Rules Column: Pat Campbell

Rules of the Game:

Rule change for a ball that moves after being placed

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the 2019 Waste Management Open at TPC Scottsdale. Rickie Fowler’s 3rd shot ended up in the water on the 11th hole. He dutifully took relief, dropped his ball in the correct relief location, made sure it was at rest, and then went to survey the green. And then it happened. Rickie’s ball started rolling and rolled back into the water. He had to take another one-stroke penalty to get it out. Bad news/good news. He took a triple-bogey 7 on the hole, but he still won the tournament.

Fast forward to the same tournament in 2022. Charley Hoffman was on the par-5 13th hole. He put his 2nd shot into the water and took a drop. His first and second drops rolled out of the prescribed relief area, and so he needed to place his ball where the 2nd drop hit the ground. The ball remained at rest, and, just like Rickie three years earlier, the ball then rolled back into the water. So, Charley had to take another penalty stroke to get the ball out, and finally he holed out with a 7.

But it didn’t stop there. Charley decided to take a few shots at the USGA and the PGA, and probably regretted his outburst once he cooled down. In a conciliatory call to PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan, Hoffman, said, “Sorry Jay! We need to do better at all levels of the PGA Tour including myself who represents the players on the board of the tour. If we don’t, we won’t have a tour any longer! Hopefully there will be a change soon.”

As of January 1, 2023, Charley will get his wish. Among the Rules changes for 2023, Exception 2 to Rule 9.3 will state, “If the player puts the original ball or another ball into play by dropping, placing or replacing it, and natural forces cause the ball at rest to move and come to rest in another area of the course or out of bounds, the ball must be replaced on its original spot….” Let’s parse out this Rule with some clarifying questions:

What does the term “another part of the course” mean?

There are five parts of the course: The Teeing Area, the Putting Green, the General Area, Bunkers, and Penalty Areas. So, if the ball has been dropped, placed or replaced in one part of the course and is at rest, and then rolls into another part of the course, the player incurs no penalty and must replace the ball at the spot from where it rolled. Although Out of Bounds is not a defined area of the course, the player also may replace the ball without penalty if the ball rolls OB

What if the ball rolls from an area of the course and comes to rest in the same area of the course?

Assuming the ball was moved by natural forces, such as wind or gravity, it is played

from its new spot, without penalty.

What if natural forces cause the ball to roll into another part of the course (or anywhere) after coming to rest after a stroke?

In that case, the ball is played as it lies.

So, in the cases of Rickie Fowler and Charley Hoffman, they had dropped or placed a ball in the General Area and it rolled into a Penalty Area. Unfortunately, they had to take one-stroke penalties to get the ball back out. If this were to happen in 2023, there would be no penalty, and they would replace the ball, or, if it was not recoverable, replace it with another ball.

For Rickie and Charley, justice was finally served. Better late than never!