Playing by the Rules - September 2013

Did anybody watch the Solheim Cup telecast?

I was in the midst of preparing for the New England Section Professional Championship, but I did manage to watch a few minutes of this event.

While the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup probably have become a little less like golf tournaments and more like reality TV programming. Did anyone see the final Feherty episode of this season with Larry David? Larry said it best, “This Ryder Cup by the way, I’m sorry. Who are we playing, Europe? Do we really hate these guys?”

The way these events are hyped by television and the atmosphere that is created around them is mind boggling to me. Can you ever imagine someone doing what Jack Nicklaus did in 1969 when he conceded that putt (now immortalized as the “concession”) to Tony Jacklin, which resulted in the matches being halved? Jack or not, they would be open to second-guessing and criticism that would be never ending. It would be comparable to being a traitor in the eyes of the people who go completely off the rails when it comes to these competitions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the players buy into some of this hype, but you have to realize they are competitors in the event, and when media and everyone else is constantly asking them questions and questioning their intestinal fortitude if they dare to miss a shot or putt, it is easy to see why they take it so seriously.

Nevertheless, after saying all that, there is something special about watching players who are that excited and invested in what they are doing, who suddenly are part of a team, in a sport that is otherwise played as a solo performer. It is also especially true when you realize that whether they win or lose, they are going to make the same amount of money, (which after all is what they all play for) nothing.

However, the real reason I bring this up is, as a Rules Official, I always pay close attention to what is going on whenever any type of ruling is required at a televised event. After all, these Officials are the best in the world at what they do and I have been lucky enough to get to work with some of them at different times throughout my career.

I am not as familiar with many of the LPGA Officials but the Rules are the Rules and whether it is the LPGA, USGA, PGA or European Tours the rulings made and procedures followed are virtually the same.

I did not see the incident that took place on the first day when I believe a player wanted to use the opposite margin option (Rule 26-1c.) when taking her drop from a lateral hazard. The procedure used to determine the proper spot and the final decision as to where to drop made by the referee was questioned and debated for an excessive amount of time.

As I said, I did not see that particular incident, but I did see a Ruling the second day that involved a player from the European side and a player from the American side that took about thirty minutes to complete. It involved nothing more than trying to decide where the player’s balls had last crossed the margin of a lateral hazard.

Now, I know this is an important competition. I know the scrutiny and pressure that the players, and officials are under, especially after the ruling the day before had been deemed to be incorrect. However, taking thirty minutes to decide where to drop a couple of golf balls, in a four-ball competition, where the two partners of the players involved are in perfect position, well, I think we have gone too far.

I have been part of rulings where players have a disagreement over the point where the ball last crossed the margin of a hazard. As a fellow-competitor in a stroke play competition you owe it to the rest of the field to make sure everyone is proceeding correctly under the Rules. Let’s be reasonable however, if someone has just launched a golf ball some 250-270 yards from the tee and it is virtually certain that it has come to rest in a water or lateral water hazard, I don’t think we can honestly say that we know exactly where it last crossed that margin. So what do we do? The best we can.

I have received several questions over the years about where a player needs to drop a ball, unless the original ball is in plain sight, i.e. on a cart path, in ground under repair, etc. we never are exactly sure where that spot is. So, we do the best we can with the information we have. A few feet (even yards) when we are dealing with a shot that may have traveled as far as 270 yards, from where the nearest person stands, is good enough for me.

I guess it’s a good thing I’m not working the Solheim Cup.

See you down the road,