay the relevant information back to the referees.

And that’s it. Time to catch the plane home but I manage to see the conclusion of the final and Mahan lift the trophy.