Rules Corner

Rules Blog: Damaged Golf Balls

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Toledo, Ohio – With the technology of golf balls today, it is unusual to have a ball be taken out of play for damage.  This week at the U.S. Senior Open Championship, three balls have been taken out of play due to damage.

In round one, John Francisco hit a bunker shot on the third hole and cut his golf ball. During round two, Randy Haag had a ball that was out of round on the 10th hole and finally during the fourth round, James Rutledge’s ball was cracked while playing the ninth hole.

For a ball to be considered damaged, Rule 5-3 says it must be visibly cut, cracked or out of shape. A ball that has had its cover scraped by hitting a cart path or a tree is not considered damaged.

If a player wishes to lift his ball to inspect it for damage, he must first inform his marker or opponent or other fellow competitor. They can choose to watch the process at this point.

The location of the ball must be marked before the ball is lifted. The player may not clean the ball while inspecting it. Before the player can replace it, he must have agreement from the player he notified.

If the ball is not damaged, it must be replaced. If it is damaged, he may place another ball on the spot from which it was lifted.

If the player fails to follow the procedures above or lifts a ball with no reason to suspect it is damaged, he is penalized one stroke. If a player replaces a ball that is not damaged as described above and plays it, he would be penalized two strokes in stroke play or lose the hole in match play, but he would not receive the penalty for failing to following the procedure.

If a ball breaks into pieces as the result of a stroke, the stroke is cancelled and the player would play a ball to the spot from which the stroke was made.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules Communications for the USGA.


Rules Blog: Round Three Rulings

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Toledo, Ohio – Things were quiet for our referees for much of the day during the third round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Inverness Club. There were only 27 reported rulings during the day. Most of these were for relief from obstructions (11), water hazards (7) and temporary immovable obstructions (4).

Through the first three rounds there have been 194 rulings; 138 of them have been resolved in one minute or less, while only four have taken more than five minutes. The longest took seven minutes.

On the 18th hole, Mark McNulty’s ball was moved by Dan Forsman’s shot. Per Rule 18-5, McNulty’s ball was replaced. Rule 19-5 requires Forsman to play from where his ball came to rest.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules Communications for the USGA.


Rules Blog: Round Two Rules Incidents

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Toledo, Ohio – The second round of the U.S. Senior Open saw an increase in rulings from day one as 90 incidents were reported by referees vs. 72 in day one.  Holes 14 and 8 had the most incidents with 15 and 11, respectively.

Once again, the majority of the incidents involved obstructions (19), water hazards (22) and temporary immovable obstructions (21).  Surprisingly, given the rain early in the day, there were only two reports of relief from casual water.

On the 11th hole, Ben Crenshaw’s second shot hit D.A. Weibring’s ball and caused it to move. Rule 19-5 says that Crenshaw’s ball was to be played from where it came to rest, while Rule 18-5 required Weibring to replace his ball.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules communications for the USGA.


Rules Blog: Round 1 Rules Incidents

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Toledo, Ohio – Every grouping at the U.S. Senior Open is accompanied by a referee who assists the players with any rulings that they may need. Each referee files a report of all rulings that occur during the round.

During the first round, there were 72 occasions when a player took relief or asked for a ruling. There were 26 water-hazard rulings, 15 obstruction rulings and 12 rulings involving temporary immovable obstructions.

The holes with the most rulings were Nos. 14 and 16, which each had 11, and No. 12, which had 10, primarily due to the water hazards on those holes.

The longest ruling took approximately 7 minutes, while 46 rulings took one minute or less to handle.

One of the more rare rulings was a ball that was taken out of play for being damaged. This does not happen very often with today’s golf balls, but this particular ball was definitely cut by a shot.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules communications for the USGA.


Rules Blog: Casual Water

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Toledo, Ohio – After heavy rains and lightning on Friday morning, the second round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship is underway at Inverness Club. There was a 2-hour, 45-minute delay in the start of play, but after significant work by the grounds crew and volunteers the course is playable – although quite wet in places.

