Unique Rulings in Golf
Recently, in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Steward Cink was disqualified for testing a bunker prior to hitting a shot from a bunker, and failing to add the two-stroke penalty to his scorecard. What made this ruling unique is that Cink not only didn’t know initially he violated a Rule, but that the bunker he “tested” was a completely different bunker than the one from which he hit his next shot!
His ball was just outside a fairway bunker, but in order to hit the shot, he had to stand in the bunker. He then proceeded to hit the ball into a greenside bunker. Cink’s caddie then raked the fairway bunker. Such a procedure was deemed a violation of Rule 13-4, which states in part that “Except as provided in the Rules, before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard (whether a bunker or a water hazard) or that, having been lifted from a hazard, may be dropped or placed in the hazard, the player must not: a. Test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard.” Since there was no provision in the Rules to allow Cink or his caddie to rake the bunker in that instance, a violation was called.
Had Cink’s ball been in the fairway bunker, there would have been no penalty, as the Rules allow the player or his caddie to smooth the bunker after hitting a shot from it, regardless of where the ball winds up. Fortunately, the USGA issued a clarification after this incident, so what happened to Cink is no longer a penalty. Unfortunately, this clarification came too late to help Cink.
Another unique ruling occurred several years ago in regards to Duffy Waldorf during a tour event. While waiting to hit his shot from the fairway, he noticed a kicked-up divot several feet in front of him at about a 45° angle from his intended line of play. Waldorf tamped down the divot, which was deemed a violation of Rule 13-2. That Rule prohibits improving the intended line of play. While it may be argued that the intended line of play for a tour professional doesn’t include something 45° away, the line of play is also defined as a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line. What that means is that in this case, some subjective judgment had to be utilized to determine if the divot Waldorf repaired was on his line of play.
Two rulings from the European Tour involve similar circumstances to each other. Years ago, Seve Ballesteros discovered a ball he had hit from the rough was out of bounds. Under the Rules, he is of course obligated to drop a ball as near as possible to the spot from which the ball was last struck. Ballesteros went back, picked a spot that, on videotape, was clearly at least 10 yards ahead of the actual spot. He finished play of the hole and the round.
Ballesteros, surprisingly, was not disqualified or penalized further. The officials ruled that Ballesteros acted in good faith and that he utilized his best judgment to remember the spot.
A couple of years ago, Colin Montgomerie was awkwardly struggling to take his stance in a bunker while his ball was outside the bunker on a steep hill, when the horn sounded, signaling a delay in play. Montie
marked his ball, picked it up, and went in. When play was resumed the next day, he noticed his mark was gone. He placed his ball somewhat farther up the hill and no longer had the awkward stance. The officials once again ruled in the player’s favor, saying Montgomerie acted in good faith.
The interesting thing about the rulings given to Ballesteros and Montgomerie is that their actions clearly violated the letter of the Rules, and yet the officials refused to penalize them. One thing that seems to differentiate the officials from the US and European Tours is that US officials likely would not have let either Ballesteros or Montgomerie off the hook. European officials seem more lenient when it comes to certain matters of the Rules.
In any event, the most interesting rulings involve subjective judgment from the officials. While the Rules are written primarily to take the player’s actions into account, they also take intent into account in some instances, and some rulings require an official to make a judgment call. We normally think of the Rules of Golf as being in black and white, but as we’ve seen with the above examples, this is not always the case.