Rules officials try to protect field with decisions

A lot is made of how golf relies on the integrity of golfers to show the true spirit of the game when it comes to the rules. Some have called rules infractions on themselves that no one else had seen. However, with the competitive nature of the game, professionals sometimes reach a little to try to take advantage of the rules.

Based on what I saw on the Golf Channel, that’s exactly what Matt Kouchar did after he found his errant approach to the par 3 16th at TPC Boston in the Deutsche Bank Championship’s second round up almost against a stone wall.

Kouchar asked for a ruling, telling official Steve Rintoul that he intended to hit a risky ricochet shot into the rocks and that in doing this that he would have to stand with his foot on a drain pipe  He wanted free relief. However, Rintoul did not buy the argument and pointed to the exception to Rule 24-2 that does not grant relief from an obstruction if a player is taking an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play.

Kouchar asked for a second opinion, his rights under the PGA Tour rules, but Stephen Cox , the second rules official, concurred with Rintoul. Thus, both rules officials did their jobs to protect the field.

Kouchar then took an unplayable lie, dropping within two-club lengths, and got up and down for a bogey.

The reason I felt Kouchar was trying to get by with stretching the rules to his benefit was that if he had tried to hit the ricochet shot, the only way for the ball to go was backwards and he would have been no better off than taking the penalty and dropping.

During the Texas State Open at Firewheel Golf Park in Garland, I had a case where a player’s ball ended high up in a brush to the left of the first fairway. He called for a ruling, saying that if he took a swing left-handed that his stance would be in fire ants. I cited the exception to the rule of an abnormal swing under the circumstances. He asked for a second opinion and rules official David Price concurred with me.

Working as a rules official at the old Ben Hogan Tour event at what then was Mission Dorado in Odessa, I got a call to make a ruling for a player who found his ball in the lip of a bunker where it appeared he could only blast out and not get to the green. When he took a stance to play backwards, there were a few ants, not even fire ants in my opinion, at his feet. He wanted relief from a dangerous situation. Based on these earlier instances, I did not agree. He called for a second opinion from a member of the PGA Tour staff, who overruled me. He took his free drop and was able to get his approach on the green. Later, this rules official told me, “We have to be out here all the time with these guys.”

It’s nice to see that today’s rules official don’t follow this practice in such cases like that one guy did many years ago.

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