The USGA does not use the Local Rule for “Preferred Lies,” also known as “Lift, Clean and Place,” found in Appendix I of the Rules of Golf, preferring to stay with Rule 25 – Abnormal Ground Conditions to deal with situations. The primary problem today is casual water. Casual Water is defined as any temporary accumulation of water outside of a water hazard that is visible before or after the player takes his stance. A ball is in casual water when it lies in or any part of it touches the casual water. On the putting green, if casual water intervenes along the line of putt, the player would also be entitled to relief.

A player who has interference from casual water determines his relief options based on where the ball lies. If the ball is “through the green” he would find the nearest location where he has relief from the area of casual water, no nearer the hole, and drop the ball within one club-length of that point, no nearer the hole. This could result in the player moving from the rough to the fairway or vice versa.

If the ball is on the putting green, he would find the nearest point that is equidistant from the hole and not in a hazard that gives him relief and place the ball at that point. The point may be off the putting green.

When the ball is in a bunker, things get a little more complicated. If the player can find a place, again not nearer the hole, in the bunker that gives him complete relief, he would drop within one club-length of that point. If he was unable to find a point of complete relief, he would find the point that afforded him maximum relief and drop at that point. For example, if there was a place where he was standing in 1/8-inch deep water, but the ball would be on sand that wasn’t in casual water, that would be more relief than standing in ½-inch deep water with the ball in a small puddle. In this case, the ball is to be dropped on the point of maximum relief and not within the usual club-length.

If the player looks at the area in a bunker where he is to drop the ball, but doesn’t like it, he can, before he drops the ball, decide on a different option. This option allows him to drop outside the bunker for a one-stroke penalty. He must drop the ball on the extension of the line that goes from the hole through the point in the bunker where his ball lay, going back as far as he would like. In other words, this is similar to option B in taking relief from a water hazard.

If the ball can be immediately recovered from the casual water, it must be dropped. If for some reason it cannot be retrieved, the player may substitute a ball.

For more on what to do if your ball is lost in a puddle of casual water, see Rule 25-1c.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules communications for the USGA.

Rules Blog: Floating Golf Ball

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Toledo, Ohio – On the par-3 12th hole during the first round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Inverness Club, Gary Sowinski’s tee shot found the bunker to the left of the green. His second shot ran across the green and into the pond that borders the right of the green. The ball came to rest above water on a patch of algae.

Sowinski wanted to play the ball from there, but there was a microphone cable directly behind the ball. Cables such as this are movable obstructions, so under Rule 24-1, he was allowed to move the obstruction.  When he moved the cable, his ball moved and sank to the bottom of the pond.

There is no penalty if a ball moves when a movable obstruction is moved and the ball is to be replaced. But, there was now a hole in the algae where the ball had been sitting. Since the lie of the ball that was to be replaced had been altered, Rule 20-3b requires the player to find the nearest most similar lie within a club-length in the hazard and not nearer the hole where the ball will stay at rest. After a few attempts, Sowinski was able to get the ball to stay on another piece of algae. The ball was bobbing up and down in the water and Sowinksi was concerned that it was moving, but his referee informed him that since it wasn’t moving in relation to the algae that it was resting on, it was not considered to be moving.

At the point where the ball had originally come to rest, the bank of the hazard was quite low, but where he was able to get it to come to rest after moving the cable, the bank was high enough that he no longer felt he could play it. In the end, Sowinski decided to play under Rule 26-1a, playing his ball under stroke and distance. He returned to the bunker and dropped the ball there. He eventually had to settle for a triple-bogey 6.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules communications for the USGA.


Sindelar Receives Fortunate Break

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Toledo, Ohio – During the first round of the U.S. Senior Open Championship, Joey Sindelar’s second shot at the second hole on Inverness Club went over the green and into heavy rough.  When he took his stance for his third stroke, his left heel was on a sprinkler head. After conferring with the referee with the group, it was determined that he was entitled to relief under Rule 24-2b. 

