The R&A - Working for Golf

Rules on Tour – May 2017

The start to 2017 has seen a number of high profile Rules incidents from across golf’s major tours, and in this article, we take a look at some of the more unusual incidents.

Phil Mickelson certainly kept referees busy during the third round of the WGC-Mexico where he encountered a number of rulings over consecutive holes. One of the more notable incidents of his round came at the par-four 10th during the third round after Mickelson hit his drive left of the fairway.

After arriving at the area where he believed the ball to be, and following a brief search, Mickelson was unable to find his ball.  He was then told by a spectator that he had seen a ball picked up by another - now absent - person from the area being searched.

After determining, through the testimony of a number of other spectators in the crowd, that he had the necessary knowledge or virtual certainty that his ball had been moved by an outside agency, Mickelson was able to proceed under Rule 18-1.  He was able to substitute another ball, and drop it without penalty at the spot where his original ball had come to rest.

Over the course of the next two holes, Mickelson also received two further rulings following wayward drives. On both occasions Mickelson’s ball came to rest amongst some fairly dense bushes, and bizarrely on both occasions he had interference from immovable obstructions (irrigation pipes) to both lies.

A decision then had to be made as to whether or not it was reasonable for Phil to make a stroke  at the ball as otherwise he would not have been entitled to free relief under Rule 24-2 if it was clearly impracticable for him to make a stroke because of the bushes.  Despite encountering some problems with the foliage, Phil was indeed able to get into a position where he was able to demonstrate that he could make a stroke at the ball and after consulting with the referee, he was able to take relief under Rule 24-2.  This allowed him to drop the ball within one club-length of the nearest point of relief which in turn took him away from the bush and into a more playable area.   Sometimes the Rules can give you a good break!

In a slightly less fortunate example which highlights  the importance of checking the local rules, Tyrrell Hatton had a moment that he will want to forget, during a play-off to get to the last 16 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Hatton had ended the week’s group match play stage with two wins and a loss to force a play-off against Rafa Cabrera Bello and Charles Howell III to determine who would proceed to the next round.

Although the week’s format was match play, the play-off between the three players was played under stroke play Rules.  Things started to go wrong for Hatton as he went to tap in a short par putt on the first play-off hole. After lining up his short par putt, he placed his putter behind the ball and accidentally nudged it slightly, moving the ball about a centimetre in the process.  After stopping to inform Cabrera-Bello of the ball’s movement and thinking his chance had gone on the assumption that he would incur a penalty, Hatton then proceeded to tap in the 2-foot putt.

Unfortunately for Hatton, he was unaware that the Local Rule eliminating the penalty for a player who accidentally causes a ball to move on the putting green was in effect. Had he been aware of this, he would have been able to replace his ball without penalty and would have had another opportunity to convert his par putt. However, by tapping in the putt without replacing the ball, he had played from a wrong place and therefore incurred a two-stroke penalty under Rule 20-7, turning his par 4 into a double-bogey 6, and eliminating himself from the play-off in the process.

Alligators have also had their fair share of on-course coverage during the opening months of the 2017 season after making several prominent appearances during PGA tour events. Probably the most notable incident came during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational when America’s Cody Gribble casually gave an alligator a playful ‘tap’, causing it to quickly retreat into a nearby water hazard – something sensibly not attempted by Smylie Kaufman who took a slightly more cautious approach by giving the same alligator a wide berth a few holes later.

For those not as keen in attempting to move alligators, they can certainly raise an interesting scenario on how to proceed under the Rules, especially when they are close to where a player’s ball comes to rest. Fortunately for player’s, Rule 1-4 provides some safer options to simply playing the ball as it lies.

As it would be unreasonable to expect a player to play from such a dangerous position and unfair to require the player to incur a penalty in order to avoid it, in equity, the Rules provide free relief for a player whose ball comes to rest in a situation which is considered to be dangerous to the player.

If a player’s ball lies through the green, and the player has interference from a dangerous situation such as an alligator, they may, without penalty, drop a ball within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest spot not nearer the hole that is not dangerous and is not in a hazard and not on a putting green.

Furthermore, if the player’s ball lay in a hazard and was close to a dangerous situation, the player may drop a ball, without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest spot that is not dangerous. If possible, the ball must be dropped in the same hazard and, if not possible, in a similar nearby hazard, but in either case not nearer the hole. If the ball lay on the putting green, the player may, without penalty, place a ball at the nearest spot not nearer the hole that is not dangerous and that is not in a hazard.

Staying with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it was a PGA Tour debut to forget for the current U.S. and Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion Curtis Luck who was disqualified from the competition after signing for an incorrect score for his second round.

Coming off the back of an opening-round 79 and looking very unlikely to make the cut, Luck’s day was made worse by the fact that his fellow-competitor incorrectly recorded a four at the par-4 ninth hole, his final hole due to the two-tee start, when Luck had actually scored a bogey 5.

After failing to notice the error and signing and returning his card to the Committee, the discrepancy came to light and Luck was disqualified under Rule 6-6d for returning a score for a hole lower than actually taken.  Taking time to check the scores for each hole before returning your score card is strongly recommended!

Whilst for most golfers, the fairway is usually the safest place to be, this was not the case for one referee during the Hero Indian Open in March. An unusual incident occurred during the final round when David Horsey hit his tee shot straight down the middle of the fairway on the 9th hole, only to see his ball bounce once before landing in the golf cart of a referee who unfortunately happened to be driving up the hole at the time.

The ball, after bouncing around in the foot-well of the buggy, bobbled out after its brief journey and fortunately remained in the fairway. Under Rule 19-1, as the player’s ball in motion was accidentally deflected by any outside agency, it is simply considered to be a rub of the green, there was no penalty, and the ball is played as it lies, in this case, allowing Horsey to play from a nice lie in the fairway en route to making par.

In a similarly bizarre incident during the first round of April’s Zurich Classic, the foursomes pairing of Chris Stroud and Brian Stuard managed to make an unlikely birdie after Chris’s wayward tee shot on the par-4 16th ricocheted favourably and rather painfully, off his sister who was spectating in the crowd. After receiving the unintentional deflection, Stuard was again able to play the ball as it lay under Rule 19-1 and proceeded to hit the side’s approach shot close before Stroud converted the birdie putt.