Friday, July 8, 2016

Slow Play at US Women's Am Qualifying

I worked the US Women’s Amateur Qualifyier at Sequoyah CC in the Oakland Hills this week.  This is an major event, as seven women would advance to the championship at Rolling Green GC in Springfield, PA.

 Looking down the 18th fairway from behind the green
I was assigned checkpoint timing at the ninth and eighteenth greens.  We used the USGA four hole checkpoint system, meaning groups had to either meet their designated time or be within fourteen minutes of the group ahead of them at four checkpoints: holes 4, 9, 13 and 18.  The first time a group missed a time, they would receive a warning, the second miss would mean a one stroke penalty for each player, third would be two strokes for everyone, and the fourth disqualification.  The 9th and 18th are only about 40 yards apart, but it was still going to be an interesting and complicated day, bouncing back and forth, while keeping track of two groups at a time.

Over the course of the day, we gave out about ten warnings for first misses, and two groups were assessed one stroke penalties for the second miss.  I gave I believe five of those warnings and both penalties.  This is not something any Tournament Official wants to do (I think), but it is a part of the job, and it is necessary to be comfortable doing so when needed.

Fortunately, and to their credit, not a single player gave me any push back.  Each player either simply nodded or said thank you, and hustled to the next tee.  This was a great contrast to the MacKenzie last year, a men’s collegiate event.  That day, a player was told he was being timed.  He argued, and his coach brought it up with at least two other officials, including me, over the course of the rest of the round. 

Things got really interesting toward the end of the day.  The 10AM start times off both #1 and #10 had received warnings.  They both came to their last holes in jeopardy of missing a second time.  The group finishing at 18 got there first.  As I approached the green to watch them putt, clipboard and phone (atomic clock) in hand, one of the caddies came over to me, and said “We need to hurry, don’t we?”  I looked at the clock and said “Yes you do.”  He went back to the green, informed the players, and they made their time by less than fifteen seconds.  I got a big thank you when I gave them the “safe” sign!

The other group got to nine green a few minutes later.  I watched them putt, again with clock in hand, and as the last player was getting ready to finish, I approached the caddy and told him “As soon as that putt goes in, put the flagstick in.”  (Times are taken when the flagstick is replaced in the hole.)  She finished, and he put the stick in with seconds to spare.  What would have happened if he had dawdled, or if the flagstick was lying on the other side of the green, and they missed by a few seconds?  I’ll just say I’m glad it didn’t happen.

Pace of play is the bane of every Tournament Official’s existence.  We continually see players not ready to when it is their turn.  We see players seemingly not even start their decision process until it is their turn, both in the fairway and on the green.  Professional golf gets much of the blame, as players grow up watching and listening to player and caddie routinely spend two minutes discussing what looks like a most straightforward shot.  At the US Junior Am Qualifier a few weeks ago, a group somehow got to a checkpoint twenty-eight minutes behind the group ahead, about twice the allowable time.  Junior players need to be broken of that habit early.

It was good to see the players accept the warnings and get moving without any argument.  That showed that they are at least aware of the issue.

  Lucy Li, one of the qualifiers, teeing off on #1, her 10th hole

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rule 6-6d: The Rules of Golf Become Kinder and Gentler

George Gandranata is a friend and former Cal golfer.  He plays on the Asian Development Tour.  A few weeks ago he received a four stroke penalty.  His caddie had gone to fetch some water while George’s group was putting on the 14th green.  Unfortunately, the caddie accepted a ride back, which is a two stroke penalty under tour rules.  George didn’t find out about the ride until after he had finished his round, and signed and returned his scorecard.

Previous to this year, since George returned a card without the two stroke penalty, he would have been disqualified for submitting a card with a score lower than he was due.  This year Rule 6-6d says that if the competitor incurs a penalty he was unaware of, he is not DQ’d.  He receives the penalty and an additional two strokes for each breach of the rules.  So George received the two stroke penalty for his caddie's ride, and the two strokes under 6-6d.  His first round 67 became a 71.   George recovered to finish 18th.

