Give or take a second or two, that was the amount of time it took Jordan Spieth to play the par-4 13th hole during the final round of the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Why did it take so long? Because he first decided to take relief for an unplayable lie after a wayward drive, and then he had to take relief from a temporary immovable obstruction. Both of these relief procedures were complicated by the fact that sighting of the hole was obstructed by a tall sand dune. With the help of several images courtesy of NBC Sports, here are the salient points of the applicable Rules that helped Jordan on his way to hoisting the Claret Jug:
- After Jordan briefly studied the lie of his ball on the backside of the dune, he started thinking about proceeding under Rule 28 [Ball Unplayable]. One option under this Rule is to play again from where the original ball was last played. Jordan did not want to return to the teeing ground, giving up the yardage in addition to incurring a penalty stroke. Nor did he like another option of Rule 28 which would have been to drop within two club-lengths of, and not nearer the hole than, where his drive came to rest. This option was not appealing due to the severe slope of the dune and the thick rough in the vicinity of his ball. Thus, he wisely considered the option of dropping on the line extending from the hole through the spot where his ball lay, going as far back on the course as he wanted. Not too far behind the steep sand dune happened to be the Royal Birkdale practice area, offering a perfect lie with level and closely mown turf. The attending Rules Official confirmed that the practice area was in bounds, which meant that Jordan could drop within that area.
- The only problem with dropping in that area, and staying within a reachable distance from the hole, was the fact that several large equipment trucks were parked at the side of the practice area where Jordan wished to drop his ball. By the way, those trucks were temporary immovable obstructions from which Jordan knew that he would subsequently obtain relief, but more about those later. The immediate task was to take relief from the unplayable ball by dropping on the line extending from the hole through the spot where his original ball had come to rest. But how could he possibly drop a ball from shoulder height under a locked truck?
Thanks to Decision 1-4/8.5 [Nearest Point of Relief from Cart Path Is in Casual Water, Nearest Point of Relief from Casual Water Is Back on Cart Path; Impracticable for Player to Drop Ball into Area of Casual Water], Jordan was not required to drop a ball within one of the semi-trailer trucks. This Decision states, in relevant part, “Other examples of conditions into which it would be considered impracticable for the player to drop the ball would include … in or under an immovable obstruction such that it would be extremely difficult or impossible to drop the ball (e.g., inside a locked building or beneath a rain shelter that is raised off the ground).”
With the assistance of the Rules Official, Jordan determined where he would have dropped a ball had the trucks not been located on the line extending back from the hole and his unplayable ball. Deeming his ball to be lying at that point on the course, Jordan was then permitted, by the Local Rule giving relief without penalty for temporary immovable obstructions (TIO’s), to drop away from the complex of trucks that were intervening on his line of play.
- According to the Local Rule for TIO’s, interference by a TIO occurs, in part, when the ball lies in, on, under or behind the TIO so that any part of the TIO intervenes directly between the player’s ball and the hole and the TIO is on the player’s line of play. Interference also exists if the ball lies within one club-length of a spot equidistant from the hole where such intervention would exist.
Therefore, in order to correctly take relief from the TIO, Jordan had to visualize where he would have dropped a ball when taking relief for the unplayable ball. Then, and with the guidance of two Rules Officials, he had to identify the point that was equidistant from the hole and also avoided interference, as defined, by the TIO. He was then required to drop within one club-length of that point.
- Having dropped his ball on the practice area in accordance with the Local Rule for TIO relief, Jordan sent his caddie up to the top of the dune to help him line up for the forthcoming stroke towards the green. However, before playing the stroke from the practice area, Jordan directed his caddie to move well away from his line of play. Had Jordan not directed his caddie to move out of the way, he would have incurred a two-stroke penalty under Rule 8-2a [Indicating Line of Play Other Than on Putting Green]. That Rule states, “Except on the putting green, a player may have the line of play indicated by anyone, but no one may be positioned by the player for that purpose on or close to the line or an extension of that line beyond the hole while the stroke is being made.”