USGA redefines hazard position

By KEVIN ADAMS
Assistant Managing Editor

If nothing else, Stewart Cink can take solace in one thing: His March 29 disqualification from the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans has led to one of the quickest revisions to a U.S. Golf Association rules position in recent memory.

The Joint Rules Committee, consisting of representatives of the Rules of Golf Committees of the R&A and the USGA, released a new interpretation of Rule 13-4 April 8 that states, in essence, that no penalty should be incurred in certain circumstances by a player (or player’s caddie) who rakes a different bunker than the one from which the player is about to play his or her next shot. Rule 13-4a states in part that before making a stroke at a ball in a hazard, a player must not “test the condition of a hazard or any similar hazard.”

Cink was disqualified after he stood in a fairway bunker before hitting a ball lying just outside the bunker in Round 3. His shot went into a greenside bunker, and his caddie raked his footprints out of the fairway bunker before Cink hit his next shot. The next day, Cink was concerned he had violated the rule and asked an official about it. He was DQ’d five holes into his final round for having omitted a two-stroke penalty and signing an incorrect scorecard.

According to Jim Bunch, chairman of the USGA’s Rules of Golf Committee, the new position on Rule 13-4 was approved April 6 at a previously scheduled Joint Rules Committee meeting held at Cuscowilla in Eatonton, Ga.

Bunch said the USGA had sent a memo to major professional tours earlier this year confirming its position on Rule 13-4 – that the raking of a bunker similar to that which happened in the Cink incident was a breach – but it also stated that the organization planned to revisit that position. Because of the Cink incident, it quickly was moved to the top of the agenda at Cuscowilla.

“Basically what the Joint Rules Committee is saying is that no one ever wanted something like (the Cink situation) to be a penalty,” Bunch said. “Our new position would be that we would not consider it ‘testing’ in certain circumstances if your ball lies in a similar but different hazard.”

Thankfully for Shi Hyun Ahn, the interpretation was invoked just in time at the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Ahn incurred a two-stroke penalty on the 18th hole during Sunday’s final round for testing the conditions of a bunker. The LPGA rescinded it, thanks to a timely e-mail from the USGA.

Ahn hit her tee shot into the fairway and another member of the group, Jeong Jang, hit her drive into a fairway bunker on the par 5. After Ahn hit her second shot, Jang chunked her shot out of the bunker, and Ahn’s caddie – who didn’t realize his player had hit into another fairway bunker – offered to rake the bunker for Jang. Because Ahn had yet to play from another bunker, she was given a two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-4a, temporarily giving her a 78.

While eating lunch, Doug Brecht, vice president of rules and officials for the LPGA, received an e-mail of the new interpretation. After checking with the USGA, Brecht withdrew Ahn’s penalty because the final round had not ended.

“We are rescinding the penalty on the advice of the USGA,” said Brecht, leaving Ahn with a 76 and a tie for 42nd.

The ruling came just in time for Ahn. For Cink, it was a week too late.

– Beth Ann Baldry contributed

• • •

The new position agreed on by the Joint Rules Committee:

“Rule 13-4a prohibits a player from testing the condition of the hazard in which his ball lies or a similar hazard. Yet Exception 3 to the Rule, which was introduced in 2008, allows a player to test the condition of one hazard after playing from that hazard into a similar hazard. Although Decision 13-4/0.5 lists smoothing a bunker with a rake, club or otherwise as an example of testing the condition of the hazard, the Etiquette Section of the Rules of Golf provides that “Before leaving a bunker, players should carefully fill up and smooth over all holes and footprints made by them and any nearby made by others.”

“It is not the intent of Rule 13-4a to prohibit players from practicing the proper etiquette of the game when more than one bunker is involved. Therefore, when the player’s ball lies in a bunker, it would not be a breach of the Rules if the player were to smooth the sand in another bunker, provided (a) the smoothing is for the purpose of tidying up the bunker, (b) the smoothing does not breach Rule 13-2 (Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play) with respect to his next stroke and (c) there is not a reasonable possibility that the smoothing could affect a subsequent stroke by the player.

“If the player were to smooth sand in the bunker in which his ball lies prior to making his first stroke in that bunker, he would be in breach of Rule 13-4a.”

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