There’s a happy ending, however.  The very next week George became the first player from Indonesia to win on the Asian Development Tour. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

No Relief!

One of my very favorite tournament assignments of the year is the MacKenzie, hosted by Cal at the Meadow Club, an Alistair MacKenzie design on one of the most beautiful sites imaginable that does not involve an ocean.  It was here where I first asked an NCGA official about his job.  He told me how to apply, and I've been fortunate enough to be assigned to this tournament for the last three years.

The course features one of the busiest intersections I've ever seen.  The sixth, thirteenth, and fifteenth holes run parallel to each other, six and thirteen going one way, fifteen the other.  I wrote about it after last year's event, which you can read about here.

There's never a dull moment here.  This year, I had four separate requests for relief.  The answer in each case was no.  Here's a brief rundown, with the explanations.  In all cases the pictures are re-creations of the situation, taken after the fact.

This player's ball was in the thirteenth fairway.  He was playing the fifteenth.  You can see the green in the distance.  There is a distance marker about a foot behind his ball.
I was stationed nearby, and heard the player tell his fellow competitors that he was going to take relief from the disk.  I approached him and asked what he was thinking.  He told me the disk interfered with his swing.  He said he was afraid he would hit it on his downswing.  (Really?  A guy playing division one golf?) Another official nearby joined in the discussion.  We told him there was no such thing as "mental interference" and he must play it as it lies, unless he preferred to take an unplayable lie.  Decision 24-2a/1, "Mental Interference by Obstruction," deals pretty clearly with this situation.

This ball is in the rough left of the thirteenth fairway.  As you can see, there is a sprinkler control box, also in the rough, more or less on the player's line of play.
The player's coach called me over and asked if his player got relief.  I informed him that unless the obstruction interfered with the player's stance or swing (Rule 24-2a), the answer was no.  The coach made the argument that since the box was so close (less than ten yards) from the fairway, there should be a local rule allowing for relief.  I told him that I would get another opinion if he wished, or his player could play another ball under 3-3, but my answer was no relief.  He dropped the issue and the player played on.

A bit later, I found Decision 33-8/17, which states that the committee is not allowed to adopt such a Local Rule, since it is not unusual to find irrigation control boxes on golf courses.  Bingo!  A word for word explanation!  I showed it to the coach later in the day.  His smile told me that he probably already knew that, and was just trying to help his player.  Looking back, I'm sure he did.  He's been in golf all his life, and his brother is a multiple major championship winner...

The ball below was in lateral water hazard to the right of the sixteenth fairway, on the edge of the bridge which crosses it.
The player asked if he was entitled to relief from an obstruction.  Nope.  Rule 24-2, Note 1: "If a ball is in a water hazard, the player may not take relief from interference by an immovable obstruction.  The player must play the ball as it lies or proceed under Rule 26-1."

Since not only was the bridge in the player's swing path, but the ball was also sitting in a depression, he took relief outside the hazard.  In fact, he took what is surely the least known option:  He went to the other side of the lateral hazard (to the right), to a point equidistant to the hole as the entry point of his original shot, and proceeded from there, since it offered both a cleaner lie and better angle to the green.  This point is a lot easier to ascertain now that the NCAA allows the use of laser range finders!

Finally...  This player's ball was a few paces off the putting green, with a couple of sprinkler heads in his line of play.
He asked for relief so he could putt.  Tournaments often adopt a Local Rule allowing for relief if the the obstruction is within two club lengths of the green, and the ball is within two club lengths of the obstruction--the "Two and Two" Rule.  In this case, the committee had decided not to adopt this, as was noted in the rules sheet each player received.  So, again, no relief!

Interesting day.  One day, four denials of relief.  Best advice:  Play Hard!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Side Saddle Putting

After a few weeks of experimentation, I have decided to convert to “side saddle,” or “face on” putting.  There are a few rules issues associated with this style that I would like to touch on.

Side saddle’s most famous practitioner was Sam Snead, who converted mid-career after a bout of the yips made conventional putting impossible for him.  

