The R&A - Working for Golf

Rules on Tour: Major Season

The Masters Tournament returned to its regular April slot for the 85th edition at Augusta National with Hideki Matsuyama becoming the first ever Japanese male golfer to win a major, whilst the 103rd playing of the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island also saw history made as 50-year-old Phil Mickelson became the oldest player to ever win a major. 

Both championships also featured a number of interesting Rules situations, some of which are covered below. 

2021 Masters

Abraham Ancer –Restrictions on Touching Sand in Bunker (Rule 12.2b)

Since the new Rules of Golf came into effect at the beginning of 2019, some restrictions have been reduced for playing a ball from the bunker, including touching or removing loose impediments.  However, the prohibition of touching sand at address or during the backswing remains as an essential challenge of playing from a bunker. Rule 12.2b therefore states that if a player touches sand on his or her backswing that would result in the player getting the general penalty (loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play).

During play of the 15th hole in the first round, Abraham Ancer unknowingly touched the sand while making his backswing for his third stroke from the greenside bunker.  This was only discovered after Ancer had returned his scorecard and when video evidence was reviewed by the Committee that showed he had touched the sand.

One other factor that needed to be considered was that when the Committee is deciding questions of fact in making a ruling, the use of video evidence is limited by the “naked eye” standard under Rule 20.2c.  If the movement of the sand could not have been seen with the naked eye, that video evidence would be disregarded even if it indicates a breach of the Rules.

As the movement of the sand could be seen by the naked eye, Ancer was assessed a two-stroke penalty which meant that his score for the 15th hole was in fact an 8.  Although Ancer had returned a scorecard with a lower score of 6, he was not disqualified for the mistake as the Exception to Rule 3.3b(3) requires the Committee to add the unknown penalty strokes to the player’s score.

Matthew Wolff –Scoring in Stroke Play (Rule 3.3b)

While Ancer’s wrong score for the 15th hole of his first round got excused from disqualification, this was only possible as the wrong score for the hole was a result of failure to include an unknown penalty.  In all other cases, if the player returns a score lower than the actual score, the player is disqualified under Rule 3.3b(3).

Following the second round, Matthew Wolff returned a scorecard with his score for the 17th hole recorded as par, while the actual score was a bogey.

Although there was no intention of returning a lower score, it was Wolff’s responsibility to keep track of his score for each hole, and as the returned score turned out to be lower than the actual score that Wolff had made, he was disqualified.

This example again highlights the importance of checking that the individual hole score on your scorecard are correct before you return it to the Committee.

Si-Woo Kim –No Replacing Lost or Damaged Clubs (Rule 4.1b(3))

Normally under the Rules, if a player started with 14 clubs and then loses or damages a club during the round, the player must not replace it with another club (Rule 4.1b(3). However, a Committee may put Model Local Rule G-9 in place for its competition to extend this permission to allow a club to be replaced if it has been broken or significantly damaged by the player or caddie, except in cases of abuse. For example, this would allow a player who accidentally breaks their club when it strikes that trunk of a tree on their follow through to replace their club.

During play of the 15th hole in the second round, Si-Woo Kim forcibly damaged his putter on the ground after missing a putt. Although Model Local Rule G-9 was in place for the Championship, Kim had clearly damaged his club in a fit of frustration and so he was not allowed to replace his putter.

Kim could have used his putter in its damaged status or even attempted to repair it using the original grip, shaft and clubhead (Rule 4.1a(2)), but instead he used his 3-wood to putt with for the remainder of the round and successfully parred the remaining three holes.  

Thankfully for Kim, he was allowed to replace his putter for the next round as the Rule only applies for the rest of the round from when the club is damaged.

2021 PGA Championship  

Brendan Steele – Playing a Wrong Ball (Rule 6.3c(1)) & Lost Ball (Rule 18.2b)

Saturday’s third round at the PGA Championship will remembered by most for an abundance of top-quality golf from a Leaderboard stacked with the biggest names in the men’s game. However, for Brendan Steele, it will probably be a day to forget due to an unfortunate rules scenario on his 16th hole which saw him eventually card a score in double-digits. After his final putt of the round dropped, Steele eventually signed for a five-over par 77 on a scorecard which included a quintuple-bogey 10 on the 16th hole, but how exactly did that 10 come about?

It started when Steele’s tee shot from the 16th teeing area found trouble after he missed the fairway on the right-hand side. However, despite being in dense scrub, he was able to find his ball and managed to hit it a short way back onto the fairway, leaving him a shot of about 270 yards to the hole.

It was after his next stroke that things really began to go from bad to worse for Steele. Having slightly pulled a fairway wood, his 3rd shot missed the green to the left in another area of thick rough, he spent 2 minutes and 50 seconds searching for his ball (just 10 seconds within his permitted 3-minute search time) before finding a Bridgestone ball nestling in the long grass.  Assuming the ball was his, he then proceeded to hit his fourth shot over the green, followed by a further fifth shot on to the green. However, when he went to mark his ball on the putting green, he discovered that the ball he had played was not his.

Steele incurred the General Penalty (two-strokes in stroke play) under Rule 6.3c(1) for playing a wrong ball with his fourth shot and was required to correct the error. Under the Rules, the player must correct the mistake by continuing play with the original ball by playing it as it lies or taking relief under the Rules. The actual stroke made with the wrong ball and any more strokes made before the mistake is corrected do not count, so Steele’s 5th stroke with the wrong ball was simply disregarded. 

Adding a further blow to Steele’s scorecard, his original ball which he had previously searched for left of the green was not found in the remaining 10 seconds of search time available and was therefore lost. That meant the only available option to Steele, was to return to where he played his 3rd stroke from – 270 yards back up the fairway – under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 18.2b).

A Referee gave Steel a lift back to the spot from where he had played his 3rd stroke, and he dropped another ball and proceeded to play what was now his seventh shot. He once again missed the green to the left, not far from where he had been searching minutes before. This time, however, his ball found a sandy waste area and from there, played his eighth shot out of the sand and on to the green, before 2 putts resulted in a final score of 10 for the hole.

Phil Mickelson – Dropping on the Putting Green from a Red Penalty Area (Rule 17.1d(3))

If double-digits on a players scorecard during a major Championship is an unusual thing to see, fans also got to witness another – not quite as rare – Rules scenario play out on Sunday when Phil Mickelson was able to drop a ball on the putting green when taking relief from a red penalty area. 

Having hooked his second shot from the fairway on the 13th hole, Mickelson’s ball found the water on the right-hand side of the green. The water in question was marked as a red penalty area which meant that Mickelson was entitled to take lateral relief (two club-lengths from where the ball last crossed the edge) under Rule 17.1d(3). 

From the estimated point where the original ball last crossed the edge of the red penalty area, a player may drop a ball within a two club-length relief area, provided that the ball is not nearer the hole than the estimated reference point. Additionally, when taking lateral relief under this Rule, the ball may be dropped in any area of the course (except the same penalty area) and if more than one area of the course is located within two club-lengths of the reference point, the ball must come to rest in the relief area in the same area of the course that the ball first touched when dropped. 

For Mickelson, this meant that he had both a section of the putting green and a section of the fringe (General Area) within his two club-length’s, so that gave him the option of dropping on the fringe or on the green. However, the ball must come to rest in the area of the course that it first strikes when dropped. If, the ball had first struck the putting green when dropped, but then rolled off the green and came to rest on the fringe, the player would be required to re-drop the ball (see Rule 14.2c(2)). 

Not surprisingly, Mickelson opted to drop the ball on the putting green and almost managed to hole his long par putt, but settled for a tap-in bogey on his way to securing his 6th major Championship.