Elite players play by different set of conditions

Bifurcation. I have to admit that I had never heard the word before hearing United States Golf Association executive director Mike Davis’announcement about the possibility of banning anchoring. The meaning is having two sets of rules—one for the game’s elite and one for the recreational players.

However, such conditions are already in place if you take a look at a section entitled “Conditions of the Competition” in the “Rules of Golf.”

While the USGA likes to make a case that these conditions for competitions involving expert players aren’t actually rules, I have to agree with former USGA executive director David Fay when he wrote in Golf Digest that these conditions “read, penalize and sound (quack?) like rules.”

All the leading professional tours and the top amateur tournaments have used the one-ball rule, I mean condition, for more than 25 years. It requires the player to use the exact same brand and type of ball throughout the round. If you tee off on the first hole with a Titleist Pro V1, then that’s what you must play throughout the round. Of course, the number can change. You may not switch to any other brand of ball, nor even to another type of Titleist ball. The penalty is disqualification.

I remember how certain touring professionals, including Rocky Thompson, would switch from softer-feeling balls to harder balls with less spin on certain holes, chiefly longer par 3s, because the extra distance allowed them to use 4-irons instead of 4-woods. This didn’t set well with the PGA Tour, which led a campaign to stop the ball-switching tactics. The USGA and R&A agreed with the PGA Tour, but didn’t want to burden all golfers with any such limitations as part of the actual rules and went with it as an option for elite events.

I can recall how I had to make a ruling in a PGA Tour first stage qualifying event at the Thorntree Country Club in DeSoto, TX back in the mid 1980s. It seemed one player had switched to a different color of ball, one he had found a few holes earlier, and one of his fellow competitors thought that was a rules violation. I discovered the golfer—it’s hard to call him a pro–was lucky because the model and brand of the color ball was the same. One hole later after hitting it into a water hazard, the player was out of balls of the same model and came off the course. At the time, he was in double digits over par and probably shouldn’t have even been playing except for the fact he had paid the $1,000+ entry fee. Instead of WD or DQ on the scoreboard, I wrote in “ROB” for running out balls.

My cousin Eldon Tarver, who recently attended a rules seminar, informed me that the USGA has clarified the situation about color, saying a manufacturer must have all colors of the same brand of ball on the list of conforming golf balls or it would be a violation of the one-ball condition.

Unlike a golf club, a player may borrow a conforming ball from another player in his group.

In an interesting decision, if a player happened to play a provisional ball with the wrong type of ball and then did not continue using it after finding the original, he would not have been deemed to violate the condition since that ball was never the one actually in play.

As the tournament director, I saw no reason to include the one-ball condition of play for the recent ezLocator DFW Tournament of Champions that featured champions from the clubs and courses in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

It’s not one of the rules for the senior group that I play with either. While the rules do say that a player must complete the play of the hole with the same ball, unless he is substituting another one because it is unfit for play of if lost, OB or in a hazard, we even bend that rule as a few of my seniors have been known to switch to an older one they have just found when faced with a shot over water. Another senior likes to use a lucky ball on the green. We also bend other rules for the seniors, allowing them to carry more than 14 clubs, treating balls OB and lost balls like lateral hazards and allowing gimmies” for putts inside the grip and the end of the putter. Such practices enable us to try to play at a faster pace, although a few still seem to take longer than they should.

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