Once again a player has been penalized for moving the ball in play.
This time it happened on the LPGA Tour, where Nicole Broch Larsen played in Volunteers of America LPGA Texas Classic a few days ago!
You can start by watching a video about the episode:
As you can see, the ball moved immediately after Nicole grounded her club a few times behind the ball.
2. The Rules of Golf.
The Rules of Golf are pretty clear; if it is more than 50 % certain, that she caused the ball to move, she is deemed to have moved the ball, and incurs a one stroke penalty… and must replace the ball (Rule 18-2).
3. Referee with a wrong decision?
The referee on duty (mistakenly) told Nicole, that she had done nothing wrong and simply without penalty should play the ball, as it lay.
Apparently the referee had asked Nicole if she had moved the ball, and Nicole had answered “no”. It is for me not known whether the referee made a wrong decision or whether she just did not have the correct information (that the ball moved after Nicole having grounded twice behind the ball).
The penalty was given later, after rules officials had reviewed some video footage of the episode.
In such a situation – where a player has played from a wrong place due to the fact, that she did not replace the ball – the player does not incur two penalty strokes for playing from a wrong place, though. She only incurs the one penalty stroke for causing the ball to move. The reason is, that her actions was made after instruction from a referee (see Decision 34-3/7).
4. Didn’t they prohibit use of video?
Some of you might wonder about the use of video, since there has been some changes recently. I have two comments about that:
- “Armchair-officials” is not accepted any more (see this article). But in Nicoles situation it was the tournaments own rules officials, who reviewed the situation subsequently and imposed the penalty.
- The new Decision 34-3/10 (and Decision 18/4) states, that the ball has not moved, if the movement is so little, that it is not reasonable visible for the naked eye. This principle does not apply here, since it was obvious, that the ball moved.
5. Dustin Johnson also did it…
It is not the first time that a player has been penalized to move the ball. The most famous episode probably was “the Dustin Johnson-case”, where he in a major a few years ago incurred a one stroke penalty for having caused the penalty to move.
Many people got upset, and subsequently the rules were changed.
6. Same result in 2019?
In 2019 the Rules of Golf are changed a bit. You….
- … still incur a penalty stroke in this situation (but not if it e.g. had moved during search).
- … must only replace the ball if it is at least 95 % certain (not +50 % as it is now), that you caused the ball to move – otherwise you must play the ball as it lies.
Would no. 2 be fulfilled in the Nicole-situation above?
Well, it seems most likely, that she did cause the ball to move. But was it at least 95 % likely? One could argue, that she grounded behind the ball, but that the ball rolled left (from her point of view), and that therefore there was a chance (maybe 2-5-10 %!) that the movement was caused by something else than her (e.g. the slope, wind etc.)…!
5. Lost 8,000 $ in prize money.
Nicole tied for 12th (see the results here),whereby she received app. 19,000 $ in prize money. Without the penalty stroke she had tied for 8th and received approximately 27,000 $. Therefore you could say that the penalty did cost her 8,000 $.
In my opinion this episode should be a reminder not to place your club (or anything else) so close to the ball, that you potentially could cause the ball to move.