The R&A - Working for Golf

Rules on Tour Article – September 2017

Following on from a whirlwind summer of golf and with the 2017 season beginning to wind down, we take a look back at some of the more interesting rulings which have occurred throughout the past few weeks from across the Tour’s.  

Garcia’s Rocky Finish

Playing the par-5 18th hole of Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, Illinois, during the final round at the BMW Championship, Sergio Garcia hit his second shot into a lateral hazard short of the green with his ball eventually coming to rest against the rocks. With a place in the Tour Championship the following week at stake, Garcia explained to a referee that he wished to play an imaginative backwards shot out of the hazard and rebound his ball off the rocks towards the green. Garcia demonstrated that if he were to attempt the shot, his backswing would be impeded by the grandstand which, as it was a temporary immovable obstruction (TIO), would entitle him to free relief.

After a thorough discussion with the referee, it was deemed that in the circumstances it was a reasonable shot to attempt and Garcia was entitled to a drop without penalty, albeit within the hazard.

One of the interesting aspects of this decision was the fact Garcia was able to take free relief when his ball was in a lateral water hazard. Rule 24-2 specifically states that relief from an immovable obstruction is not available when the ball is in a water hazard or lateral water hazard. However, because the grandstand which was interfering with Garcia’s area of intended swing was a TIO he was able to receive free relief, provided he remained inside the hazard.

A TIO is defined as a non-permanent artificial object, often erected in conjunction with a competition and which is fixed or not readily movable. Because these structures would not usually be on the course, the Rules allow a player to take relief when such things interfere with their play, even if their ball lies in a hazard.

After taking his relief, Garcia’s ball was still close to the rocks and so he continued with his original plan and successfully played towards the rough, right next to another grandstand on the opposite side of the green.  After receiving a slightly more conventional drop from that grandstand, he managed to get up and down for par - enough to take him into the top 30 in the Fed-Ex Rankings and earn a spot at the Tour Championship.

Practice Proves Penal for Lahiri

During the Friday four-balls of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey, Anirban Lahiri found himself on the wrong side of Rule 7-2 having practised a bunker shot after the hole had been completed. Facing a tough bunker shot which he needed to hole in order to salvage a half on the hole, Lahiri’s effort failed to make the green, prompting him to flick the ball back into the bunker to have another practice attempt.

Unfortunately for Lahiri, whilst practice putting would have been permissible after the completion of a hole, playing practice strokes from a hazard were not. Rule 7-2 states that in match play, a golfer may practise putting or chipping on or near the green of the hole last played, any practice green or the teeing ground of the following hole, however, practice strokes must not be made from any hazard or unduly delay play.

As a result, because the hole where the breach occurred was already completed, Lahiri was disqualified from the next hole leaving his playing partner Charl Schwartzel to play the third hole on his own.

Swiss movement not so costly for Noren

Another interesting incident on the putting green, albeit with a more favourable outcome, was that of Alex Noren during the Omega European Masters in Switzerland. The defending champion had left himself a short putt during his Friday round. However, when he placed his putter behind the ball before tapping it in, he accidentally touched his ball causing it to move slightly away from its original position.

Fortunately for Noren, the European Tour have adopted the Local Rule for a ball accidentally moved on the putting green and as the movement of the ball was considered to be accidental, he was able to replace the ball to its original position without penalty before tapping in his putt.

This Local Rule applies only when the player’s ball or ball-marker lies on the putting green and any movement is accidental. It is important to note that accidental movement can involve a variety of actions in which the player unintentionally moves his ball or ball-marker, such as dropping the ball-marker on the ball, accidentally making contact with the ball when taking a practice swing near the ball, or as was the case with Alex Noren, accidentally making contact when addressing the ball.

When a player’s ball lies on the putting green and the Local Rule is in place, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment. The moved ball or ball-marker must be replaced as provided in Rules 18-2, 18-3 and 20-1.

Howell Finds Himself on the Wrong Side of the Markers

At the recent Alfred Dunhill Links Championships in Scotland, David Howell had an unfortunate finish to his first round when, having teed off on the 18th hole at the Old Course, St Andrews, his caddie pointed out that he had teed off from in front of the tee markers.

In stroke play, if a competitor when starting a hole, plays a ball from outside the teeing ground, he incurs a penalty of two strokes and must then play a ball from within the teeing ground (Rule 11-4). The original stroke made from outside the teeing ground did not count towards his score for the hole. Howell accepted his two-stroke penalty and played another ball from within the teeing ground to correct his initial mistake, and despite those two strokes proving very costly, Howell praised his caddie's integrity in pointing out his error.