The R&A - Working for Golf

Rules on Tour - 2022

A Monday finish for a high-profile professional event isn’t what anyone would normally want to see.  However, with the first-round finishing on a Saturday - after a two-and-a-half-day round of 18 holes (officially 54 hours, 16 minutes) -, it will be remembered as a great success for THE PLAYERS Championship, 2022.  

Apart from the weather delays, the championship also featured quite a few Rules situations, some of which are covered in this article.

Stopping Play; Resuming Play - Rule 5.7

A player must not stop play during a stroke play round unless the Committee suspends play or reasonably believes that there is danger from lightning - which must be reported to the Committee as soon as possible.

On Thursday morning at TPC Sawgrass, after a one hour delayed start of the first round due to overnight rain and thunderstorms, the Committee had to suspend play only after a few hours of golf being played due to imminent danger from heavy thunderstorms.  Play was resumed after a four-hour suspension, which obviously had to be suspended again in the evening due to darkness.  With less than half of the field finishing round-one on day-one, the weather never really got better the next day – only allowing another a few hours of golf with another suspension followed –, resulting the championship to complete round-one on day-three.

There are two types of Committee suspension of play, each with different requirements for when players must stop play.  An immediate suspension, just like the first suspension when the Committee suspended play due dangerous weather, requires all players to stop at once and not make a stroke until the Committee resumes play.  However, for a normal suspension such as for darkness or unplayable course conditions, players are allowed to finish the hole that has already been started – which means that if at least one player from the group has made a stroke on that hole, the group may continue playing until the hole is completed.  As the second suspension of day-one was due to darkness, the group that had already been playing the final hole at that point, was allowed to finish the hole instead of coming back the next day for a few putts to complete the round - of course, at the player's choice.

If players choose not to finish the hole for a normal suspension, or were required to stop immediately, they must resume play from where they stopped play on the hole, even if play is resumed on a later day.  Players must be present at the location and ready to play at the time set by the Committee for play to resume and must resume play at that time once the horn has been blown.

 

Ball Moved by Natural Forces – Rule 9.3

If natural forces (such as wind or water) cause a player’s ball at rest to move, there is no penalty, and the ball must be played from its new spot.  However, if a player’s ball on the putting green moves after the player had already lifted and replaced the ball, there is an exception that requires the ball to be replaced on its original spot (if not known must be estimated), and this is true no matter what caused it to move, including natural forces.

During play of the 16th hole in the second round, Keegan Bradley sent his second shot onto the green leaving himself a chance for an eagle.  As Bradley arrived on the green, he placed a ball-marker right behind his ball however before it was lifted, a gust of wind picked up and moved his ball.  

While Bradley was required to play the ball from its new spot as it has not yet been lifted, he replaced and played the ball from its original spot thinking that the exception would apply.  As a result, Bradley got a general penalty of two-strokes for playing from the wrong place.

 

Embedded Ball – Rule 16.3

At one point during the final round, there was a five-way tie for the lead, including Paul Casey, aiming at becoming the first ever English winner of the championship.  While Casey was two shots behind Cameron Smith playing in the same group, his tee shot from the 16th tee rolled into someone else’s pitch-mark on the fairway, resulting one of the worst breaks a player could ever expect, especially after hitting their best drive of the day.

Unfortunately for Casey, a ball is embedded only when it is in its own pitch-mark made as a result of the player’s previous stroke and where part of the ball is below the level of the ground.  Therefore, although Casey’s ball was in a pitch-mark with a part of the ball being below ground level, as the pitch-mark was not made from his previous stroke, there was no free relief allowed under the Rules of Golf.

While there are some necessary exceptions providing free relief from certain conditions, the central principle of the game of golf still is “play the course as you find it and play the ball as it lies”.