Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ask Linda #424a-Legal relief for Mickelson?

Dear Linda,
A couple of weeks ago Phil Michelson’s drive came to rest directly under and about 5 inches under the bottom rail of the out-of-bounds fence. Also, it sat in a shallow hollow made by a burrowing animal. He asked for and received relief from the burrowing animal hole. However, it’s my understanding that if there was no possibility of a player striking the ball because of another impediment to his swing he doesn’t get relief (Rule 24.2 exception). There was no possibility for Phil to get a club on the ball. Am I wrong or did he get relief that he wasn’t entitled to?

I’m beginning to get concerned that ‘officials’ are sometimes intimidated by well-known pros as some recent decisions seem to show. That’s not a good thing for the game.

Dear Lou,

A player is not entitled to take relief for a ball in an abnormal ground condition (such as a burrowing animal hole) if something else is interfering with his stroke [Rule 25-1b, Exception]. If Phil were unable to swing because of interference from the fence, then he would not be entitled to relief from the hole.

I did not view the situation on TV, but I spoke to a friend who is a retired golf professional who did see it. He told me that Phil’s ball was in a hole made by a burrowing animal adjacent to an out-of-bounds fence post on the right side. The PGA rules official noted the position of the ball in the hole, and ruled that if the hole weren’t there Phil would have been able to make a stroke. I am aware that Phil is left-handed, and that any stroke he might have made at a ball so close to a fence on the right side would have to be right-handed. However, when an abnormal stroke is the only option, the rules permit relief [Decision 24-2b/17].

Apparently the ruling was made quickly, which would lead me to think that there was no question about it. The official noted the ball in the hole, decided that the fence would not have interfered with a right-handed swing if the ball weren’t in the hole, and indicated to Phil where he should drop the ball.

Once a player takes permissible relief from a situation where he would have to take an abnormal swing (e.g., a right-handed swing for a left-handed player), if he is now able to swing normally (left-handed) that is his good fortune.

Let’s look at a couple of similar situations a golfer may encounter, both from the perspective of a right-handed player:

1.      (1) A ball settles close to an out-of-bounds fence on the left side of the fairway. The player has room to swing left-handed, but an electrical box (immovable obstruction) interferes with his stance. He is entitled to a free drop (stance plus one club-length). After he drops the ball, he finds he is now able to hit the ball right-handed. He may count his blessings and continue play with a normal, right-handed stroke.

(2) Same situation as above, except a tree interferes with the player’s stance or swing. In this case, there is no free relief. A tree is not an immovable obstruction. If he cannot hit the ball, he will have to declare it unplayable, which will add a penalty stroke to his score when he takes relief.

(3) A ball settles several yards away from an interior fence on the right side of the fairway. The player could swing forward, were it not for a large tree directly in front of him. The only option available to him is to hit the ball sideways. The fence interferes with his backswing for a sideways stroke. The player is entitled to relief from the fence for a sideways stroke. After he drops the ball, the tree may no longer be in his way for a shot towards the green. That is perfectly fine.

I do not share your concern that  “officials are sometimes intimidated by well-known pros.” The officials you see in a professional tournament are at the top of their field. These men and women are well-versed in the Rules of Golf, and pride themselves on being impartial. They are there to see that the Rules are followed precisely by all players, regardless of their degree of fame. No player is above the Rules.

My concern is that when a difficult or unusual ruling is made, the ruling should be clearly and carefully explained to the television audience. The person best-suited to handle the explanation is the official who made the ruling, not the commentators who, more often than not, are ignorant of the rule. Such an explanation would not only help to educate the golfing public, but would squelch the kvetching on the Internet and in the locker rooms about so-called “incorrect” rulings.

Famous professional golfers are not getting favored rulings – they are getting correct rulings from the best officials in the business. I have often remarked that a thorough knowledge of the Rules can help to lower your score. The ruling on Phil’s ball is a case in point. Where the average golfer might have deemed such a ball unplayable and added a penalty stroke to his score, Phil found out from an expert that he was entitled to free relief. He knew the Rules well enough to know that free relief was his for the asking, and was smart enough to get corroboration from an impeccable source.

Copyright © 2012 Linda Miller. All rights reserved.