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Pigamingi: Revised golf leave seasoned pros and referees at sea

GOLF By Mike The Pro Kibunja | April 7th 2020
When a ball moves on its own, a constitutional crisis of sorts ensues.

Something surprising happened during the last financial crisis: University and College enrollments went up.

With plenty of time and not much to do, some folks figured it would be worthwhile improving their body of knowledge in preparation for the market’s recovery.

Most golfers are in a similar position today. Instead of moaning about Covid, I suggest devoting time to do something that you already love: golf. Only that you will not be playing it, at least not during curfew hours.

You will be improving on an area I know most of our golfers fair badly in; knowledge of golf rules. The rule book, decisions book, seminars, magazine articles and videos on the new rules are all available online. You have all the time for that.

In addition of a golfer being required to know the rules of the game, in order to avoid penalties and also take advantage of the relief the rules give in certain situations, we have a shortage of golf referees in the country. I could be wrong, but we probably have only one or two Certified Level 2 golf Referees and none at Level 3.

For a country that now boasts two European Tour events that is not encouraging. Here is a quick test from a real situation that could happen to you.

At the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open held in at Torrey Pines, South California, Tiger Woods had a simple three-footer to make birdie.

As he addressed his putt on the green, he noticed his ball move ever so slightly, so he stopped setting up. What would you have done next?

A) Go ahead and putt the ball as it lies. B) Replace the ball to its original position, under penalty of one stroke, C) Replace the ball to its original position, under no penalty, D) Scream out for a referee and hold up the entire course.

The correct answer is, it depends. The player is first supposed to determine whether the ball moved by accident or because of his actions

On the putting green, there is no penalty if the ball or ball-marker is accidentally moved by the player, his partner, his opponent, or any of their caddies or equipment. But the ball or ball-marker moved in such circumstances must be replaced to its original position.

What if none of them caused the movement, as would happen due to wind or gravity? Here is the surprise: his next cause of action depends on history.

According to new rule 13.1d, if the ball had previously been lifted and replaced to its original spot before it moved, as players routinely do when marking the position of the ball on the green before cleaning, the ball must always be replaced to its original spot, regardless of what caused it to move later.

On the other hand, if the ball had not been lifted and replaced before it moved, the ball must be played from its new spot.  Yes, even if the ball had dropped into the hole, the movement is considered an after-effect of the previous shot.

Another bizarre incident happened at the 2019 Masters. Zack Johnson, a former Masters winner, was taking a practice swing on the 13th tee when his driver accidentally struck the ball, sending it zooming into the fairway.

Your antagonist would most likely insist that was a stroke. He would be wrong. Zack was allowed to tee up again, under no penalty. Reason: the first ball had not been in play when accidentally struck.

Fast forward to the 2019 Women in Tech Championship. On the 16th Hole, Cheyenne Knight was taking a practice swing for her second shot when she accidentally dug out a divot behind the ball.

The chunk of tuff flew and hit her ball, moving it five inches forward. Ruling: One stroke penalty, and she had to replace the ball to its original position. Reason? the ball on the fairway was already in play when accidentally hit.

But the most bizarre incidents happened when the Rules officials gave totally opposite rulings due to different interpretations of the new golf Rule 10.2b (4) that bars golfers from getting assistance when lining up for a shot, except, hear this, when putting.

It was enacted to counter the notorious habit on the Ladies Tours where some golfers, notably from the Asian Tours, appeared to have developed an inordinate over-reliance on their caddies when lining up for a shot.

The new rule prohibits a player from having his or her caddy deliberately stand behind him or close to an extension of the line of play when the player begins taking a stance, and until the stroke is made. Note the word close.

According to the ruling bodies, the ability to line up is a fundamental skill that a golfer should have and one that the governing bodies wanted golfers to acquire, hence the new rule.

Tiger Woods: What happened when he addressed his putt on the green and noticed his ball move ever slightly and stopped setting up?

That seems to make sense. However, why the same argument is not extended to caddies assisting in reading the line of the putt, punches holes in the argument. A true golfer should be able to read his putt.

