Category Archives: Rules Controversies

Do You HAVE to Play Your Ball If It’s Found?

Last Sunday’s telecast of the Open Championship showed that even well-respected PGA Tour pros and announcers don’t know the most basic rules of golf.  At one point Paul Azinger opined that Tiger Woods should take an unplayable lie in a greenside bunker and drop it outside the bunker.  Even I know you have to drop it in the sand (Rule 28); fortunately someone in the truck corrected ‘Zinger’s error.

As troubling — and what prompted me to kick off an e-mail exchange that culminated in this write-up — was what happened to Brandt Snedeker on Sunday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.  The former Pub Links champion hooked his tee shot on no. 7 into the gorse and promptly played a provisional ball, which he pushed right and into a bunker.  What happened next caught my ire.  According to the announcer — I believe it was Andy North — Snedeker’s caddie then found his boss’s first ball in bounds, but after “briefly consider(ing)” the matter they decided not to play it because it was apparently in a world of trouble.  Snedeker then played out his provisional ball as his ball in play, made double bogey and ended up tied for third.

Brandt Snedeker found his ball and didn’t play it at the Open Championship — or so viewers were told.

I was always under the impression that a player was required to play his ball if he found it.  If so, Snedeker played that hole incorrectly.

Turns out I was correct.

Under Rule 27(c), “(i)f the original ball is neither lost nor out of bounds, the player must abandon the provisional ball and continue playing the original ball.  If he makes any further strokes at the provisional ball he is playing the wrong ball and the provisions of rule 15-3 apply.”  (Emphasis added.)  The “must” language is pretty clear.

So why didn’t Snedeker get DQ’ed for signing an incorrect scorecard?  Turns out Andy North had his facts wrong.  Snedeker’s caddie had indeed found a ball in the gorse, but it wasn’t his boss’s.  Kind of an important fact. Obviously, then, Snedeker couldn’t have played that ball even if he’d wanted to.

A few interesting rubs on this scenario, and ones that happen now and again to Greenspanners or their playing companions.  Suppose that Snedeker had whacked his provisional ball into even more trouble — say OB.  At that point he’d be feeling some serious heat hitting his third ball from the tee, his first likely toast and his second certainly toast.  He might not be in as much trouble as he thought.  According to the USGA, once that first ball is found not only is it now the in-play ball, but all other previously-hit provisionals are out of play and abandoned.  Thus, so long as Snedeker had found his original ball, what he did with his provisional ball(s) no longer mattered.  Snedeker could play the ball at it lies or take an unplayable, in which case his available modes of relief would be (1) two club lengths no nearer the hole, (2) dropping as far back as he wants keeping that point between him and the hole, or (3) rehitting from where he last hit his shot — in that case, from the tee.

Suppose instead that Snedeker knew his first ball was in big trouble — so much trouble that he wanted no part of it.  What then?  Could be instruct his playing partners not to look for it?   This is basically what happened to Phil Mickelson at the 2001 Buick Classic at Torrey Pines.  The folks at Leaderboard.com described the incident (more), but basically Phil hit one out, hit a good provisional, and decided he didn’t want to find his first ball.  He was overheard instructing a Tour official to prevent spectators from looking for his ball.  Someone found it anyway and Phil was required to play it.   Leaderboard.com goes a step further:

You can decline to look for the full five minutes.  However, if your opponent (or even a spectator who favors your opponent) wishes to look for your ball you have no choice but to wait the allotted five minutes.  If they find your ball, you are stuck playing it.

Thumbs up to Greenspan Cup veteran Adam Waalkes and Sand Point CC assistant club pro Brandon Bemis for their research on this issue.  The latter called the USGA to clarify the Snedeker matter.

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How Ignorance of the Rules Can Cost You — Big Time

Roger Maltbie closes those rules pieces he does on NBC golf telecasts with a directive: “if you’re gonna play this game, you gotta know the rules.”

Turns out at least four of us (most importantly, me) don’t know the rules — specifically, the one dealing with what happens when you putt a ball and hit another one at rest on the green.

