Watching a replay of “Big Break Dominican Republic” recently on The Golf Channel, it appeared to me that the rules official might have made a mistake, but even if wrong, that’s the decision the players had to live with.
In question was whether Brian tested the surface of a putting green in a match with Sara. It sure appeared that way as he brushed the grass as he was in the process of reading the line for a putt. Sara quickly called this to the attention of everyone. Rule 16-1d says, “During the stipulated round, a player must not test the surface of any putting green by rolling a ball or roughing or scraping the surface.”
Brian’s actions were indeed suspicious since that’s a good way to determine the direction of the grain on Bermuda greens like the ones at the Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo, but the rules official took his word that his intent was not to test the surface, basing it on a decision that allows a player to clean his ball by rubbing it on the green.
I’m not sure I would have reacted the same way if I had been the rules official. It sure appeared to my eyes that he scraped the surface. You should never put your hand on the green in that manner. The USGA recommends that a ball be cleaned in other ways to eliminate any question of a player’s intentions. Most of the time questions like this are resolved against the player.
The decisions on the rules makes it clear on Rule 16-1d by going as far and saying that even such action by a player’s caddie would result in a penalty even if he did not share that information.
Putting the palm of your hand on a putting green behind the ball to determine if it is wet, however, doesn’t infringe the rule. I think the USGA and R&A might want to consider changing this in the future since the intent seems to be testing the surface.
Rolling a ball is also covered, but a decision does say that rolling a ball or knocking a ball back to your opponent does not infringe the rule. I was challenged on this when playing with Dave Pelz in my member-guest many years ago, but professional Dale Humphrey was up on the rules and indicated that such a casual act was OK as long as my intentions were not to test the surface. I didn’t take any chances and just let my opponents pick up conceded putts the rest of the way as Pelz and I emerged as champions.
Rule 16-1a does not allow a player to touch the line of his putt, but permits certain exceptions. He can do so in removing loose impediments, even with the palm of his hand or with a cap or towel. Accidentally walking on it and not improving the line is allowed. Other exceptions include: placing the putter in front of the ball when addressing it as long he does not press anything down, in measuring, in lifting or replacing the ball, in repairing hole plugs or ball marks and in removing movable obstructions. Removing dew or frost doesn’t fall into the exceptions; neither does brushing aside or moping up casual water with a towel.
Let’s review other parts of Rule 16:
1b allows a ball to be lifted and, if desired, cleaned. The position of the ball must be marked before it is lifted, and the ball must be replaced.
1c allows a player to repair an old hole plug or damage to the green caused by the impact of a ball, whether or not the player’s ball lies on the putting green.
1e does not allow a player to make a stroke by standing astride or with either foot touching the line of putt or an extension of that line behind the ball. An exception was added in 2010 that called for no penalty if the stance is inadvertently taken on or astride the line of putt or the extension to avoid standing on another player’s line of putt.
1f does not allow a player to make a stroke while another ball from on the green is in motion unless it was his turn to play—he was farther from the hole.
For a ball overhanging the hole in Rule 16-2, a player is allowed enough time to reach the hole without unreasonable delay and an additional 10 seconds to determine whether the ball is at rest. If the ball falls into the hole after that, the player adds another stroke to his score.