 I’ve been facing the same kind of issues lately.  The transition from my backswing to forward swing has become totally erratic.  I’d step up to a five-foot putt wondering what the next putt would be.  Snead originally settled on “croquet” style putting, until the rules outlawed straddling the line of the putt.  He countered by standing off to the side and leaning over to his right so his eyes would be over the line.  Here is Sam before and after:

There are two rules issues to take in to account here.  First is the definition of “Line of Putt”
  The line of putt is the line the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke on the putting green. Except with respect to Rule 16-1e, the line of putt includes a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line.  The line of putt does not extend beyond the hole.”

Then Rule 16-1e, “Standing Astride or on Line of Putt”
  The player must not make a stroke of the putting green from a stance astride, or with either foot touching, the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball.”

This is the rule change which forced Snead to change his style.  For practical purposes, it means that when putting side saddle, you must be careful that your foot does not touch the line of putt behind the ball.  This is important since the player needs to lean over to get his eyes directly over the ball.  Of course, you don’t want to hit your shoe with the club during the stroke, either!

Additionally, the lie of the club head, or the angle of the sole of the club to the shaft, must be at least ten degrees off vertical.  Most conventional putters have a lie angle of around 71 to 72 degrees.  The closer to vertical the lie angle, the easier it is to make a pure straight back and straight through stroke.  My putter, made by Bobby Grace, is set at an 80 degree lie angle, the maximum allowable.

There is one other part of this rule that few know about:  It is legal to stand astride the line when putting from off the green.  Standing this way, as Snead originally did, gives the player the best possible chance of aligning absolutely perfectly.  I did in fact to this twice in today’s round while putting from the fringe.

So far, the results are encouraging.  I hit every putt but one today on the line I intended.  Didn’t always read them right, but I hit them where I wanted to.  When the ban on anchoring goes in to effect at the end of this season, I would expect to see more players convert to side saddle.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

When to Not Take Relief, or Search for a Ball

This happened last week at the par five 10th hole on Poppy Hills last week during an NCGA Championship.

The player’s ball is not on the cart path, but his stance would be, so he would be entitled to relief under Rule 24-2.  His nearest point of full relief, however, would be squarely in the middle of the big bush on the other side of the ball.  A club length from that point would have left him still in the bush.  So, if he took relief, he would be in the position of having to then take relief again under Rule 28, Ball Unplayable, which of course would mean a penalty stroke.

He did the smart thing, and played the ball back to the fairway from where it lay.  He was still in position to hit the green in regulation.

A few groups later a player hit his ball well right of this spot into some deeper trouble.  He played a provisional right down the middle of the fairway.  I started searching before he arrived, but not very hard.  When he got to me, we looked for a few seconds, and he asked, “I don’t have to look for this, do I?”  The answer is of course no.  If we had found the ball, the provisional would no longer be an option, and if he was in an unplayable situation, and he couldn’t find relief within two club-lengths or on a straight line to the flagstick, he would have to go back to the tee.  Since he already had a provisional in the middle of the fairway, we discontinued the search.

This is pretty much what happened in 2001 at Torrey Pines, when Phil Mickelson and Frank Lickliter both hit their tee shots into a canyon during the playoff.  They hit provisional balls, but before they could proceed a marshal found both balls, negating the provisionals.  Mickelson famously said, "He [the spotter] was just doing his job. I just wish he didn't do it so effectively. I had just hit a perfect drive before. I didn't want to walk back and hit another one."

Incidentally, later this exact thing happened.  Again, I started searching but not very hard.  The player took a quick look, and was about to give up on his original and go play his provisional when his partner found his ball in the middle of a big bush.  He wasn’t very pleased when I informed him that he had to go back to the tee rather than play his provisional.  See Decision 27-2c/2.

P.S.  Don’t miss it right on Poppy Hills #10.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Having A Player Invoke Rule 3-3...

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here.  After reading through some of my earlier entries, I've decided that this exercise serves me, as well as the readers, better if I focus more on specific events that have some bearing on my efforts as an NCGA Tournament Official, rather than a general summary of the little things that may have happened over the course of a round.

