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Rules of Golf

Jordan Spieth treads on the ball


This content is strictly copyright to Barry Rhodes © 2015 and may not be copied without permission.


OK, here are two questions for you Rules enthusiasts.

1. Does a player incur a penalty for accidentally treading on their ball in play that is lying in a water hazard, but not in water?
2. If the player chooses to take relief from the hazard under Rule 26-1, do they incur a second penalty stroke?

If you have answered, “Yes” to both of these questions then you know more about this Rules situation than the current world No. 1, correction No.2 golfer, Jordan Spieth.

This is what happened to Jordan at The Barclays, Edison, New Jersey, on Friday. After he played his second shot at the par-5 12th hole into a water hazard, he was searching for his ball in the long weeds, when he accidentally stepped on it. He took a penalty drop away from the hazard and made what he thought was 6 for a bogey. But on the next hole, a PGA Tour rules official approached him about the incident. Apparently, Jordan was not aware that he had incurred a penalty for causing his ball to move when he stepped on it, as he is reported by Golf Channel to have offered this rather confusing explanation;

“My intentions were if I see it, I'm going to play it, and if I don't see it, I'm going to take my drop and play it as a water hazard.”
“Because my intention was possibly to still play it, it's a penalty and that was made clear, no matter what I declared to (caddie Michael Greller) ahead of time. I just wanted to be certain about it.”

To clarify the main points of this ruling, when a player treads on a ball it moves, because it is pressed into the ground. Decision 18-1;

Q. A ball lying in long grass slips vertically downwards. Or a ball is accidentally stepped on and pressed down, say a quarter of an inch, in the grass or into the ground. In each case, has the ball moved?

A. Yes, unless the ball returns to its original position. The direction of movement is immaterial.

The penalty is incurred as soon as the ball is moved. Rule 12-1c states;

If a ball is believed to be lying in water in a water hazard, the player may, without penalty, probe for it with a club or otherwise. If the ball in water is accidentally moved while probing, there is no penalty; the ball must be replaced, unless the player elects to proceed under Rule 26-1. If the moved ball was not lying in water or the ball was accidentally moved by the player other than while probing, Rule 18-2a applies.

Following the completion of his round, Jordan spoke at length (why, what was there to be discussed?) with PGA Tour rules officials, who informed him the Rules did require him to include the penalty of one stroke for the infraction of stepping on his ball.

I can only think of three possible explanations for this incident;
a) Jordan did not know that by treading on his ball in play he had incurred a penalty, which is why he did not immediately inform his marker of the fact, as is required by Rule 9-3;

A competitor who has incurred a penalty should inform his marker as soon as practicable.

b) Jordan did not know that he had stepped on his ball !!!
c) Jordan realised that stepping on his ball did incur a penalty but chose to carry on by dropping a ball outside of the hazard without saying anything to his fellow competitors (in my opinion, this explanation is extremely unlikely).

So, I conclude that we have yet another example of the lack of knowledge that many professional golfers have about their job of work.

One last point for me to clarify is that when a player chooses to take a penalty stroke relief from the water hazard after causing their ball to move, they do not have to replace the ball before doing so, as is usually the case with a breach of Rule 18-2a.