Rules in Focus - Playing the Ball

Rules in Focus

Playing the Ball

McDowellIn separate incidents recently on the European and PGA Tours, Graeme McDowell and Zach Johnson were both penalised two strokes for failing to play the ball from the correct spot.

Coincidentally both incidents occurred on the 18th hole and thankfully both penalties were spotted before each player signed his card, however, while McDowell missed the cut by two shots, Johnson won his event by one.  

In the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, Graeme McDowell was one under par after 17 holes of his first round, but that was all to change on the 18th hole when he hit his tee shot under a bush.  McDowell’s ball was lying on a bed of leaves and twigs and as he approached the ball to identify it he thought he may have caused it to move.  After playing the ball, he asked for the incident to be reviewed on television to check if the ball had moved, while he completed play of the hole.  

The television evidence showed that the ball had moved and come to rest in another place, which, of itself would have resulted in a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 (ball at rest moved by player, partner, caddie or equipment). However, as McDowell had not replaced the ball, the penalty became two strokes. 

The principle of Rule 18-2 is that the player needs to be careful around his ball, and avoid moving it unless permitted to do so by a Rule. To encourage due care, a one-stroke penalty is applied when a player accidentally causes his ball to move. The player then has to replace the ball. If the player plays the ball having failed to replace it, he has not played the ball as it originally lay, and so he incurs a total penalty of two strokes in stroke play. 

JohnsonIn Zach Johnson’s case, he had just holed a five foot putt on the final hole of the final round at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial to apparently win the event by three strokes.  However it was then pointed out to Johnson that he had moved his marker to the side, away from his fellow-competitor’s line, and failed to move it back prior to holing out.  

In so doing, Johnson had played from a wrong place, resulting in a two-stroke penalty (Rules 16-1b and 20-7c).  He was made aware of the error prior to signing his card and was able to add the two-stroke penalty to his score for the 18th hole, meaning that he still won by one shot!

Although in Johnson’s case he was entitled to mark and lift his ball, when he failed to play the ball from the original spot he, in effect, made the same error as McDowell and also incurred a two-stroke penalty.