September - 2017
Because those with whom I golf regularly know that I'm a member of both the Southern California Golf Association's Rules & Competitions Committee and the Rules & Competitions Committee of the PGA of Southern California, in other words I'm a rules official at many tournaments sanctioned by those two golf associations, I regularly get asked rules questions. Especially questions about what just happened during a televised event.
Case in point:
This event reminded me of Ernie Els in the 2004 Masters. Ernie hits one way into the toolies, a heavily wooded area, and he did find his ball, but really had no shot with all the tree branches around it. But what was also near his ball was a pile of debris…….stacked branches and cuttings from the groundskeeper and the groundskeeping crew. He asked for, and got, free relief from the pile of debris. Now Decision 25/7 of the Rules of Golf permits relief from stacked stuff created by the groundskeeper if the groundskeeper stacked it temporarily and will eventually remove it. That area of stacked stuff is then treated as ground under repair. We see that at the Muni when we get our heavy rains and wind in the winter with palm tree debris or even eucalyptus trees being blown down. But the mess we see at the Muni is usually located somewhere near where a ball might likely be hit, such as just off the fairway. Relief would obviously be expected, but if the debris was piled, let's say, 50 yards behind the 17th green, should we really expect relief? But in Augusta was that stuff piled deep into the woods really going to be removed from there? I doubt it.
So why do pros get such lenient treatment of the rules when they really shouldn't?
My answer is that the pros are playing for millions of dollars and their livelihood depends on the bounce of their ball. Plus the rules officials are with these players week in and week out and don't want to be the proverbially "bad guy." One note, the PGA rules officials will be more lenient than the USGA rules officials at the US Open, I will guarantee that as they have no weekly relationship with the players.
But wait! What about Lexi Thompson being given a 4 stroke penalty at the recent Dinah Shore tournament in Palm Desert? Pretty harsh, wasn't it? Answer. The USGA immediately changed that rule.
But wait! What about Stewart Cink at the 2008 Zurich Classic when he was disqualified for the following reason:
What should you and I do? What anyone should do who loves the game of golf,,,,,,play by the rules…..even if the rules may be interpreted a bit differently for the pros. I think in 2018 the rules will change so much that everyone will be held to the same standard, but until then, don't look to the televised broadcasts of professional tournaments for your proper understanding of the rules even if they have a rules expert on standby.
Just my opinion. Take if for what it's worth. By the way, if you have a rules question, please e-mail me through the club's website and I'll be happy to again give you my opinion.