At the 2007 KLM Open, First time winner on the European Tour, Ross Fisher won in style despite a nerve-racking rules enquiry. The Englishman was compelled to revisit the 12th hole to demonstrate to rules officials that he was not in breach of the rules, when he lifted a bramble runner (a creeper). After a thorough examination of the incident, with the benefit of video replays to buttress his claim, Ross was pronounced “not guilty” and he then proceeded to pocket a hefty cheque of over a quarter million Euro as the first prize.
Apparently a spectator called in the alleged breach and with the Committee now having received a complaint, it was incumbent upon them to investigate and check if Rule 13-2.Improving lie, area of intended stance or swing, or line of play, was breached.
The Rule reads, in part “A player must not improve or allow to be improved:
the position or lie of his ball, the area of his intended stance or swing,
his line of play or a reasonable extension of that line beyond the hole, or
the area in which he is to drop or place the ball,
By any of the following actions: moving, bending or breaking anything growing or fixed………”
Lift no strand
When he was questioned about his actions he replied: “It was a thin strand and I went to move it because I thought it was a loose impediment, but when I realised it was attached I literally left it alone. They deemed it didn’t improve my stance or my swing. I feel very fortunate.”
The ruling was spot on as a player is entitled to move a natural object for the specific purpose of determining whether the object is loose, provided that if the object is found not to be loose, (1) it has not become detached and (2) it is returned to its original position before the next stroke if failure to so would result in a breach of Rule 13-2.
Take your stance fairly
While Ross was lucky in getting away scot-free and before you think you can move about any natural object and claim you were only trying to see if it was loose, think again. Except while “fairly taking the stance”, if a player moves a natural object other than to determine whether it is loose and it is found to be attached, the player cannot avoid a breach of Rule 13-2 by returning the object to its original position.
Holland seems to be a favourite place for Englishmen to test “loose” objects. In 1992 at the Dutch Open, England’s Mike McLean was penalised two strokes when it was proved by video replays that he had pulled up a bramble in the final round. Having won outright but thanks to the penalty he did not even make it to the play-off.
Don’t let the cactus bully you
For protecting himself from nature, Coimbatore’s Maheshwaran was DQ’d from the prestigious South India Amateur, in Ooty. Apparently, he had wrapped his shoulders with a towel before proceeding to play his ball from Ooty’s famous gorse bushes. When it was referred to me subsequently, I could only sympathise for the preposterous ruling of disqualification, handed down to him. Representations to the R&A resulted in Decision 1-2/10 where a player can protect himself.
Of course, whatever the rules may say, golf has been and will always be governed by traditional golfing wisdom “Play the ball as it lies and the course as you find it”.