Dutch pro learns red line in hazard

Joost Luiten, the 25-year-old professional from the Netherlands making his American debut at the Memorial Tournament, learned a valuable rules lesson: the red line is in the hazard.

On the par 5 11th at Muirfield Village, Luiten’s drive went left on the side of a lateral water hazard, but was actually on the red line defining the hazard. After Luiten took his stance, the ball moved. He notified fellow competitor Bobby Gates that the ball had moved, but that he had not grounded his club. Gates, not realizing the ball was actually considered in the hazard since it rested on the red line, told him there was no penalty. Gates later notified a tour official that Luiten’s ball had moved before he grounded his club and the official, not realizing the ball was in the hazard, also thought that no penalty was involved.

However, that all changed when Luiten told the same rules official that the ball had actually been on the red line and he had to stand in the hazard. Of course, that was a violation. He should have added a one-stroke penalty for ball moving and two strokes for not replacing it except that when the penalties happen at same time that only the general penalty of two strokes is given. The only problem was that he had already signed his scorecard for a 76 and he was disqualified.

 While the DQ seems harsh, Luiten should have known that the red line was considered in the hazard. The player is responsible for knowing the rules. He probably should have talked with a rules official before signing his scorecard. No doubt he will in the future.

 The first reports that I read made it sound like he had gotten a decision from the fellow competitor and a rules official, but that wasn’t the case. If the rules official had actually witnessed what had happened and given him the wrong decision, there would have been no penalty as the decision would have been final. 

One tournament official that I know did this once when a player’s ball sank in the grass in a water hazard after he took his stance. “He didn’t think he had done anything to cause the move to ball,” the official said. “I agreed at the time and told there was no penalty. But then realized later that when he took his stance he had addressed the ball and should have been penalized. I informed him on the next hole, but told him no penalty was involved since I had given him an incorrect ruling at the time.”

Earlier in the Zurich Classic, Webb Simpson was penalized a stroke when his ball moved after he grounded his putter and took his stance to tap in a putt less than a foot from the cup. He replaced the ball, but the bogey proved costly as he eventually lost in a playoff  to Bubba Watson.

 It does appear that the USGA and the R&A will revise Rule 18-2b next year to eliminate taking a stance (placing your feet in position to make a stroke) as part of the definition of addressing the ball. If a player grounds the club, then he can be called for a rules violation if the ball moves.

 How do you determine if you have grounded the club?  It’s when you allow the weight of the club to be supported by the grass.

Golfers should also remember a ball is not considered to have moved if it just oscillates, defined as moving forward, but back to its original position.

My only question about the revision of the rule is how addressing the ball in a bunker will be determined as now all that is necessary is for you to take your stance.

Another thing to remember is that addressing the ball, then backing off does not take you off the hook for penalty if the ball happens to move. This happened to Padraig Harrington in the Masters a few years ago. The best practice would have been for him to mark the ball and start over.

 On slick greens, especially in windy conditions, follow the lead of Jack Nicklaus and just keep the putter hovering just off the grass. If the ball moves then, there is no penalty and the ball is in play. Yes, even if it rolled into the cup.

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