Former USGA rules official explains Woods ruling

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 17, 2013, 8:04 pm

(Editor's note: Kendra Graham, former USGA director of women's competitions, explains the ruling on Tiger Woods' illegal drop, and subsequent two-stroke penalty, Friday at the Masters.)

During the second round on Friday April 12, Tiger Woods hit his third shot onto the green at the par-5 15th hole. It struck the flagstick and bounced back into the pond in front of the green. This pond is defined as a water hazard with yellow painted lines. In this instance, the player had three options.

Rule 26-1 - The player may under penalty of one stroke

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped; or

A Dropping Zone (or Ball Drop) was also established by the Committee and was located short left of the pond. Appendix I to the Rules of Golf suggests establishing special areas on which balls may or must be dropped when it is not feasible or practicable to proceed exactly in conformity with Rule 26-1 (Water Hazards and Lateral Water Hazards). The Committee recognized that with certain hole locations on the 15th hole, dropping a ball in accordance with Rule 26-1b may not be possible, therefore, a Ball Drop is necessary. It is an underlying principle to the Rules of Golf that the player should not be limited to just the stroke-and-distance option when proceeding under Rule 26-1.

The reference point the player would have used in proceeding under Rule 26-1b would have been the point where the ball last crossed the water hazard, which in this case, would have been where it rolled into the pond after having struck the flagstick.

As was evidenced at the time, Tiger walked down to the pond and surveyed the Ball Drop and possibly where he might have dropped a ball in accordance with Rule 26-1b. He then returned to the area from which he had last played.

Rule 20-2b – Dropping and Re-Dropping; Where to Drop

When a ball is to be dropped as near as possible to a specific spot, it must be dropped not nearer the hole than the specific spot which, if it is not precisely known to the player, must be estimated.

In this instance, the specific spot was known since there was a divot from the previous stroke. (In many cases, there will not be a divot or other indicator as to the specific spot, underscoring the need for the language “as nearly as possible.”) Tiger dropped the ball and played it, scoring bogey 6 on the hole. Prior to completion of his round, the Committee received a phone call from a television viewer who believed Tiger may have played from a wrong place.

Rule 20-7, Playing from Wrong Place

c. Stroke Play – If a player makes a stroke from a wrong place, he incurs a penalty of two strokes under the applicable Rule. He must play out the hole with the ball played from the wrong place, without correcting his error, provided he has not committed a serious breach (see Note 1).

Note 1: A competitor is deemed to have committed a serious breach of the applicable Rule if the Committee considers he has gained a significant advantage as a result of playing from a wrong place.

In this case, the applicable Rule is 26 (the general penalty is listed at the end of the Rule). There is a penalty regardless of whether the player plays from a wrong place on purpose or by accident, knowingly or unknowingly. Intent has nothing to do with the outcome. A common breach of this Rule occurs when a competitor moves his ball-marker on the putting green because it interferes with his fellow-competitor’s play. If he forgets to move it back and plays from a wrong place, he incurs a two-stroke penalty under the applicable Rule (in that scenario, Rule 20-3a). Also important is the second part of Rule 20-7c. The error is NOT CORRECTED unless a SERIOUS BREACH has occurred, which to some players is counterintuitive. Suffice it to say that the additional two strokes take care of any small or insignificant advantage that may have been gained. The Rule goes on to explain what a player should do if he believes a serious breach has occurred. (Note 1 gives guidance regarding a serious breach.)

Tiger Woods

Prior to Tiger finishing his round and signing his scorecard, the Committee looked at the footage and consulted with officials who were on the hole while the drop occurred. They determined that the ball had been dropped “near enough” to where he had last played, and in their eyes there was no breach of Rule 20-7. They chose neither to discuss the incident with Tiger nor to keep him from signing his scorecard. But during his post-round huddle with the media, when asked about his fifth shot on the 15th hole, Tiger shared the following:

“Well, I went down to the drop area, that wasn't going to be a good spot, because obviously it's into the grain, it's really grainy there. And it was a little bit wet. So it was muddy and not a good spot to drop. So I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back and I took, tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit. And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back. I felt that that was going to be the right decision to take off four right there. And I did. It worked out perfectly.”

