James Crampton, England Golf’s director of championships, was a referee at this year’s Open. He gives Steve Carroll the inside story about what the job involves
It’s not an exaggeration to say they potentially hold the outcome of the championship in their learned hands. When the players get into grief at the Open, it’s the tournament’s golf rules official that can come to their aid – or thwart their efforts to get precious relief.
That’s quite a nerve-wracking situation if you think about it, even if you can fall back on years of study and knowledge of every section of every rule of golf.
But getting to play a part in the sport’s biggest championship is also a huge thrill for those involved and, this year, James Crampton was one of the lucky few to have an inside-the-ropes view of the world’s finest plying their trade.
He’s England Golf’s director of championships but was at Royal Portrush as the R&A hand an invitation to their associate organisations to send an official to referee.
So if you were wondering what goes on when the men and women in those distinctive blue jackets arrive on the scene at a tee or, usually, around a thick bush, we asked Crampton to reveal all…
It must be quite a thrill to play a part in the Open…
It’s a very exciting thing. It’s nerve wracking in one sense but it’s also really exciting to be here. Being inside the ropes at an event like this is just astonishing.
It’s a bit nervy at the start because you are always waiting for that first ruling.
Even though you’ve done a lot of rules briefings prior to the tournament with the R&A team, and you’ve done your background work on the rules themselves, there is always that thing in the back of your mind that you are going to get a tricky ruling.
The first day I had Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker and Si Woo Kim and had nothing at all. It was very pleasurable and a nice walk round.
On Friday, I had Bernd Weisberger, Russell Knox and Haotong Li and, thankfully, the only rulings I had were a couple of embedded balls – one which I denied and one which I gave.
The only other two I had were confirmations as to whether the ball was on a putting green or not.
Give us an idea of the scale of the operation at the Open and the referee’s role in a match…
On the first two days, because there are 52 matches, there’s a referee with each match.
For the key matches the big name players like Koepka, Tiger and Rory will also have an observer.
They walk in front of the match and then will radio back to the referee if there is any potential rules issue.
It’s things like immovable obstructions or potential embedded balls or grandstand relief, scoreboard issues like that. Once we get into the cut, we’ve got fewer matches and many more of the matches are assigned an observer.
On Saturday, I was observing Lee Westwood and Tommy Fleetwood.
We’re here to help the players and get them out of any sticky situations in which they find themselves.
There are a few round here. The rough is pretty penal if you hit it offline. There are a few danger holes you need to be aware of.
So we are here to support the players and provide the rulings, get them on the golf course and get them moving as quick as we can.
We’re also there just to keep an eye on the pace of play as well. So if groups do fall behind, and that’s primarily because there has been a rules incident that has taken a few minutes, then we are there just to advise them that we need to pick up the pace a little bit and get them back into position so they don’t get the attention of one of the rovers – the European Tour or PGA Tour referees that are controlling pace of play for the course.
There are probably ten roving referees and their role is to support us, the walking referees, if there are any second opinions that might be needed, any doubts as to the rules, but they’re primarily there to keep on top of pace of play.
They are able to speak to the players on an individual basis and do any timings that might be required for those who are out of position.
With a course like Portrush, would you look at any issues before you go out with the players?
You really have to plot your way round.
When you look at the pin positions and see where they have been located there are certain no go areas and so, from the shots you probably anticipate them playing, they are obviously going to steer away from certain pins and that might bring a few other things into account from a rules point of view.
You can perhaps pre-empt places where they might hit it.
So are you looking at those positions in the same way the players do?
I wouldn’t study them to that degree but it’s knowing there is a pin that’s tight left, for example, that’s near a very deep bunker or a really nasty run off on the right of their line of play.
If there’s a grandstand on the right hand side, that’s going to be their bail out side. You can just be aware, from a rules point of view, that if they do hit it into that direction these are the relief situations that are going to apply.
For grandstands it is pretty simple because they have all got drop zones and, if you’ve got interference, you are dropping it in a drop zone.
It makes life very easy.
We can’t let you go without talking about the drop zones. They’ve were getting a lot of publicity at the Open – with some particularly gnarly and rough looking. Can you explain the reason for that?
Some of the drop zones are in some pretty nasty situations and nasty places. If the grandstand wasn’t there, that they’ve just hit their ball up against, they are going to be in some pretty nasty stuff.
The R&A will be trying to replicate as much as they can the lie the player may have encountered if the grandstand wasn’t there. They need to be bringing these drop zones inside spectator lines.
You’ll never see somebody, who has hit a long way off target into a grandstand that’s surrounded by three-feet high grass, dropping it in a closely mown area as a drop zone.
They are going to be dropping it in a drop zone that’s not the nicest lie in the world but, had the grandstand not been there, they would possibly have been in a worse situation than they find themselves.
The grandstands are a pretty long way offline so I don’t think there would be any situations where the player would deliberately aim at a grandstand to gain an advantage. These things are a long way off the playing surfaces.
Each grandstand will have at least one drop zone. The bigger ones will have multiple. I think round the 18th there are nine in total.