Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ask Linda #1378-Player claims ignorance of Loose Impediments Rule

Hi Linda.

I love reading your clarification of rules.

We recently had an embarrassing experience in a competition. A competitor, an experienced and competent golfer, whilst unsighted from his fellow competitors was seen, by a competitor in another group, to move his ball. He would have won the competition by 2 strokes, had this not been reported.

His explanation was that his ball had landed on some loose impediments (twigs). He had marked it, moved the ball away, cleared the twigs and knocked the ball back with his club (the action spotted) and placed the ball. His claim was that Rule 23-1 allowed loose impediments to be moved without penalty. As that rule clearly penalises moving the ball, he was disqualified. Problem solved – or so we thought.

A day later he appealed on the grounds that the Exception to Rule 6-6d applied. He had not known that Rule 23-1 did not permit the ball to be moved. Fortunately the 3 penalty strokes imposed under that Exception to the Rule still kept him off the winner's rostrum.

It seems that this Rule could allow someone, who would or should normally be disqualified, to win a competition so long as he/she ends up more than 3 strokes ahead. If you are not spotted offending, you are in the clear. If you are spotted, you claim ignorance. For example, you claim you didn't know the ball was out of bounds, that "preferred lies" did not include moving a ball in the woods, or that you can lift your ball in the rough to identify it, without notifying your fellow competitors. Even if this ignorance is improbable, it is difficult to disprove.

It seems that this new exception allows a person to claim ignorance of even the most basic rule in order to avoid disqualification. No one will admit to cheating, but there are some who will admit to being extremely ignorant of the rules of golf. As golf is almost self-policing, and relies on the integrity of the golfer, how can such claims under the exception to 6.6d be dealt with? Members are reluctant to play in competition with someone who can admit to such ignorance, yet no sanctions, apart from a 3-stroke penalty, apply.

Have you any advice?
Lou from Wales, UK

Dear Lou,

Allow me to begin by explaining the Exception to Rule 6-6d, which is new for 2016. When a competitor returns a score for a hole lower than what he actually shot, and the reason for the incorrect score is ignorance of a Rules violation he incurred while playing that hole, he is not disqualified. The Committee will add the penalty for the violation, plus a two-stroke penalty for recording a score that was too low.

Now, on to your question. I must confess that I am skeptical of an “experienced and competent golfer” who claims he does not know that there is no option in the Rules of Golf to mark and lift a ball in order to move a loose impediment. I find that even players with only a rudimentary knowledge of the Rules are aware of the basic concept of Rule 23 that, while players may move loose impediments, Rule 18-2 kicks in with a penalty stroke and a requirement to replace the ball if the removal of the loose impediments causes the ball to move. That a player could have achieved a high level of skill without understanding basic Rules like Rules 23 and 18-2 is difficult for me to swallow. I would hope that a Rules official or a Committee member would interview the player very thoroughly to find out whether he has always marked and lifted his ball before removing loose impediments; the official might also want to interview the player’s fellow competitors and all observers to verify the truthfulness of such a claim.

As you suggest, this new Exception could allow a player, who would in the past have been disqualified, to win a tournament, as long as he has a significant lead (five strokes ahead would be a safe margin). That is, indeed, the purpose of this Exception. The reasoning behind it is to soften a draconian penalty. It can sometimes seem unfair that a player who has dominated the field is mercilessly disqualified from a tournament because of some infraction of which he was unaware. I believe this Exception improves the game for everyone.

Golf, as I’m sure we all know, depends on the honesty and integrity of the individual players. The Committee might want to consider barring a player who falsely claims ignorance of a Rule in order to win a tournament from future competitions. There should be no tolerance for cheaters in the game of golf.

I sincerely doubt that many players will pretend ignorance of a Rule in order to take advantage of the Exception to Rule 6-6d. In the case of the rare cheater who might do so, I would recommend extensive interviews with the player, his fellow competitors, and any observers. I do not believe it will be as difficult as you seem to believe to ferret out the cheaters, and I have faith that the overwhelming majority of golfers would not stoop to such unacceptable behavior.

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