Interestingly, the rule allowed a golfer to cancel the violation and reset the setting up, by moving away from the ball and setting up again. But this only applied when on the green.

But the big question still remained: how close to the line was close?

Under this rule, defending champion, Haotong Li, was slapped with a two-shot penalty at the Dubai Desert Classic, when officials ruled that his caddy was near his line of play as he began to take his stance over a short birdie putt on the 18th hole.

The violation hurt: he dropped from a tie for third to joint 12th, costing him $100,000 in prize money. PGA Tour players went ballistic across the oceans.

A review of the video clearly showed the caddy walking away. So how close was close? The R&A stuck to their guns with the ruling that he was in violation. Talk of stuck up Blue Jackets!

Later in the week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, PGA professional Denny McCarthy caddy was caught by the camera as he inadvertently stood behind McCarthy who was taking a practice putt on the par-5 15th green.

McCarthy was docked two shots.  Justin Thomas and his caddie faced a similar penalty during the same round. Once again PGA players rose up in arms against the rule calling it unfair, senseless and as serving no purpose.

 It even got farcical as Rickie Fowler's caddy, Joe Skovron was seen scramming off fast like an ostrich in a bushfire, from a similar situation. 

The uproar seems to have worked: the USGA, the R&A, and the PGA Tour took the unusual step of reversing McCarthy’s two-stroke penalty the next day.

They even went a step further and revised the rule, which now reads; “the player's caddy must not deliberately stand in a location on or close to the player's line of play behind the ball for any reason”. Note the word “deliberately”.

They also issued two clarifications that cancellation of the set up by backing away from a stance was applicable anywhere on the course, not just on the green.

I do not think this rule revision is adequate if at all the intention is to force players to align themselves. Cancelling the violation after getting help from caddy to align, should simply not be allowed.

 Doing so allows a golfer to get help when lining up, memorize the alignment, note where she is stepping, then step back to cancel the penalty, then re-enact the stance by planting his feet back to the memorized positions without the help of the Caddy.

This rule reinforces the revised rule on using equipment for lining up. While in the past a player could lay a club at his feet pointing down the target line (except on the green), then set up for the actual stroke as long as he removed it before taking the shot, this is now banned and will cost two strokes.

More recently, Jasper Parnevik, the Swede who has previously found himself on the business end of a weird rules incident, notched up another one during the final round of the 2019 PGA Tour Champions’ SAS Championship at Prestonwood Golf Club in North Carolina last year.

Parnevik was tapping in a short bogey putt when the ball lipped out, made a U-Turn and struck his shoe. He then nonchalantly tapped the ball into the cup, as most of us would probably do, earning himself a two-stroke penalty.

According to Golf Rule  11.1.b, Exception 2, when a ball played from a putting green accidentally hits any person, animal or movable obstruction (including another ball in motion) on putting green, the stroke does not count. The ball must be replaced on its original spot under no penalty.

Note that, per the rules, the original putt didn’t count — but the second one did, plus a two-shot penalty.  Seriously, this is a rule that needs to be changed. There’s no reason whatsoever that a player misses making the putt, the ball then touches his shoe, and that gives him a chance for a do-over under no penalty.  

It sure does look like we have unearthed the devil’s new lair: the Exceptions sections of the Rules of Golf. Take heed, you have been warned.

Postscript: As this article was being posted, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe closed all golf clubs.  Covid-19 is real!

Lipouts: As you sip your beer or wine at home this evening, mourning your missed round of golf, please remember your faithful Caddy. With no other source of income, workers in the informal sector are literally going hungry. Kindly Mpesa him or her something to feed the family. The going rate is half what you would normally pay them that week. And please keep it going every week until this Covid-19 issue gets sorted out. The same kindness will be appreciated by your driver and  Mama Nguo.
Hats off to the landlord in Turkana who waived his hard-up tenant’s rent this month! Na wewe je? Charity begins at home, my old teacher Sam Mvungu taught us, way back in Primary School. Enjoy your golf, keep it in the short grass. 

[email protected], @pigamingi1


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