Case presented by Jerry Pentin:
In a High School match last year, during the NCS championships, one of our young lady competitors asked her opponent to 'tend the flag'. The opponent agreed. Our golfer hit her putt but the opponent failed to pull the flag. Our golfer was accessed a two stroke penalty. Ultimately this penalty, when added to our team score, pushed us from third to fourth and the team missed out on a chance to advance to the NorCal championships. So my question is, (I do know the USGA rules on this now...) how can you be penalized when you have a oral agreement with the opponent to 'tend the flag.' Once agreed you have no defense to being penalized. Proving intent on the opponent's action is fairly unreasonable. Seems to me being penalized for an opponent's lack of sportsmanship is really unfair.
I cant agree with you more. For a player to receive a penalty because of a lack of sportsmanship is really unfair. One of the factors a rules official will use in determining a ruling is the intent of the player. In this case, if the player purposely left the flagstick in the hole, I dont think they will admit doing it on purpose. They have no morals so I am sure they will keep on lying. I would ask the player two questions to try to prove her intent:
1. Were you paying attention, did you see the putt heading for the hole?
2. Did the flagstick get stuck in the hole?
If they were not paying attention, or the flagstick got stuck, it is still a penalty on the player putting. Decision 17-3/2 covers this exact situation. If I could somehow prove the player attending the flagstick did not remove it on purpose, I could DQ the player for a serious breach of Rule 1-2. But you are absolutely correct, proving intent is fairly unreasonable in certain situations. Sorry your team had to lose out because of someone purposely breaking the rules.
Bonus question from Robert
Suzann Pettersen is the latest victim of TV. She was penalized two strokes when her ball was deemed to have moved before playing a shot in the second round of the LPGA event. She didnt see it move. Her caddie didnt see it move. Even a rules official standing there didnt see it move. Yet you could see it move slightly on TV. Whats your take on this? Should TV affect/enforce the rules?
Something like this happens every couple months to get everyone in a tizzy. First it was Craig Stadler kneeling on the towel; last year it was Michelle Wie dropping closer to the hole; and this past week it was Suzann Pettersens ball moving. The good thing for Suzann was the broadcasters could see it right away. The ball clearly moved. The officials had an opportunity to review the incident with her before she signed an incorrect scorecard. She received a two-stroke penalty rather than getting disqualified like Stadler and Wie. Having millions of people watching the broadcasts is basically golfs version of the instant replay. The only problem is not every shot is broadcasted and that is unfair to leaders who have every shot aired.
But the real problem is, if the three people standing right there did not see the ball move why should the players get penalized because of someone calling in a penalty. The easy answer is found under the definition of referee. The book states, a referee is one who is appointed by the Committee to accompany players to decide questions of fact and apply the Rules. He must act on any breach of a Rule that he observes or is reported to him. The key words in the definition are must act and is reported to him. The rule book does not state who is reporting the infraction. So when they hear about or see an infraction they must act on it.
It might not be the best system, but they are abiding by the rule book. Is a rules infraction going to be televised during your Club Championship, probably not. But what is the difference between seeing it on TV and applying the penalty or having three fellow competitors describing the incident and applying the penalty. At least the infraction on TV is on tape.
Email your on-course rules dispute to Rules Judge Ray