When this information was brought to the Committee’s attention late Friday night, it changed their opinion about him dropping the ball “near enough” and their decision not to penalize him. This statement indicated that Tiger had not attempted to drop the ball “as nearly as possible” to the spot where he had last played. He stated he had purposely dropped the ball 2 yards behind that point, which ultimately meant he had played from a wrong place. Although Tiger did say he intended to drop his ball 2 yards behind the previous spot, it is important to note that this statement does not mean that the player intended to drop the ball in a wrong place and play it from there or to intentionally break a Rule. It merely clarified that he had not abided by Rule 26-1a by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.

The Committee asked Tiger to meet with them Saturday, and after Tiger confirmed his statements from the previous day, the Committee concluded that he had played from a wrong place and that he must incur a penalty of two strokes. However, Rule 6-6d (Wrong Score for Hole) explains the competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified.

In many similar circumstances, a player would have been disqualified for a breach of Rule 6-6d. A player is not absolved from penalty under this Rule for failure to include a penalty that he did not know he had incurred. However, in this case, the Committee believed that they had done the player an injustice by not discussing the possible infraction of Rule 20-7 with him before he signed his scorecard and thus used Rule 33-7 to correct the situation.

Rule 33-7, Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion

A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.

Any penalty less than disqualification must not be waived or modified.

If the Committee had had Saturday’s conversation with Tiger on Friday before he signed his scorecard with Tiger providing the same information, he would have received a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place (ultimately, the net result ended up being the same). It is important to keep in mind that the reason the Committee used their discretion and invoked Rule 33-7 was because they considered his infraction before he signed his scorecard and incorrectly determined it a non-event. The outcome would have been different had they not learned of his possible breach until after he had signed his scorecard. Had that been the case, Tiger would have been disqualified for a breach of Rule 6-6d and the Committee would not have used Rule 33-7.

Rule 33-7 is not new; it has been in the book, according to my research, since 1952. Rule 33 (The Committee) outlines all of the responsibilities of the Committee in charge of a competition and is one of the longest Rules in the book. Its counterpart is Rule 6 (The Player), which highlights all of the player’s responsibilities. There is a relatively new Decision 33-7/4.5 (went into effect in 2011 and was revised in 2012), which often was mentioned in connection with this ruling. It really had very little, if any, bearing on the decision made by this Committee. The wording of Rule 33-7 is quite broad and lets the Committee use their discretion in waiving, modifying or imposing a penalty of disqualification. (They do not have that right in regard to waiving or modifying a lesser penalty, e.g., one stroke, two strokes, loss of hole.)

Decisions are written to help interpret and further clarify the Rules of Golf. Decision 33-7/4.5 was written to give guidance to Committees on when to use Rule 33-7. It gives many different examples as to when the Committee would be justified in waiving a penalty of DQ and when the Committee would not be justified.

In this case, the Committee felt justified in using Rule 33-7 to waive the penalty of disqualification because they knew of the player’s possible breach before he signed his scorecard. They do not have to “fit” their reason into one of the scenarios listed in Decision 33-7/4.5. The most recognizable example in this new decision relates to a situation involving a player and HD television. The decision explains that the use of Rule 33-7 by the Committee in absolving a player of a DQ penalty involving a breach of a Rule that was only detectable by HD television would be justified.

The decision is not all encompassing. It is there to provide insight, but ultimately, the Committee makes the final decision.

In conclusion, it is important to keep in mind the words found in Rule 34-3, Committee’s Decision. In the absence of a referee, any dispute or doubtful point on the Rules must be referred to the Committee, whose decision is final.

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.