Rules Blog - Ryder Cup

John Paramor, Chief Referee of the European Tour, blogs about his experience at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.

John ParamorOur flight to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was smooth. There is a six hour time change from home and after arriving at the Westin Hotel in Lombard, I was ready for sleep. I had agreed to meet my colleagues Andy McFee, David Williams and Simon Higginbottom from the British PGA at 7.30 the next morning. Although I set an alarm, I didn't need it as I awoke so early I managed to have at least three hours in which to get washed and dressed for our rendezvous! I am truly envious of those people who can sleep wherever and whenever they wish – that is a talent which I do not have….

The next morning we shared a car to drive to Medinah. After some breakfast we went to find the office to meet our hosts and collect the paperwork for our first walk around the course. Chief Referee David Price is Chairman of The PGA of America Rules Committee who, in partnership with the USGA, performs such a great job in jointly presenting Rules workshops around America.

Both teams were planning to practice on the Number 3 Course today with the Europeans leading them out. We walk the first couple of holes to get ahead of the golfers and notice only small reminders of the effects of the hot and very dry year they have experienced which claimed most of the fairway coverage of grass. Much of the grass had been replaced by re-turfing which meant that there would be an opportunity for potentially many drops under the Seams of Cut Turf Local Rule. The rest of the course was in first class condition with greens running a little over 12 feet on the Stimpmeter. The course was very long with many of the par 4’s measuring more than 480 yards. The par 5’s were around the 600 yard plus range and a couple of par 3’s well over 200 yards. The rough had been trimmed and there was very little to challenge an errant tee shot, well, apart from the many mature trees around the course. The bunkers were well positioned but such is the skill of today’s top golfers, they are rarely a limiting factor and for many, they would much prefer to be in a greenside bunker than lying on grass.

RyderThe European Team Rules briefing was scheduled for the afternoon but was later delayed by some 24 hours. The US Team’s equivalent meeting was delayed from afternoon until evening and back at the hotel in the US Team Room. David presented a solid explanation of parts of the Captain’s Agreement which contains most of the event’s Conditions of Competitions and then went through the Medinah Local Rules. David explained the importance of the ball furthest from the hole which would decide which Team played first. It could be possible for a player’s ball having come to rest in a water hazard to be closer to the hole than his opponent who plays away from the same hazard and comes to rest in or right of the bunkers at the second hole. In this case, the player in or beyond the bunkers would be away even though his opponent would next be playing from a dropping zone which was more than 100 yards from the green. The players took some convincing but finally understood the concept. There is always going to be the odd player who tries to catch out the Chief Referee with a quirky question but David dealt with every question in a most appropriate manner.

On Wednesday, we had our full Rules Committee walk around the course and when advised that the US Team would only be playing the last 9 holes and the Europeans only the front 9 holes, we had to make a couple of switches of the hole order to retain a clear course for our inspection. We realised that there were no real concerns with the Course or the Local Rules. The European Team Rules briefing was held in their team room at the course and was, on the whole, reasonably well received.

By Thursday, everyone is ready for the Ryder Cup Matches to start but there is still 24 hours to go. Both teams restrict their practice to 9 holes each and while making some last minute checks on the course I am repeatedly asked when the players would arrive by people who had taken up early positions in order to catch a glimpse of their favourites practising on the Course. Luckily there is an opportunity of at least seeing some golf as the USA and European Junior teams play a few holes on Medinah number 3, after completing their competitive match at Olympia Fields Club, a few days previously, in which the US Team prevailed. The afternoon sees the Opening Ceremony which is really a way to introduce the players, welcome all of the visitors, thank  the hosts and raise the US and European Union Flags. The Captains then announced the players to contest the next morning’s Foursome segment. There was supposed to be a closing fly past by two F15 planes but alas the ceremony overran slightly and it had to cancelled so as not to delay planes landing at the nearby Chicago O’Hare Airport.

