OUR EXPERTS EXPLAIN
Our Experts Explain: The Rules of a Broken Putter July 9, 2015 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By Kathryn Belanger, USGA

After breaking his putter, Robert Streb used a 56-degree wedge for nine holes at the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic. (Darren Carroll/Getty Images)

Even if you were not watching the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic on July 5, you probably heard about Robert Streb’s unusual putting method on the inward nine of the final round. Social media exploded when Streb made a 30-foot birdie putt with his 56-degree wedge. He went on to make five birdies over his last nine holes while putting with his wedge.

Streb decided to putt with a wedge after he broke the head off his putter when he tossed it toward his golf bag after a missed putt on the ninth hole.

“(I) meant to lightly land it next to the bag, and it didn't make it quite far enough, hit the bottom of the bag and the head flew off,” Streb said. “So I was like, huh, that's not good.”

Under the Rules of Golf, if a club is damaged other than in the normal course of play, rendering it non-conforming or changing its playing characteristics, the club must not subsequently be used or replaced during the stipulated round – see Rule 4-3b.

Decision 4-3/1 provides clarification on the meaning of the term “normal course of play.” The term is intended to cover all reasonable acts but specifically excludes cases of abuse. Making a stroke, practice swing or accidentally dropping a club are examples of acts that are in the “normal course of play.” Throwing a club, whether in anger, in retrieving a ball, or otherwise; or “slamming” a club into a bag are acts that are not in the “normal course of play.”

Since Streb’s putter was damaged other than in the normal course of play and rendered non-conforming, he was not permitted to use the putter or replace it for the remainder of his final round. 

While most players almost always use their putter to make a stroke on the putting green, a player is permitted to putt with any club in his bag. Without a putter, Streb decided to use a wedge to putt for the remainder of the round.

Streb played well enough to move into a tie for the lead and participate in a four-way, hole-by-hole playoff. In stroke play, when a tie is decided by playoff, a new stipulated round begins. Accordingly, Streb was permitted to replace the broken club – see Decision 4-3/12. So he decided to retire the wedge and use a new putter for the playoff, which was eventually won by Danny Lee.