Sindelar moved slightly forward so that his heel was off the sprinkler. The point where his wedge contacted the ground was his nearest point of complete relief not nearer the hole. From there he was able to measure a one club-length area, also not nearer the hole, in which to drop.  The far edge of this area was in the fringe. His drop landed just inside the area and bounced just outside of it remaining in the fringe. A ball dropped under Rule 24-2b can roll up to two club-lengths from where it first struck the course and as long as it doesn’t go nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief it is in play.

The Rules of Golf make no distinction between the fairway, the fringe or the rough as it is all covered by the definition of through the green. Therefore Sindelar’s ball was in play. From there he holed his next shot with a putter for a very smart birdie. He probably saved at least one stroke by knowing the Rules and asking the official to make sure everything he did was correct.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules Communications for the USGA.

Rules Blog: Multiple Rulings

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Toledo, Ohio – Jack Weeks’ second shot on the ninth hole at the U.S. Senior Open Championship at Inverness Club came to rest on a gravel path just to the left of the green.  Between Weeks and the hole was a grandstand.   


Weeks had interference from the cart path. Additionally, the grandstand, a Temporary Immovable Obstruction, intervened directly on his line to the flagstick. Usually he would choose to be granted relief from either the path or the obstruction and then if the other still interfered he could take further relief from it. But, in this case, between the path and the grandstand was a large tree which completely blocked any shot to the flagstick.   

Weeks’ ball lay on the path directly behind the tree.  The flagstick is on the far side of the tree.

The Local Rule for temporary immovable obstructions, which can be found in Appendix I, has an exception which states that if there is something directly between the ball and the hole other than the obstruction which would prevent him from playing directly toward  the flagstick, relief may not be granted. The tree definitely met this exception.

Therefore Weeks was unable to take relief from the obstruction from the position where his ball lay. After consulting with both his referee and a roving Rules official, he took relief from the gravel path. After dropping from the path, the tree was no longer between his ball and the hole.  But, he still had intervention from the obstruction. He was given further relief a short distance away and was able to play to the green.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules communications for the USGA. 

Rules Blog: The Forgotten Option

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Toledo, Ohio – When golfers hit their shot into a lateral water hazard (one marked by red stakes) most golfers know that one of their options is to drop within two club-lengths of the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard.  But Rule 26-1c provides another option to the player that can be even better.

The second option is to find a point on the opposite margin of the hazard that is the same distance from the hole as the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard and drop within two club-lengths of there.

In the picture of the 14th hole at Inverness Club to the left, if the player’s shot from point D last crossed the margin of the hazard at point A, the player has four choices for taking relief with a penalty stroke.   

·         The first one (26-1a) would be to return to where the ball last was played (point D).   

·         The second (26-1b) would be to go back on the extension of a line from the flagstick to point A and drop the ball (a straight line from A through point C), since this entire line is in the rough it isn’t necessarily desirable.   

·         Third, 26-1c would allow the player to drop within two club-lengths of point A no nearer the hole. Again, this is in the rough.   

·         The final option that is frequently forgotten would be to find the point, B in this case, that is the same distance from the hole and on the opposite margin of the hazard as A and drop within two club-lengths of that point, not nearer the hole. This may allow the player to get into the fairway.

There may even be another opposite margin to the left of A that might even allow the player to drop on the putting green.

In determining points on the opposite margin, the straight line from A to B must always stay inside the hazard. If the line from the point of entry to the point on another margin crosses any area that is not inside the hazard, that margin cannot be used. See Decision 26-1/14 for a graphic example of this principle.

If this hazard were marked with yellow stakes or lines, the only options would be dropping at point D or along the line from A to C.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules Communications for the USGA. 


Rules Blog: Look Before You Lift

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Toledo, Ohio – A cart path sits to the right of the 10th green at Inverness Club, site of the 2011 U.S. Senior Open Championship. If a player’s ball comes to rest on this cart path, he would be wise to consider where his relief would be before he lifts his ball.

