Golf Rules on Tour

There have been several high-profile Rules cases in the first few months of 2014. Here are few of these Rules explained:


Back in January, Rory McIlroy was left regretting a two-stroke penalty he incurred in the third round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, which eventually saw him finish one stroke behind winner Pablo Larrazábal.

It is common at Tour events for the spectator crossing points to be outlined with white paint and declared by Local Rule to be ground under repair (GUR). The reason for this is that over the duration of the tournament, these areas can become damaged by the volume of spectator traffic crossing the fairways.

Interference by an abnormal ground condition, such as GUR or casual water, occurs when a ball lies in or touches the condition or when the condition interferes with the player’s stance or area of his intended swing. McIlroy’s ball had come to rest with the margins of one of these spectator crossing points on the 2nd hole and he elected to take relief without penalty under Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions).

McIlroy dropped the ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief and not nearer the hole, and then played the ball. However, a fellow-competitor’s caddie noticed that McIlroy’s left foot was still in the GUR when he made the stroke. The caddie mentioned this to McIlroy before he signed and returned his score card so that they could check it out. It is worth remembering that no alteration can be made to your score card once you have returned it to the Committee (Rule 6-6c) so this gave McIlroy the chance to discuss it with the Chief Referee before submitting his score for the third round.

John Paramor, the European Tour’s Chief Referee who reviewed the incident with McIlroy said: "When he stood to the ball, his left foot was standing on or just over the line demarking the area of ground under repair which is part of the ground under repair."

When taking relief you must take complete relief. That is, you cannot choose to take relief from the lie of the ball only - you must take relief from everything that is “interference”. Therefore, the player must take relief for the lie of the ball, the stance and the area of intended swing. By having one foot in the GUR, McIlroy technically still had interference from the GUR and by subsequently playing the ball he played from the wrong place incurring a two-stroke penalty.

McIlroy commented, "I knew the rule. I knew you have to take full relief. I just didn't know where my foot was."


In playing the 7th hole at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship, Sergio Garcia offered to halve the hole with his opponent Ricky Fowler before they had both putted out. At the time, Fowler had a putt of 17ft for a par, while Garcia had much shorter putt of 6ft for his par. 

Under the Rules, an agreement to halve a hole being played is permissible. However, if players agree to consider a hole halved without either player making a stroke on the hole, they should be disqualified under Rule 1-3 for agreeing to exclude the operation of Rule 2-1 by failing to play the stipulated round.

The sporting offer was therefore permitted and was obviously in the favour of Fowler, who had the longer putt for par. But this had followed an incident on the previous hole, where Fowler had been forced to wait for a ruling Garcia had requested. The ruling took some time to conclude and when it was eventually Fowler’s turn to play, he missed his makeable birdie putt.

When questioned about it Garcia explained, “I felt guilty that my drop on the 6th took so long. I felt like if I would have been in his position I would have been uncomfortable waiting so long to hit my birdie putt. So I just thought I have to do something. I have to do something to make sure that I feel okay with myself.”

Garcia’s sporting gesture was applauded, especially in light of the fact that he went on to lose his match by one hole to Fowler.


Blayne Barber shot a 4-under 67 in the first round of the Tour’s Brasil Champions event in March, leaving him three shots off the pace. Unfortunately, Barber failed to sign his score card before leaving the scoring area and was subsequently disqualified.

Signing the score card is fundamental to the game and failing to carry out this responsibility, results in disqualification (Rule 6-6b). A signature is the stamp of approval and attests to the score achieved by the player. Both the marker and the player must sign the score card to confirm that this is the actual score for the player, which in turn protects the interests of the whole field.

This was the third time in the past 18 months that Barber had found himself disqualified from an event on Tour. Days after advancing past the first round of the PGA Tour qualifying school in 2012, Barber realised after the fact that he had failed to include a penalty for touching a loose impediment in a hazard. Then last August, he was disqualified from an event, this time for signing in error for a score lower at hole than he actually achieved.


Nathan Smith was disqualified from the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational for playing a ball from out of bounds. Smith found his ball in an area to the side of the 5th hole and failed to notice that the area was deemed to be out of bounds.

A ball lying out of bounds is no longer in play and thus is a wrong ball. Accordingly, the player incurs a two-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball and must correct the error by proceeding under Rule 27-1, incurring the stroke and distance penalty.

As Smith did not correct his error before he teed off at the 6th hole, he was disqualified (Rule 15-3b).


Playing the final hole of his final round, at the Trophee Hassan II in Agadir, Morocco in March, Alejandro Canizares of Spain, had a seven-stroke lead. His second shot to the 18th hole finished up in a very unlucky lie, when it rolled back down a steep greenside bank and settled immediately behind an attached divot.

Unfortunately, in this case the divot had not been pressed down or repaired properly, almost covering his entire ball, leaving Canizares with a difficult chip back up the bank to the green.

Canizares requested a ruling but was not permitted to remove the divot by the referee. A player must not improve or allow to be improved the position or lie of his ball, the area of his intended stance or swing, or his line of play by moving, bending breaking anything growing or fixed (Rule 13-2).

A divot which is completely detached and has not been replaced with the roots downwards in its hole is classed as a loose impediment and through the green may be removed. However, a divot which is not completely detached is not a loose impediment. It is something fixed and therefore its removal or replacement would be a breach of Rule 13-2 as the lie and area of intended swing would be improved.

The Etiquette Section of the Rules of Golf encourages golfers to carefully repair any divot holes out of courtesy to fellow-competitors and to help avoid such situations. Canizaries, despite the tough shot he faced, went on to win the tournament.