The R&A - Working for Golf

2019 Rules in action

Webb Simpson – Kapalua (Sentry Tournament of Champions)

The Rules of Golf were a hot topic as the season teed off in Hawaii for the first PGA TOUR event under the 2019 Rules. During the third round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Webb Simpson became one of the first professional players to benefit from the changes around finding and identifying your ball.

While searching for his ball in some heavy rough short of the fifth green, Simpson stepped on his ball, accidentally moving it in the process. Only a matter of days prior, Simpson would have incurred a one-shot penalty, however with the New Year bringing Rule 7.4 into effect, the ball was allowed to be put back to its original position and played without penalty.

Rule 7 allows a player to take reasonable actions to search for their ball after each stroke and a player no longer gets a penalty if the ball is accidentally moved in trying to find or identify it (provided the ball is replaced back to its original spot). That said, players do still need to be careful not to cause improvement to the conditions affecting their next stroke as a penalty will still apply if they improve their lie, stance, area of intended swing or line of play by acting excessively when searching.

Stephen Gallagher also benefited from this Rule change when he also found his ball by standing on it at the Hero Indian Open at the end of March.  Again, Gallagher simply replaced his ball on the estimated spot with no penalty. He went on to win the event by one stroke.

Paul Casey - Sedgefield CC (Wyndham Championship)

During the final round of the PGA TOUR’s Wyndham Championship in August, Paul Casey found trouble on the 10th hole when his drive ended up in a fairway bunker 150 yards short of the green. With his ball in a reasonably playable lie, Casey decided to go for the green with his next shot, but failed to get the ball elevated quickly enough, catching the face of the bunker, and causing his ball to rebound back towards him, hitting him on the leg.

Under the previous Rules, if a players ball was accidentally deflected or stopped by the player, he or she would have incurred a one stroke penalty, but as this was one of the changes to the 2019 Rules, Casey avoided the additional penalty and was simply required to play the ball from its new position in the bunker.

Under Rule 11.1, if a player’s ball in motion accidentally hits any person – including the player themselves – there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies. This is true even if the ball hits the player, the opponent or any other player or any of their caddies or equipment.

Rory McIlroy – Liberty National (Northern Trust)

One of the major rules changes for 2019 involved what a player can and cannot do when in a bunker, and when Rory McIlroy’s tee shot found a greenside bunker at the 14th hole of his second round at The Northern Trust in August, golf fans were given an insight into how the new bunker Rules are applied.

As he was weighing up how to play his next shot, McIlroy attempted to remove what he thought was a small stone which was close to his ball, only to realise that it was actually a clump of sand. Following some initial confusion, McIlroy was assessed the general penalty of two-strokes for touching the sand that he believed was a stone, but this was later corrected to no penalty.

The 2019 bunker Rules underwent some significant changes, and the introduction of Rule 12.2a was a significant relaxation of the previous rule, allowing a player to remove loose impediments from a bunker and permitting any reasonable touching or movement of sand in the bunker that happens while doing so. This is the Rule which McIlroy was originally proceeding under when he went to remove what he thought was a stone. As sand is not a loose impediment, McIlroy was not specifically allowed to remove the clump of sand that he touched, however, there is no automatic penalty for his action. The focus therefore switched to whether or not he had deliberately touched the sand next to his ball for the purpose of testing the condition of the sand or improved the conditions affecting his stroke.

Rule 12.2b states that, before making a stroke at a ball in a bunker, a player must not deliberately touch sand in the bunker with a hand, club, rake or other object to test the condition of the sand to learn information for the next stroke, with the penalty for such a breach being the General Penalty (two strokes in stroke play). In addition, even if the player had not touched the sand for the purpose of testing, there would also be a penalty if their actions in touching the sand improved the conditions affecting the stroke, i.e. the lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play (Rule 8.1a).

In this case, it was clear that McIlroy had not touched the sand with the intention of testing its condition, and he had not improved his lie, his area of intended stance or swing, or his line of play. It was therefore determined there had been no breach of either Rule and the two stroke that was initially applied, was cancelled and his score amended to a 68.