Here’s a good one.  Last Friday I was on the course for the NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Paradise Valley in Fairfield.  It was a tough day.  Temperatures pushed up into the high 90’s, the trademark Fairfield breezes made only brief Cameos, and it was a walking only event.  The college kids did well, but you could see the older players melting down over the course of the day.

A player in one of my groups hit a drive on the 13th into a tree well, pretty close to the trunk.  The ball was close enough to the trunk that he couldn’t line up to play a shot toward the green and still have a swing.  His only option was to stand forward of the ball and punch the ball out sideways, back to the fairway, as you can see below. 

However, in taking this stance, his foot was squarely on top of what was definitely a burrowing animal hole.  He called me over, and said somewhat sheepishly, “This may seem kind of chickensh*t, but…” I had him walk me through what he intended to do, and it was clear that the hole interfered with his stance for the only shot he could reasonably hit. 

Not being entirely certain, and cognizant of the fact that the group was close to its pace of play guideline, I suggested he play two balls under Rule 3-3, let his fellow competitors know which ball he wanted to count, and I would get confer with another official and get back to him.  He did so, and I hit the radio for help.  A Rules Certified official arrived shortly.  After some discussion and a look through the Decisions book, we decided that Decision 25-1b/22, “Cast of Burrowing Animal Interferes with Sideways Stroke; When Relief Granted.”  The decision says he is entitled to relief when a sideways stroke is the only reasonable stroke, and if relief gets him to a place where he can now play directly at the green, he is entitled to do so.

There are two lessons here, one for me as an official and one for the player.  If this had happened last year, I may not have thought to suggest 3-3, and had the player wait until another official could arrive, which might have taken a bit of time.  While I was reasonably certain he was entitled to relief, there was enough doubt.   Having him play under 3-3 helped maintain the flow of play.  As we’re told time and time again, get on the radio.  I learned early on that it’s only a dumb question if you don’t ask it.

For the player, the lesson is simple.  The rules can also help you out, and they certainly did in this case.  It wasn't "chickensh*t" to ask.  The player hit the second ball onto the green and probably made an easy par.  Coincidentally, I was playing in a tournament Monday, and two of us hit our tee shots wide of a fairway, over a bunker, and into what looked like a huge flowerbed from the tee.  When we got to the area, I noticed white lines.  And there it was, a “Ground Under Repair” sign.  It could just as well have said “Get Out Of Jail Free.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

NCGA Publinks Qualifying: Knowing Your Options

--> A couple of good examples of how important it is to know your options came up recently at NCGA Publinks Qualifying at Rooster Run.  In both cases, players chose options that not every player is aware of.

Two tournament officials helped in a ball search about thirty yards right of the third fairway.  We eventually found the ball near a split rail fence.  The ball was about two feet on the green side of the fence, an obstruction (Rule 24-2) which interfered with the player’s swing, and about 140 yards from the green.  Since the fence line ran fairly close to perpendicular to the player’s line to the flagstick, it appeared that his nearest point of full relief was going to be behind the fence.  Since the ground in that area was thick and weedy, the player deduced that he could take full relief on the green side of the fence, IF he removed the top rail of the fence, which was easily done.  (So the fence was both a movable and immovable obstruction!) We determined that it was indeed a nearer point of relief than straight back.  He played the shot toward the green, replaced the top rail, and went on his way.

Up near the green another player had plugged his approach shot in the virtually vertical face of the bunker.  He had no stance, no shot.  We’ve all seen a player take two or more swings at a ball in a position like this without improving his position.  He asked if he could take an unplayable lie (Rule 28), and what his options were.  He chose to drop two club-lengths from where the ball lay, in a level lie in the bottom of the bunker.  His other options would have been to drop on a line from the flagstick to the ball straight back, staying in the bunker (virtually identical to the option he took), or take a stroke and distance penalty.  

For another good example of a player using his options to great advantage, read Ryan Farb's write up from The Goodwin--  The Power Line Ruling