Golf Rules on Tour - June 2014

Many things seem to come in threes but during the second quarter of 2014 many of the more unusual and interesting rulings on the main professional Tours seem to have involved things that have come in twos!

Double Trouble!

Most Professionals put their own personal identification mark on their golf ball so the Wrong Ball Rule (Rule 15-3) is one which is seldom needed on Tour.  It was extremely unusual therefore when Hunter Mahan and Jamie Donaldson both played wrong balls by hitting each other’s ball during the second round of the US Open at Pinehurst No 2 last month.

Hunter Mahan’s caddie, John Wood believed his player’s ball had kicked right and Donaldson’s had bounced further left so he walked straight to the ball in the centre of the fairway, calculated the yardage for that ball and both players played a second shot to the green.  It was only when they got to the green that the mistake came to light and they realised that it had in fact been Donaldson’s ball that was in the centre of the fairway.

Both players were also playing Titleist balls with a similar personal marking which probably explains why neither player noticed they were hitting the wrong ball.  Irrespective of who was at fault or what the reason was, the responsibility for playing the correct ball rests with the player (Rule 6-5) and so both players were penalised two strokes and were required to correct their mistake before teeing off at the next hole.  Both players returned to where their own ball had come to rest on the fairway and as the exact spot where the balls initially lay were impossible to determine, they each dropped their ball as near as possible to the place where it previously lay (Rules 15-3 and 20-3c).  It is worth noting that Rule 15-3 also stipulates that the strokes played with the ‘wrong balls’ are not counted in the score for the hole, however, if either player had failed to correct the mistake before teeing off at the next hole then he would have been disqualified.

Unfortunately both players went on to miss the cut; Mahan missed out by just one stroke.

Matt Kuchar Holes out Twice at the same Hole!

Matt Kuchar was involved in another unusual ruling during the second round of the US Open at Pinehurst No 2.  Kuchar’s first putt on the 6th hole stopped two feet short of the hole, however as he approached his ball to tap it in to the hole, the ball moved forward slightly.  Kuchar had not addressed the ball, i.e. he had not grounded his putter immediately behind or in front of the ball, so there was no penalty under Rule 18-2b (Ball at Rest Moving After Address).  However the question remained, had he caused his ball to move?  Under the Rules of Golf, if a player causes his ball to move then he is penalised one stroke and he must replace the ball.  If, however, he had not caused the ball to move then there would be no penalty and he must play the ball from where it now lies (Rule 18-2a).

Although Kuchar did not believe that he had caused the ball to move, both he and the referee wanted the opportunity to ensure that this was the case by discussing the situation further and reviewing any television evidence at the end of the round.  The walking referee therefore permitted Kuchar to play out the hole with two balls; one from where it had come to rest after it had moved, and one from where the ball would have to be replaced, should it be judged that Kuchar had caused it to move.  Rule 3-3 clarifies that, in stroke play, where there is doubt as to the correct procedure during the play of a hole, the player may, without any additional penalty, complete the hole with two balls.  This Rule also requires the player to clarify which ball he wishes to count should the Rules permit and so Kuchar also clarified to the referee that he wished his score with the original ball (i.e. that which had moved forward a short distance) to count.  Kuchar discussed the situation with the USGA officials prior to returning his card at the end of his round and it was determined that he had not caused the ball to move, meaning that there was no penalty and the score with his original ball counted.

Larrazabal has a pair of close calls!

Pablo Larrazabal has been keeping the Rules Officials on the European Tour busy in the last few months with a couple of unusual incidents. The first of these found Larrazabal jumping almost fully clothed in to a lake in the middle of his second round at the Malaysian Open in April after he was stung by around 30 hornets.  As was permitted by the Rules, the Committee gave Larrazabal some time to be treated by a doctor for his stings and remarkably he went on to birdie the hole. Decision 6-8a/3 states that where a player has a physical problem the Committee may permit the player to discontinue play for a short time to recuperate from such a problem, however allowing the player more than 10 to 15 minutes to recover is inadvisable. Watch on YouTube

The second incident occurred during the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth in May when Larrazabal’s third shot to the 18th green made for uncomfortable viewing for one spectator when somehow his ball came to rest between the legs of a gentleman who was standing at the side of the green.  Talk about being in the right place at the wrong time!  

According to Rule 19-1a, if a ball comes to rest in or on a moving or animate outside agency (for example a spectator) in an area of the course that is ‘through the green’, the player must drop his ball as near as possible to the spot directly under the place where the ball came to rest in or on the outside the outside agency, but not nearer the hole.

The spectator stood firm, calm and unhurt until the player reached him, making it easy for Larrazabal and the referee to determine exactly where the ball came to rest.  Amid much hilarity, Larrazabal then dropped his ball directly under the point where it had come to rest without penalty and continued with his round.

“Why all these crazy things happen to me?” commented Larrazabal.

Matt Fitzpatrick and Jason Millard call penalties on themselves

Every so often, only the player himself will know he has breached a Rule and so the game of golf relies on the integrity of the player to abide by the Rules.  Both Jason Millard and Matt Fitzpatrick recently showed their honesty and integrity by calling penalties on themselves.

The first situation involved Jason Millard who had come through sectional qualifying for the US Open. He was all set to make his way to Pinehurst for the main event but had a niggling doubt as to whether he had touched the sand in his backswing when playing a bunker shot during the second qualifying round; touching the sand would have incurred a two stroke penalty (Rule 13-4).  He therefore called the USGA to advise them that he wanted to withdraw due to the fact that he had failed to include the penalty in his score.

During the US Open itself, Matt Fitzpatrick also called a penalty on himself after he caused his ball to move after he had addressed the ball before chipping on to the 8th green.  He had grounded his club immediately behind the ball and made contact with it, causing it to move a fraction off its spot.  Fitzpatrick called in a referee for a ruling and was advised that he had incurred a penalty of one stroke (for a breach of Rule 18-2a) and was required to replace the ball.  Fitzpatrick went on to make the cut and finish as top Amateur for the Championship before promptly turning professional.

Two Major Championships at Pinehurst No 2

For the first time in the history of the men’s and women’s US Open Championships, both Majors were held on the same course, Pinehurst No 2, in consecutive weeks.  During the second of these events Michelle Wie showed how the Rules of Golf can be used to the advantage of the player on the 16th hole of her final round.

Wie’s second shot at the par four 16th landed in such a thick clump of grass in the scrub area that it took more than two minutes to find it.  The ball was only around 15 yards from the hole, however given the very poor lie, the large bunker situated between her and the hole and her three stroke lead, Wie decided to deem the ball unplayable and drop the ball back on a line keeping the spot where the ball had lain between her and the hole under penalty of one stroke (Rule 28b).  She chipped on to the green and two putted for a double bogey that ensured she maintained a lead of one stroke with two holes to play.  Smart play!  Wie bounced back immediately with a birdie on the 17th and a regulation par on the final hole was enough for her to secure her first Major Championship title by two strokes from Stacy Lewis.