Ah, the Rules of Golf. Theoretically, a body of law dedicated to ensuring players don’t unfairly advantage themselves and play in keeping with the spirit of the game.
In reality, however, the enforcement of the rules often looks like nitpicky microfocus on behaviors that don’t advantage a player in any real way. Consider Lexi Thompson’s ball-marking at the ANA Inspiration…
Or, consider what happened at the Masters. You didn’t hear? While everyone seems to be doing their best to sweep this infraction under the pine needles, Sergio Garcia was guilty of a rules violation at the 13th hole during the final round of the Masters…or so say plenty of golf fans.
Here’s what happened. Garcia pulled his drive left on the par-5 13th hole. His ball wound up amid the shrubbery, and the Spaniard had to take a drop. He did so, within the requisite two club lengths, dropping his ball on a bed of pine straw. Well done to this point.
Of course, once the ball is dropped, it’s in play. Garcia is free to remove loose impediments around it, but he can’t move the ball itself or improve his lie in any way.
Check out the video below and ask yourself the question: Does the ball move in any way?
— Dave (@MooseWithFleas) April 9, 2017
As the video posted by the excellently named MooseWithFleas shows, the ball appears to move. Just watch the numbers. Now there’s some debate about whether the ball itself stayed stationary and the underlying pine straw simply settled, but it seems clear there’s some movement.
And per rule 18-2, if Garcia did cause the ball to move, he’s assessed a one-stroke penalty. He would then have to return the ball to its original position. Failing to to do would earn him an additional two-stroke penalty.
The Competition Committee at Augusta National, who are the ultimate arbiters of all rulings during the Masters, didn’t see enough in the video to assess a penalty, however. So he received the penalty from the drop but not from the movement of the ball after the drop…fortunately for Garcia. And probably fortunate too for the parties who called in the infraction, lest an all-out cyber investigation would be launched in an effort to bring the vigilantes to a different kind of justice.
The USGA and R&A are combining efforts to make new rules for the game, which will go into effect in 2018. It seems though, that even with these changes, something different needs to happen when it comes to professional televised tournaments.
Garcia, of course, went on to save par at the 13th after his drop en route to topping Justin Rose in a sudden-death playoff for his major championship. If the officials had ruled him another penalty, like they had with Dustin Johnson or Lexi Thompson, there may have been a completely different outcome.