Just when you thought the Rules of Golf couldn’t come under any greater scrutiny, Rickie Fowler got hit with a penalty that, to an outsider, seemed grossly unfair.
For anyone coming to this a bit late, let’s recap. The American was leading the Waste Management Open by five on the 11th when his third shot – a chip on the par 4 – ran through the green, round a bunker and into the water.
Unlucky, but what was to come was even more bizarre.
Fowler established a relief area with tee pegs, took relief from the penalty area and dropped onto a steep bank (placing it, in fact, after two efforts rolled into the water).
He then picked up the tees and walked up to the green to assess the shot.
As he was doing that, the ball crept down the bank and back into the water.
— Keith Kiyomura (@Donkazoid) February 3, 2019
Fowler chose to re-drop and, in effect, re-place after that piece of poor luck, under a penalty of a stroke. He then hit it onto the green and holed a near 20-foot putt to record a triple bogey.
Now this all sounds pretty harsh, right? It’s not like Fowler played a stroke and, through no actions of his own, the ball went back into the penalty area.
Had this happened on the green, he would have simply replaced the ball. So why couldn’t he do that here?
The incident is covered by Rule 9, which deals with playing the ball as it lies and when a ball at rest is lifted or moved.
That states, under 9.1a, that a player’s ball “at rest on the course must be played as it lies”.
When deciding whether a ball at rest has then moved and what caused it to move, Rule 9.2b says there are four possible causes – the first of which is natural causes, such as wind and water.
If that’s the case, there is usually no penalty and the ball must be played from its new spot (Rule 9.3).
However, because Fowler’s ball rolled into a penalty area he then chose once more to take relief under Rule 17.1b – as he had done on the first occasion it went into the water.
That’s why he was assessed a stroke. He was not penalised because the ball moved.
Fowler was also not forced to take relief and that penalty. He could have played the ball as it lay.
And because the ball had moved without him having played a shot, he could have also decided to go back to the point of his previous stroke to play from there.
All very unfortunate, of course, but it’s been established for some time and is nothing to do with the new Rules of Golf.
So here’s a stroke-by-stroke recap: 1. Fowler’s drive left him 219 yards away; 2. His second from the rough finished 33 yards from the hole; 3. Chip ran into the water; 4. Relief taken from penalty area; 5. Relief taken from penalty area; 6. Chipped to 17 feet; 7. Holed the putt.