When watching the pros strut their stuff on golf’s
made-for-TV worldwide stage, I used to wonder why they appeared to have as
much understanding of the Rules of Golf as a newbie. How many times, for
instance, do we see a pro ask for a ruling from an official that involves
the most fundamental of situations? “Surely,” one asks the TV set, “he knows
the answer to that?”
The odds are the pro does indeed know the answer, but
seeks a level of assurance that removes all doubt. Take the majors, where
there is usually a rules official inside the ropes accompanying each playing
group, it becomes easy for a player simply to seek a ruling over any
possible problem. He would be silly not to for the very reason that once he
acts in accordance with an official’s ruling, that player cannot be
penalised – even if the ruling is later proved incorrect.
One downside to this – if it can be so described – is
that over time pros become far less knowledgeable on the Rules, which leads
to the situation referred to above; seeking clarification on the most basic
of rulings. The other downside is that it slows the pace of play.
The R&A’s website publishes a Rules Report after each
Open Championship which tells an interesting story. At this year’s
championship at Muirfield there were 234 rulings, compared to the 339 the
year prior at Lytham, where the unusually high water-table saw excessive
The report states the majority of Muirfield’s rulings
were simple affairs such as unplayable ball (18 rulings), identifying ball
(17), interference from movable obstructions like cables (20) and relief
from immovable obstructions such as sprinkler heads (29). So much for the
straightforward events, but the following incidences were anything but:
Rub of the Green: Thomas Bjorn, in playing
his second from the rough on his opening hole, hit his ball into a TV
camera, breaking its screen. TV cameras are an outside agency so when a
player’s ball in motion is deflected or stopped, it is deemed rub of the
green; no penalty, play it as it lies. Bjorn, I’m sure, would have
preferred the option of replaying the shot, without penalty, as he went on
to double-bogey thanks to the terrible lie.
During the same round, Luke Donald’s third shot at the
par-five 9th was so badly pulled that it hit the top
of a boundary wall before hitting the hospitality complex beyond the
boundary and ricocheting back into bounds, all the way to the front of the
green. He took advantage of this rub of the green by getting up and
down for par.
Slow Play: The Rules of Golf allow for local
committees to establish their own policy regarding pace of play (Rule 6-7).
The policy adopted at all R&A Championships sees each hole given a time
limit. If a group falls behind the accumulated time and more than their
initial starting gap behind the group in front, they are considered out of
position and put on the clock. When this occurs the first player to
play a tee-shot, approach shot or putt, has 50 seconds to play, whilst the
other players in the group have 40 seconds. They are taken off the clock
when they are either back in position with the group in front, or back on
their time schedule. These rules are an integral part of any R&A Tournament,
including The Open.
During the third round, Hideki Matsuyama’s group was put
on the clock on the 15th as they were 15 minutes over
their scheduled time and five minutes out of position on the group ahead.
Matsuyama’s first bad time was recorded on his first putt at one minute 12
seconds. He was advised of this bad time and told a repeat would be
His second bad time came with his second shot on the 17th.
As his tee shot had gone into the crowd, he was given additional time to
deal with the spectators and to go forward to assess his shot. The timing
therefore only started when he returned to his ball. He then took a further
two minutes 12 seconds to play the shot. The five he scored thus became six.
Ball Interfering with Play: I recall watching TV
coverage of the second round, showing Graeme McDowell re-marking his ball on
the 4th green as it was interfering with Tiger Wood’s
line of putt. After Tiger had played, Gmac replaced his ball and putted out
– from the same spot! On reading the R&A report I now realise Gmac had
previously marked his ball away from the original spot. What I witnessed was
Gmac marking his ball for a second time, and thus returning it to its
original spot. I wonder how many phone-ins the tournament organisers
Next week: Rulings Part Two.