Today’s discussion or Rule 24-2 Immovable Obstructions is pertinent given events during the RBC Canadian Open final round on Sunday.
Rule 24-2 Immovable Obstruction
Interference: Interference by an immovable obstruction occurs when a ball lies in or on the obstruction, or when the obstruction interferes with the player’s stance or the area of his intended swing.
Relief: A player may take relief from interference by an immovable obstruction by lifting the ball and dropping it within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief.
This rule helps eliminate unfairness due to golf course conditions and helps reduce risk of injury and damage to the golf course. For example, last weekend I played in a New Mexico state tournament and actually invoked this rule. I hit a drive on the 18th hole and the ball came to rest in a position where my left foot was on top of a sprinkler head. My playing partners agreed on the rule, I took a one-club length relief, dropped the ball, and hit the shot. That is how the rule works.
Unfortunately, on the professional tours, this rule tends to at times be manipulated. The latest instance involved Charlie Hoffman on Sunday in round 4 of the RBC Canadian Open. Charlie hit his approach shot on hole #12 into the greenside bunker and he had a buried lie towards the edge of the bunker. Tough break for sure and a very difficult shot. As he took his stance and dug into the sand, he reached the liner underneath the sand. He claimed the “Immovable Obstruction” rule and was given relief. This was a huge break from the plugged lie that he would have had to hit from. He took a drop and had a good lie. He then hit a poor shot (karma?) but that isn’t the point.
This is a repeat of the situation in May on the European tour with Branden Grace at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Branden had a buried lie, dug his feet into the sand until he reached the lining, and claimed relief under Rule 24-2. Branden took a lot of grief from European Tour players and commentators. Paul McGinley criticized Grace’s action during television commentary and afterwards. “It was ridiculous,” McGinley said. “If you twist your feet enough you’re bound to eventually reach the bunker lining. That means anytime a player wants relief from a poor lie he can simply twist his feet until he reaches the bunker lining. That can’t be right.”
Charlie Hoffman would have won the RBC Canadian Open if he made a 20 ft eagle putt on hole 18. He missed the putt, made a birdie, and ultimately lost to Jhonattan Vegas in a playoff. If he had taken advantage of the ruling on hole 12, he would have likely won the tournament with his birdie on 18.
My take: These types of rulings give me pause. These are the best players in the world. The days of “play it as it lies” seems to no longer apply to PGA tour players. There seem to be rules invoked on a regular basis to provide relief from poor lies. I can name 2-3 other situations this summer that seemed equally inappropriate. I don’t consider this situation to be cheating. Every player can ask for a ruling. It is up to the rules officials and other competitors in the group to “protect the field.” That is their job. They are not there to be nice and give a break to that player. They are required to protect all other players from an improper rule. Who was protecting Jhonattan Vegas during the Hoffman ruling? There should not have been free relief in thas situation and Charlie should have played the ball from the plugged lie. TV commentators also seem to handle these situations with kids gloves. They want to be friends with all the players. They don’t want to criticize anyone. They like to say “It is important to know the rules so you can use them to help yourself.” They make it seem like a badge of honor to get relief from a bad lie. That is a easy way out for commentators. Kudos to Paul McGinley who called it like it was.
I was glad to see Jhonattan Vegas win the tournament. I like Charlie Hoffman’s game and he has played well this year. I really like his dead-hand wedge game that reminds me of Steve Stricker and I am a big fan. This week, I think justice was served.