Rule Tip of the Week: Artificial Intelligence

During the second round of the 99th PGA Championship held at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jordan Spieth hit a wayward drive on the par-5 10th hole, and his ball ended up on an artificially-surfaced cart path. Even though Jordan has probably taken relief from cart paths thousands of times, he still sought the assistance of a Rules Official to ensure that he was proceeding correctly. Here are the Rules that applied to his situation.


When taking relief from an artificially-surfaced cart path, Rule 24-2 [Immovable Obstruction] instructs the player to determine the nearest point of relief, and then drop the ball within one club-length of, and no nearer the hole than, the nearest point of relief. By Definition, the nearest point of relief is the point on the course nearest to where the ball lies on the cart path (i) that is not nearer the hole and (ii) where, if the ball were so positioned, no interference by the cart path would exist for the stroke the player would have made from the original position if the cart path were not there. In other words, at the nearest point of relief there will be no interference from the cart path to the lie of the ball, the player’s stance, or the area of the player’s intended swing.


After Jordan correctly determined that the nearest point of relief from the cart path was just left of the cart path, he immediately took note of the fact that the area in the vicinity of the nearest point of relief, i.e., where he would be dropping his ball, was covered with pine straw. At that point, he called over the Rules Official to find out how he might be able to avoid having to play from the pine straw.


The Rules Official advised Jordan that he could remove the pine straw which are loose impediments. According to Rule 23-1 [Loose Impediments: Relief], “Except when both the loose impediment and the ball lie in or touch the same hazard, any loose impediment may be removed without penalty.”


However, the Rules Official cautioned Jordan to be careful not to remove any of the soil underlying the pine straw when removing the pine straw. That is because Rule 13-2 [Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play] states, in part, “A player must not improve or allow to be improved … the area of his intended stance or swing [or] the area in which he is to drop or place a ball … by any of the following actions … • creating or eliminating irregularities of surface [or] • removing or pressing down sand, loose soil ….”


Jordan cleared the area in which he intended to drop his ball by carefully picking up clumps of pine straw with his hand, and tossing the pine straw onto the cart path. When he dropped his ball in the required area, the ball rolled down the slope and ended up back on the cart path. Per Rule 20-2b [Dropping and Re-Dropping: When to Re-Drop], he was required to re-drop the ball because the ball rolled and came to rest “in a position where there is interference by the condition from which relief was taken under Rule 24-2b ….” As you might expect, when Jordan re-dropped his ball, it once again ended up on the cart path. In accordance with Rule 20-2b, Jordan was then permitted to place his ball “as near as possible to the spot where it first struck a part of the course when re-dropped.”


In the third photograph, you will see that, after placing his ball, Jordan ended up with a near-perfect lie on the bare dirt. However, the resulting shot was not to his liking. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Jordan neglected to remove the pine straw in the area of his intended stance?

August 2017 Rules