I’ve had an interesting time as a TO lately, working two very different events in a six day span. Yogi’s words; “You can observe a lot just by watching” ring absolutely true…
And one thing I’ve learned “just by watching” is how often golfers are their own worst enemies when dealing with the rules. Last Thursday I worked an NCGA Net Amateur Qualifier at Paradise Valley in Fairfield. The players’ handicaps ranged from five to twenty-seven, with certainly widely varying degrees of tournament experience and familiarity with the rules.
The oddest question of the day came on the second hole. A player had hit his ball into the lateral hazard on the right side of the fairway, a common occurrence as players tried to stay away from the big oak in the center of the fairway. After guiding him through the proper drop procedure, he hit his next shot over a bunker right of the green and into another lateral hazard. I told him to wave me over if he needed any help.
Sure enough, a minute later he called for me. He showed me the position of the ball, under a shrub and in a nest of twigs. He asked if he could move the bush with his leg and remove the twigs. My answer: “Neither of those.” What I wanted to say: “Depends on how many more penalty strokes you want.” (Those would be two separate violations, total four penalty strokes.)
Back to my point: I spent the latter half of the day on the eighteenth hole, a dogleg right with a big pond on the inside corner. That pond got a lot of business. One group had two players hit into the hazard, about fifteen yards apart. I showed the first player where he had crossed in, and explained his options under Rule 26-1. One would be to drop within two club-lengths of that point. That would put him on a downhill-sidehill slope, a tough shot considering he would still have the pond to negotiate. Or, he could drop straight back as far as he wanted in line with the flagstick. Under this option, he could have played from a flat lie, though twenty yards farther back. He decided he didn’t want to give up the yardage.
What happened next was pretty predictable. He chunked two more balls into the pond before finally clearing it with his seventh stroke. The next player took the second option, dropped on a flat lie, and put his ball on the green from there, giving him a chance at par, probably no worse than a bogey.
Fast-forward to Monday, the St Mary’s Invitational college tournament at Bayonet/ Black Horse in Seaside. Sixteen Division 1 college teams—you could hardly have a more different field than my previous event. Two things occur at Bayonet that you don’t often see. First, over the two rounds there, I had five players lose balls in the canopy of cypress trees. Since the balls were stuck up in the tree and couldn’t be identified, the ruling is lost ball, followed by that awkward cart ride back to the tee to re-hit. Most of the players took it in stride, saying something like “That’s golf, stuff happens.” One player had it happen twice, which is unbelievably unlucky.
Second, the driving range is considered through the green, in play. The first and second holes border the range on the left side. Many shots were played from ten, twenty, even thirty yards into the range. I don’t remember ever playing a course where the range is in bounds.
But, again, let’s get back to my thesis. I was stationed on the tenth hole at Black Horse for the second round. There is a fairway bunker on the right, and beyond that, farther right, is a hard sandy area with patches of weeds. One of the coaches came by and when I asked him how things were going, he said it would be a lot better if his players had a better sense of when to take their medicine, instead of trying heroic shots from trouble. Almost as if on cue, a few groups later one of his players went over the bunker and into the weeds. Here’s a picture of his lie from directly behind, aimed toward the green.
I stood off to the side while coach and player discussed it. He was about 120 yards from the green. The player was convinced he could chop it out. Coach told him that because of the weeds, there was a very good chance he might not hit the ball at all, or chop it into a worse position. There was nothing but more weeds, then bunkers between him and the green. Then, unbelievably, the player asked if he could pull out some of the weeds! (I know these weeds. Our yard was covered with them when we moved in. They’re very shallow rooted, but are tough, wiry things. I wouldn't want to try to swing a club through them.) Coach looked at him in shock, then looked at me and shrugged. It took about five minutes, but he finally talked the player into taking an unplayable lie and dropping back about fifteen yards to a perfectly clean lie. From there, he put it on the green and narrowly missed his par putt. Had he played it as it lay, double or even triple were distinct possibilities.
Coach came back a bit later and said he wished he’d taken a picture of the lie. It just so happened I had, and I sent it to him. He said it would be exhibit A in that night’s team meeting.
The point of all this? The Rules of Golf can help you. Know your options, and use them. Sometimes giving up a few yards is the smart play. I’ve become more acutely aware of how to manage my game when I get into these kinds of situations by what I’ve seen over my almost two seasons as a Tournament Official.
In the mean time, I’ll keep on both observing AND watching!