For those readers not named Aro, O’Brien or Cheuk, this rule (or our ignorance of it) came into play during the first matches (Friday fourball) of 2010. Aro and I led O’Brien and Cheuk 1 up standing on the seventeenth green at Pacific Dunes. I’m not the most patient guy and had pretty much had it with Cheuk’s routine on the greens, which would make Ben Crane blush. I’m also not the best green reader and even worse with my distance control, so when I hit my first putt right where I wanted it it missed the hole by five feet, kept going — and struck O’Brien’s ball, which he hadn’t marked. (No fault of his — I was tired of waiting for his partner.) My declared penalty — loss of hole. O’Brien was in no hurry to accept the hole, but Cheuk took it — as well he should have (we thought). We went to 18 all square and, flustered, Aro and I promptly hacked that hole up to lose the match 1 down.

Aro and I lost our fourball match to O'Brien and Cheuk to start things off in 2010 -- had I known the rules in re: what happens when a putt hits a resting ball on the green, we wouldn't have.

Turns out I was wrong about the penalty.

Rule 19.5 provides that

(i)f a player’s ball in motion after a stroke is deflected or stopped by a ball in match play and at rest, the player must play his ball as it lies. In match play, there is no penalty. In stroke play, there is no penalty, unless both balls lay on the putting green prior to the stroke, in which case the player incurs a penalty of two strokes.

(Emphasis added.) In other words, I shouldn’t have lost the hole, at least not by penalty. Ouch.

Why have I suddenly come to this epiphany, you ask? Well, noted author George Peper was involved in a similar incident against a Canadian named Dough Leith on hole no. 3 on St. Andrews’s Old Course. Leith hit a putt that hit Peper’s ball on the green and promptly conceded the hole, just as I did. Leith went on to lose the match 6&5. Peper “later learned that (Leith) had been wrong — whereas in stroke play there’s a penalty, there is no penalty in match play where one ball struck from the putting green hits another ball that is also on the green.” George Peper, Two Years in St. Andrews: At Home on the 18th Hole (2006) at p.192.

Leith’s knowledge of the rules (or lack thereof) didn’t hurt him severely — he lost 6&5. I hurt me a bundle. Had we not lost 17 we could not have lost the match, and a 1 down loss would have been, at worst, a halve. As captain I probably would have kept Aro and I together rather than breaking us up in favor of new partners Mike Waldner and Jeff Haight, respectively. That wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome of Greenspan Cup XIII — the two new pairs went a combined 6-0 but the Seattle Team still lost 20-16.

It would have, however, made a big difference to me vis-a-vis Norman — in particular, his bragging rights vis-a-vis me.

To borrow from Rog’, I played the game and didn’t know the rules. And it cost me — big time.

I Was Right! Wrong Ball Penalty Applies Only Against Player, Not Team

It wouldn’t be a Greenspan without a good rules controversy, and this year’s version was no exception. There were really only two major ones, the biggest one involving me.

And it turns out I was right.

The Gran/Hansen v. Aro/Jenkins match featured the year's worst shorts (see Aro) -- and best rules controversy.

The Gran/Hansen v. Aro/Jenkins match featured the year's worst shorts (see Aro) -- and best rules controversy.

On the seventh hole at Desert Canyon during my and Aro’s match against Gran/Hansen, I hit Gran’s ball. He then hit my ball. We both realized our mistakes when we got to the green and took ourselves out of the hole. Joel ended up tying Chris — fair enough.

On the tenth hole, however, I did it again. This time I hit Hansen’s ball. Hansen wanted my error to cost us the hole — something about “you live as a team, you die as a team.” Not ideal, because we were two down at the time and Joel was 15 feet for birdie.

Turns out that’s not the rule. Rule 30-3-c provides that “If a player incurs the loss of hole penalty under Rule 15-3a for making a stroke at a wrong ball, he is disqualified for that hole, but his partner incurs no penalty even if the wrong ball belongs to him. If the wrong ball belongs to another player, its owner must place a ball on the spot from which the wrong ball was first played.”

So the penalty applies against the player, not the team. I guess the reasoning is that this is best ball, and a penalty by one player on his ball ought not disqualify both balls.

We ended up playing it that way, mostly because I yelled louder than Hansen. And we won 3&2, so it was somewhat of an academic point. Still, this one comes up all the time, so it’s worth a spot on the blog.

Besides, for now anyway, it knocks the World’s touchdown win off the homepage.