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23rd July, 2017, the final round of the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Jordan Spieth, fighting for the championship lead with Matt Kuchar, stood on the 13th tee and hit his worst swing of the week. His ball sailed so far right and ended up hitting a member of the crowd. His ball was found on a slope so steep you could barely stand on, in grass you could hardly play out of. Playing the ball as it lies was clearly not an option here, and Jordan had a decision to make. 

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The rules of golf allow you 3 options when declaring a ball unplayable: The most common option amateurs take in this situation is a 2 club-length relief from the unplayable lie, no nearer the hole. Often this would be the normal decision, but in Jordan Spieth’s case, it was never the right option. As you can see, left, he would have been dropping his ball on the same slope, in the same heavy rough, facing the same problem. 

The next option would be to go back to the point you played your last shot from, so in this case, Jordan would have had to go back to the tee and play his third shot from there, with the risk of hitting the same shot again.

The third option is the line of sight rule. You take a line from the flag, to the ball, and you can go as far back as you like and drop the ball on that line. Choosing that option, Jordan realised that it would find himself back on the same driving range he was warming up on just 3 hours prior. Having consulted with the rules officials, he was informed the practice area would normally be classed as Out Of Bounds, but (luckily for Jordan) this year they hadn’t declared it, meaning Spieth was eligible to play from that area. They determined his correct line and Spieth dropped his ball back into play under a 1 shot penalty. Flat lie, short grass, and now with the best opportunity to hit whatever club he required back into play, with minimal risk.

original image taken from: golf

original image taken from:

Many people overlook this, but sometimes the best shots don’t win tournaments, but knowing the rules can! Jordan Spieth was clearly very clued up on the rules of golf and knew exactly how to use them to his advantage. The whole process took over 20 minutes to sort out, which got some negative comments from social media and the press who believed it was unnecessary and put off Matt Kuchar. There was no issue between the pairing, as Jordan Spieth apologised after the hole. It was a tricky situation with an unusual outcome. Playing the ball where it was could have gone wrong and ruined Jordan’s tournament, but Jordan knew the rules and absolutely made the right choice. 

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Having now dropped his ball, Jordan’s line to the green was impeded by the manufacturer’s tour trucks. These would be classed as immovable obstructions, meaning Jordan could now take relief under no penalty, giving himself a clear swing to the green for his third shot. Jordan ended up making a bogey 5, and still went on to win the tournament. 

Original image taken from: The guardian

Golf has many rules that govern the sport, some of which you may never need to know when playing in tournaments. You should keep an eye on any rule changes the R&A implement at the start of the year. The more recent rules you will have heard of were the changes to penalty areas (formerly known as water hazards). The rules allow you to ground your club and move obstructions in these penalty areas, whereas before you would have incurred penalty shots for breaching these rules. The other notable rule change comes when dropping your ball. Previously you would outstretch your arm at shoulder height, but the rule now enforces you to drop the ball from knee height (see left). 

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You don’t have to know the rules inside out, because you may never need some of them. At some events, there are even officials you can call in case of a ruling; but making the effort to learn the rules as best as you can, may just give you an advantage. An advantage which could be the difference between making birdie or something ugly, a missed cut or a victory. Luck isn’t something golfers can rely on, but like the example with Jordan Spieth, maybe knowing the rules can help you make your own luck.

Columnist: Rhys Pidgeon


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