Rule 24-2b states that a player who wants relief for interference from an immovable obstruction, such as a cart path, should determine the nearest point of relief, not nearer the hole than where the ball lies and drop, within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole.

The cart path to the right of the 10th sits alongside a very steep hillside. The nearest point of relief for a ball on this path would frequently be up the hill, one to two feet from the path. The entire area within one club-length of the nearest point of relief is very steep. A player who chose to take relief would end up with his front foot as much as a foot or two below his back foot and face a very difficult chip.

Therefore, he might decide that it is better to play the ball from the path than to take the relief available.

If the player had lifted his ball before making this determination and then wanted to change his mind, he would have a problem. In order to lift a ball, the player must be operating under a specific Rule such as Rule 24 that allows him to lift the ball. When the player changed his mind, Decision 18-2a/12 states that the permission to lift the ball was negated, and if he was to put the ball back on the path, he would incur a penalty stroke.

Furthermore, Decision 18-2a/12.5 says that if he decided, at this point, to deem the ball unplayable, he would have various options on how to proceed, some of which would result in a single penalty stroke under Rule 28, while others would also include the penalty under Rule 18-2a.

For this reason, you should always make sure you know where you are going to take relief before you lift your ball.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules Communications for the USGA. 


Rules Blog: Purtzer On The Roof

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Purtzer On The Roof 


In 2003, Tom Purtzer put his
ball on the Inverness Club clubhouse

Toledo, Ohio – At the 2003 U.S. Senior Open, Tom Purtzer’s second shot on the 18th hole in the second round veered to the right and bounced onto the roof of the clubhouse. The clubhouse at Inverness Club is in bounds. There were some people on the roof and one of them found a ball that was identified as Purtzer’s. Since the clubhouse is a man-made object, it is an immovable obstruction, and relief from it is covered under Rule 24-2b.


The nearest point to where Purtzer’s ball lay that was not nearer the hole was determined and he was allowed to drop the ball within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole. From there he went on to make a bogey 5.

Had Purtzer’s ball not been found on the roof, he still would have received relief if it could be determined with virtual certainty that the ball was lost in or on the clubhouse. In this case, he would have determined his nearest point of relief from the point where the ball entered the outer limit of the clubhouse. Rule 24-3 covers instances where a ball in an obstruction cannot be found.



Storms Hit Inverness Club 

Thunderstorms and heavy rain hit the 2011 U.S. Senior Open site at Inverness Club this past week, and the nearly 3 inches of rain was accompanied by high winds.

A fence that had been constructed to separate the driving range from the first hole was blown over twice during these storms.

A large tree between the seventh green and the 17th fairway was broken in half during the storm on Friday, and a number of bunkers had washouts and were flooded.

Large amounts of debris from trees, including many large branches, have also been cleaned up by the crews that were already busy preparing the course for the championship.



The cart path at the Inverness Club.

Cart Path Near A Boundary



On the 566-yard, par-5 eighth hole at the 2011 U.S. Senior Open at Inverness Club, a cart path runs along the right side of the hole adjacent to the out-of-bounds fence.  Because the path is so close to the boundary, a player who might have interference from the fence would also be standing on the path.

Normally a player does not get free relief from a boundary fence, but the cart path is an immovable obstruction from which free relief would be granted. This would allow the player in this area to escape from a boundary fence where a player who was just short or past it would not be able to do so. In order to make a more equitable situation, the Championship Rules Committee has deemed the cart path in this stretch to be an “Integral Part of the Course” from which free relief is not granted. Clubs with cart paths close to boundary fences should consider this option in their competitions.

The portion of the cart path that is considered to be an integral part of the course will be designated by two green stakes on each side of the path at both ends. This is noted on the Notice to Players that will be distributed at the starting holes each day of the championship.

Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules communications for the USGA. 


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