During the 1st round of the European Tour’s 2017 BMW PGA Championship at the Wentworth Golf Club near London, four-time major winner Ernie Els demonstrated the integrity the golfer that puts the game of golf above all other sports. Here’s what happened. Ernie’s second shot to the par-5 12th hole appeared to plug in the grass near a greenside bunker. The applicable Rule was actually a Local Rule modifying Rule 25-2 [Embedded Ball] such that relief could be taken for an embedded ball through the green, rather than just in closely-mown areas.
As clarified by Decision 20-1/0.7 [Lifting Ball to Determine Application of Rule], Ernie was permitted to lift his ball, without penalty, to determine if it was embedded, so long as he announced his intention in advance to his fellow-competitor(s), marked the position of his ball before lifting it, did not clean it, and gave his fellow-competitor(s) the opportunity to observe the lifting.
Ernie complied with this procedure, but determined that his ball was not embedded. Per Decision 20-1/0.7, “If the ball does not lie in a position from which the player is entitled to relief, or if the player is entitled to relief but decides not to take it, the ball must be replaced, and the … fellow-competitor must be given the opportunity to observe the replacement. If a player who is required to replace the ball fails to do so before making a stroke, he incurs a penalty of … two strokes in stroke play under Rule 20-3a….”
Rule 20-3a [Placing and Replacing: By Whom and Where] states, in part, “If a ball to be replaced is placed other than on the spot from which it was lifted or moved, and the error is not corrected as provided in Rule 20-6, the player incurs the general penalty of … two strokes in stroke play ….”
After putting his ball back in the grass, Ernie chipped in for an eagle-3! However, Ernie realized that something was not quite right when he played that chip. His ball had come off the clubface much better than he expected given his original lie. Therefore, he went to a Rules Official and explained what had happened. With the Rules Official’s confirmation, Ernie assessed himself a two-stroke penalty for failing to replace his ball.
Within a matter of minutes, Ernie’s eagle-3 had become a par-5 on his score card. More importantly though, he reminded everyone of the golfer’s creed of always playing by the Rules. That means playing with honesty and integrity, including calling penalties on oneself.
As pointed out under the heading “The Spirit of the Game” in Section 1 Etiquette; Behavior on the Course of the Rule Book, “Golf is played, for the most part, without the supervision of a referee or umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual to show consideration for other players and to abide by the Rules.”
Here is Ernie’s own account of what happened:
“My second shot on the par-5, I pulled it a bit to the left; hit it onto the bank of the bunker, and I thought it was plugged. So, I asked my guys if I could check it. They said, “Yeah.” When I put it back and I hit my chip shot, I just felt uncomfortable by the way the ball came out. The ball came out way too good, you know, so I felt I didn’t quite probably put it exactly where I should have. And (the Rules Officials) explained to me that, you know, under the Rules, you know, you try and put it back to where you think it should be, but I still felt uncomfortable with it, so we took a two-shot penalty, and I feel better about it.
The game of golf; it is what it is; and, um, I know deep down that the ball wasn’t quite where it should be, and, you know, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So be it. It’s a five and we move on.”