Diary of a USGA Rules Official: Just the Facts Ma’am

It’ll be interesting to see what rulings come out of this week’s Players Championship, especially at the famous Par 3 17th.

It’s been a busy month for the Rules of Golf, and I would be surprised if Dr. Robin Farran didn’t have a little something to do with it. Dr. Farran teaches Advanced Rules at the Golf Academy of America in Phoenix and is one of the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) top Rules Officials.

Late last month, the USGA and the R&A came together to announce changes limiting the use of video evidence in making rulings at televised events… effective immediately. Now that’s something you don’t see from those organizations every day!

Usually, they’re much more slow moving (as in 1-3 years minimum to make a change of this magnitude). In this month’s Diary of a USGA Rules Official, Dr. Farran has several scenarios up for our consideration:

Real-Life Incidents – April 25, 2017 – Considerations and Rulings
The point of these incidents is to address the process of reaching a correct ruling. To make a correct ruling we need to know: Where was the ball? Was the ball in play?

1. Player A, who finished his round, asked the scoring official the following question; “My ball was very close to a sprinkler head. I was sure that my club would have hit the sprinkler head during the stroke so I took relief. Is that OK?”

**For a ball in play and lies through the green, in a bunker or on a putting green, the player is entitled to relief without penalty from an immovable obstruction unless the Exception to Rule 24-2 applies. 

From questioning, it was learned that Player A’s ball was in a lateral water hazard. Rule 24-2 does not apply.  When Player A lifted, dropped and played the ball, Player A is deemed to have proceeded under Rule 26-1 and incurred a penalty of one stroke under Rule 26-1 and an additional two-stroke penalty under Rule 26-1 for playing from a wrong place – the dropped ball did not meet the requirements of any of the Rule 26-1 options. [See Note 1 in Rule 26-1 and Decision 20-7/2.]

2. Player B approaches an official with a question. Player B describes that he was making a practice swing near his ball and accidentally struck the ball.

**A player is in breach of Rule 18-2 when a ball in play is moved by a practice swing except when the ball in play is on the putting green and the Local Rule for 2017 is in effect. 

It turns out that Player B’s ball was on a tee in the teeing ground and was not in play. No penalty was incurred and Player B could replace the ball on the tee or start the hole as he wishes.

3. A bug is crawling near Player C’s ball. Player C waves his hand at the bug and moves his ball.

A bug is considered a loose impediment. Rule 23-1 protects you if your ball moves on the putting green while removing a bug.

**The bug is a loose impediment. For a ball that is in play and through the green or in a hazard, a player is penalized for moving his or her ball in play and the ball must be replaced. (Player touching a bug on a ball in a hazard is a breach of Rule 13-4c – see Decision 23-1/5.)

Player C’s ball was on the putting green, therefore as noted in Rule 23-1, there is no penalty for moving a ball in play on the putting green when the movement of the ball is directly attributable to the act of removing a loose impediment. The ball must be replaced.

Real-Life Incident – April 18, 2017 – The Rulings
In each of the following incidents, what was Player A’s score for the hole?

Player A’s ball from his tee shot lies within a water hazard in a difficult lie. Player A’s shot played from within the water hazard heads toward the OB. Player A announces intent to play a provisional ball which, when dropped, rolls into an unplayable location (no re-drop required).

Player A lifts the ball and drops it outside the water hazard, proceeding under Rule 26-1b. Player A’s next stroke after the drop lands short of the putting green.

1. Player A’s original ball is found on the course. Player A picks up the provisional ball and completes the hole with the original ball in three additional strokes.

**Player A scored 5 for the hole. The original ball was found. (Tee shot = 1s, Stroke in WH = 1s, Strokes with original ball = 3s; Score for hole = 5)

2. Player A finds his original ball out of bounds. Player A completes the hole with the provisional ball in three additional strokes.

**Player A scored 8 for the hole. Since the original ball was not found, the strokes taken with the provisional ball dropped in the water hazard count in the score including the stroke and distance penalty and penalty for relief from the water hazard. (Tee shot = 1s, Stroke in WH = 1s, Provisional ball dropped = 1p, Relief from WH  = 1p, Stroke to putting green = 1s, Additional strokes = 3s; Score for hole = 8)

When in doubt as to procedure, you can always play two balls under Rule 3-3.

Review Items – April 10, 2017 – The Answers
1. In stroke play, a player announces that he will play two balls under Rule 3-3 and selects the second ball to count. The player plays the original ball in accordance with the Rules and the second ball from a wrong place. What is the ruling?

a) The score with the original ball counts.
b) The score with the second ball counts.

**See Rule 3-3. Rule 3-3b(1) provides guidance for the Committee determination.

2. Which of the following is TRUE with regard to the nearest point of relief for taking relief under Rule 24-2 or Rule 25-1.

a) This point must be determined prior to the drop; the player may use any club in his bag.
b) It is a point where if the ball were so positioned, no interference (as defined) would exist.
c) While determining this point, the location of the ball’s original position must be marked.
d) The ball’s original location must not be nearer the hole than this point.

**See Definition of “Nearest Point of Relief” and Rules 24-2b and 25-1b, and Rule 20-1.

3. At Scoring, Player Steve provided the details of his play on hole #17: “On hole #17, I thought my tee shot was the ball I saw on the cart path. I picked up the ball and took relief, dropping the ball on the grass and playing the ball onto the green. After two putts to complete the hole, I discovered that the ball I picked up from the cart path was not my ball. I played hole #18 to finish the round and I am not sure what my score was for #17.” What was Player Steve’s score for the hole?

a) 4
b) 5
c) 6
d) Player Steve is disqualified.

**When player Steve dropped and played a substituted ball without finding his original ball, Player Steve is deemed to have proceeded under penalty of stroke and distance, Rule 27-1a. Most likely, Player Steve gained a significant advantage from playing from a wrong place and is disqualified for a serious breach of Rule 20-5.

When one caddie is employed by more than one player, he is deemed to be the caddie of the player whose ball is involved. 

Interesting Incidents! – April 1, 2017 – The Rulings
1. John is the caddie for Player A and Player B. While Player A is preparing to play, Player B asks John to place both bags in the shared cart so the golf bags are out of the way. Player A plays a stroke and the ball strikes one of the bags in the cart.

**Player A incurred a penalty of one stroke under Rule 19-2 and must play the ball as it lies. See the Definition of “Equipment” and Decision 19/1.

2. Player C is playing a match against Player D. Player C tees his ball within the teeing ground on hole #3. Player C misses the ball while making a stroke and then accidentally knocked the ball off the tee while preparing to take another stroke.

**The “whiff” counts as a stroke and Player C incurs a one-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 and must replace the ball on the tee. See the Definition of “Stroke.” 

[See Decisions 18-2/1 and 18-2/2 for rulings on variations of this incident.]

3. Player E and Player F are playing a singles match. After Player E and Player F both play their second shots on hole #5, Player E asked Player F what club he had just used. 

**No penalty is incurred when information requested could not affect Player E’s play of his or her next stroke. See the Definition of “Advice.”

In the above situation, what if Player E had removed a towel from Player F’s bag to determine which club Player F had used. 

**Taking a physical act to determine information is only a penalty when the information could affect the player’s play. Player E did not breach Rule 8-1.

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