There has been some discussion after last weekends The Open Championship as to whether Zach Johnson breached the Rules of Golf on the last hole in the playoff.
On the 18th green, Zach Johnson contacted a rules official, because he wanted to repair some damage on the Putting Green in his line of putt, but was in doubt what kind of damage, it was. They discussed it for a while and another rules official was contacted, and finally he did repair damage two places on the Putting Green, first one place (using a pitch fork) and then another placed (using his putter to tapp down).
You can see the episodes here (first incident/repair is at 12:44 – the second at 12:55):
The Rules of Golf.
Rule 16-1c states that the player is always allowed to repair pitch marks and old hole plugs on the Putting Green, no matter where the ball is lying and even though the player thereby touches his line of putt (Rule 16-1a). You are also allowed to repair other damage (e.g. spike marks), but only if it cannot help you in your subsequent play of the hole.
Since the damage was on Zach Johnsons line of putt, he was allowed to repair it, if it was a pitch mark or an old hole plug, but NOT if it was other damage (see also Decision 16-1c/4 – about spike marks).
The R&A: Explanation of the episodes.
The R&A (who makes the Rules of Golf together with The USGA) subsequently has explained (see this link), that the first damage Zach Johnson repaired, was an old hole plug, and therefore he did not incur any penalty for doing so. He discussed it with some rules officials before doing anything, and they concluded that it was an old hole plug.
The other damage, that he repaired, was a pitch mark, and therefore he didn’t incur any penalty for repairing this either.
How to repair?
There are not in The Rules of Golf any exact determination of, how a player must repair damage on the Putting Green. The R&A has in the above mentioned article stressed, that it is allowed to repair a pitch mark more than once (see Decision 16-1c/1), as long as it is still clear that it is a pitch mark. The R&A also noted, that normally a pitch mark is repaired by first using a pitch mark and then the putter (tapping down). The player is allowed to tapp down with his putter, although it is not him (but e.g. another player), that has repaired it with a pitch fork.
A few other things.
A few other things worth noting:
– It is not a requirement, that the player informs his fellow player before the reparation or gets his permission.
– Zach Johnson had two rules officials opinion, but remember, that a player cannot demand such a second opinion (he can of course ask, but must respect a “no”).
– The referee’s decision is final (Rule 34-2) and this principle applies even though the Decision is wrong (See Decision 34-2/2 – the player does not incur a penalty even though he has breached the rules).
The conclusion is, that Zach Johnson did not incur any penalty in these situations.