As I’m writing this it looks like Scottie Scheffler will soon have a new item in his wardrobe – a green jacket, despite Rory’s impressive bunker shot on the 18th on his way to a 64.
There are so many stories from the last few days in Augusta, however as I’d been talking about rules recently, this incident piqued my interest on Saturday night. When Scottie Scheffler’s tee shot from the 18th went sailing into a bush, it looked like his healthy Saturday lead at the Masters was about to disintegrate, yet thanks to an incredible third shot he was able to escape with a bogey, enabling him to carry a three-shot lead into Sunday.
On Twitter, people were questioning why he wasn’t given a penalty for clearing the pine needles away and others wondered why he was allowed to lift his ball initially. Steve Carroll of National Club Golfer broke down what Scheffler did, and what the Rules of Golf said about each of the options he took…
He marked his ball when lifting to identify it
Firstly, Scheffler had to find the ball and make sure it was his. After hunting around the foliage, and coming across a ball, Scheffler marked it and then lifted it to identify it. Rule 7.3 covers this and it’s one that should be seared into your brain.
If you search for their ball, locate one and dive in there and just pick it up without thinking about it, you will receive a penalty stroke for your thoughtlessness.
If you come across a ball that might be yours, and it cannot be identified as it lies, you can lift it to do so – but the spot of the ball must be marked first and you can’t clean it any more than is needed to make sure it is yours.
He decided to take unplayable ball relief
Once Scottie confirmed the ball was his, he returned it to its original spot. He obviously had the option to “play it as it lies” but eventually he decided to take unplayable ball relief under Rule 19 for one penalty stroke.
If you’re like me you’ve found yourself in this position many times and you’ve got three options. You can take stroke-and-distance relief, so you can go back to the tee and hit the shot again (you can even tee it up), and you can take back-on-the-line relief – going straight back from the hole through the spot of the ball. Neither of those looked appealing to Scheffler and he decided to take lateral relief using Rule 19.2c. This allowed him to drop the original ball or another ball in a two club-length relief area using the spot of the original ball as the reference point.
You use your longest club (that’s not a putter), usually your driver, to measure the two club lengths. If two club-lengths aren’t enough and you still find your ball in a bush after taking relief, it’s a new situation – you go through the whole process again and if you decide to take relief again, it’s another penalty shot.
You can remove loose impediments before you drop
Before Scottie took his penalty drop he asked the referee if he could clear the pine needles away and initially was told “no”, however the official later agreed that he could. Pine needles are loose impediments and there’s an interpretation to Rule 15.1a, which covers loose impediments, which reveals this is fine. The interpretation reveals when a ball is to be dropped or placed, and isn’t being put back in a specific spot, removing loose impediments before dropping or placing a ball is allowed.
Be careful though. While Rule 8.1b (2) allows you to take “reasonable actions” to remove loose impediments, if you go in there and start sweeping everything out of your way, you are at risk of falling foul of Rule 8.1a and taking an action that improves the conditions affecting the stroke. The general penalty – two shots or loss of hole in match play – is an expensive result for a moment of carelessness.
You can probe for tree roots
You might have noticed Scheffler poking a tee into the ground in the relief area. He was probing to see if there were any tree roots and you may not know this but this perfectly allowed under the rules. It’s not just tree roots, either. An interpretation to Rule 8.1a reveals you can probe near your ball to see if rocks or obstructions are below the surface of the ground and which your club might strike when a stroke was made. Again, be careful – if your actions improve the conditions you’ll be penalised!
What to do when the ball won’t stay in the relief area
After all that, Scheffler took his penalty drop, from knee height (we’ve all got used to that now). You may have noticed that the ball rolled outside the two-club length relief area. Rule 14.3c (2) covers what to do here. If this happens to you, drop the ball in the right way again for a second time. If it comes to rest once more outside the relief area, you place on the spot where the ball you dropped for a second time first touched the ground.
That’s why Scheffler pointed to that area as soon as the ball made contact with the earth.
What would have happened if the ground had been sloped and the ball wouldn’t stay at rest? If a placed ball doesn’t stay at rest on a spot, you place it again for a second time. If it still won’t stay on its spot, you need to place the ball on the nearest spot where the ball will remain at rest. Sounds complicated? Check it out in 14.3c (2) and 14.2e if you want to delve a little closer into the fine print.
So there you are. While people often think the Rules are there to punish them with a thorough knowledge and a bit of thought you can use what’s in the book to make the best of a bad situation.
Then you just have to hit it 237-yards to the green. Good luck with that!