RyderFriday morning came at last with the prospect of continuing good weather - that, despite much of the country, some 300 miles south of Chicago, getting a real soaking. I was drawn to be the European Observer in Match 1 for Referee Chip Essig and my US counterpart being Ron Hickman. Choosing the left side I was immediately put to work as both players hooked beyond the spectators. Having secured both balls and moving the spectators back to a safe distance, I went forward to the green which was soon hit by both teams in regulation. A half resulted and both Ron and I took up our positions at the 2nd green. Team US on the green and Europe just rolling off into the fringe – no problems there so off we went to the 3rd fairway. Three minutes later we hear our Referee call for the Chief Referee to assist with a second opinion as he had already agreed that Graeme McDowell can have relief from a sprinkler head behind his ball but then Jim Furyk claimed that he didn't believe it was interfering with Graeme’s area of intended swing. Normally this would not have been a problem but carts were not allowed to cross the main spectator bridges and so The Chief Referee had to drive around the lake. So some six minutes later the final ruling was given, relief denied and play continued with the US Team going to 1 up. I was concerned that we would be behind the time schedule and soon be timed but the players got on with it and after four holes we had regained the lost time. The match ebbed and flowed but in the end, McDowell and McIlroy defeated Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk at the last. Honours even at the end of the session was acceptable to both sides.

In the afternoon, I was back to doing something that I am quite used to doing – I was in a golf cart and timing groups who found themselves out of position. Most groups stayed close or under their allocated time but the fourth match started to leak so badly that they needed to be timed. I believe that the speed of the putting surfaces became more than 6 inches quicker than the morning and may have been a contributory factor in the pace of play. While being timed individually none of the players exceeded the 60 second limit but with each and every hole being contested fully, they lost even more time and ended the afternoon beyond the 5 hours 7 minute limit for the round. However, with the other three matches in the session going the way of the USA, it was consoling that the European Pair of Lee Westwood with rookie Nicholas Colsaerts won at the last to make the overnight score of 5 to 3 in favour of the USA.

RyderSaturday morning was a rest session for me and so I arrived, leisurely, at the course around 10.30 am. The morning session did not go at all well for Europe with The USA winning 3 Matches to 1.  My match was planned to tee off at 12.35 but with matches going to the 18th, Match 1 was delayed and they started after match 2 who teed off first and we were delayed by a further 15 minutes. I was to referee Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald versus Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods. The first few holes were completed reasonably quickly especially as Tiger was hitting a few wide. At one stage, Tiger had played 2 shots and was lying on a cart path some 60 yards left of the 4th green. While I was moving the spectators out of the way, I became aware that Tiger’s partner played his putt on the green. Not ideal for the referee to miss a shot! Quite unbelievably, just three holes later, I missed another stroke whilst I was giving a ruling to Luke Donald. He asked me if it was he or Steve to play first. I went over to find where Steve was only to be told that he had already played up! Thankfully, I managed to see all of the remaining shots but it was quite busy with rulings and a bout of being timed by my colleague David Williams. It was quite dark as we made it up the 18th hole and there was still Match 4 behind us. The first two Matches went the way of the USA Team and something incredible had to happen to keep Europe in the Ryder Cup. My match finished with Europe holding on to win by one hole but the final match was classic Ian Poulter with his birdies at each of the last five holes turning a loss into a one hole win for Europe. Four points adrift overnight – not impossible but extremely unlikely.

Sunday morning started early for me, again failing to find the method with which to sleep. I also realised that my voice had disappeared – so announcing the state of the match was going to be fun! I watched The Golf Channel’s Morning Drive programme and winced as every pundit gave Europe absolutely no chance and most predicted a US landslide victory. I must say that when I saw the draw, I felt that we could win the first four matches and if that happened, it would be very interesting indeed….I had match 2 which included WebbSimpson against the man who provided the impetus the previous night, Ian Poulter. Ian left his approach shot short at the first but holed the chip which was good because Webb holed his makable short putt for the half. 

Ryder

Three putts at the 2nd and poor play at the 4th meant Ian was soon 2 down. However, all square at the turn – with only three greens hit in regulation bode well for the match.  Ian played some sublime shots and finished by winning the last hole to claim the match by 2 holes. Suddenly it was all becoming a very close Ryder Cup Match indeed.

I had arranged to return to the hotel to change, pack and leave in a taxi back to O’Hare Airport. Having to be in St Andrews early on in the week of the Dunhill Links meant an early departure from Chicago.  Luckily I was able to watch the conclusion on TV and see the almost impossible become a reality.