OUR EXPERTS EXPLAIN
Our Experts Explain: Phil Stays In Bounds February 8, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By Jamie Wallace, USGA

Phil Mickelson is a fan favorite, and his knowledge of the Rules of Golf has led to memorable moments for those who have watched him play. (USGA/Michael Cohen)

Phil Mickelson has a knack for making things interesting on the golf course, and the second round of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Jan. 29 was no exception. After two strokes on the par-5 18th hole of the North Course, Mickelson found his ball underneath a metal boundary fence on the left side of the hole. Because the fence defined out of bounds, the object was not an obstruction and free relief was not available. Mickelson called upon his knowledge of the Rules of Golf to successfully, and without penalty, extricate himself from the situation.

It first needed to be determined whether Mickelson’s ball was in or out of bounds. When the boundary of a golf course is indicated by a fence or by white stakes, the out-of-bounds line is measured using the nearest course-side points of the fence (or stakes) at ground level (see the Definition of Out of Bounds). In this case, a referee was on the scene to help and ran a string from fence post to fence post to draw the out-of-bounds line.

Before he could effectively use this line to determine whether the ball was in or out of bounds, Mickelson also needed to know that a ball is not out of bounds unless the entire ball is no longer on the golf course. This means that if any piece of the ball is on the course side of the out-of-bounds line, the ball is in bounds and can be played. In this case, it was determined that the ball was in bounds by about “a dimple,” according to Mickelson. If it had been determined that the ball was out of bounds, his only option would have been to proceed under penalty of stroke and distance by playing a ball from as near as possible to the spot of his previous stroke (Rule 27-1).

Since the ball was in bounds, Mickelson had a few options:

1)    Play the ball as it lies.

2)    Proceed under penalty of stroke and distance.

3)    Declare the ball unplayable and drop a ball within two club lengths of where it lay, not closer to the hole.

4)    Declare the ball unplayable and drop a ball behind the point where the ball lay at any spot on a straight line from the hole through the position of the ball. This was not an option for Mickelson, as this would have placed him out of bounds.

Never one to shy away from a challenging shot, Mickelson opted to play the ball as it lay under the fence. To do so, he needed to stand on the sidewalk that was on the out-of-bounds side of the fence. This is allowed within the Rules (see the Definition of Out of Bounds), as it is the position of the ball that is important rather than the position of the player’s feet or body. Additionally, due to the position of the ball, Mickelson decided to hit the ball with the toe end of a hybrid, allowing the clubhead to make contact with the ball before the club made contact with the metal fence. This is also allowed, per Rule 14-1a, because he struck the ball with the head of the club. Striking a ball with the grip end of the club is not allowed, but striking it with any part of the clubhead (including the back of the club) is perfectly fine.

Unfortunately for Mickelson, he ended up making a double bogey on the hole and missed the cut by two strokes. However, had he not known how the Rules of Golf applied to this situation, he may have recorded a higher score.

Jamie Wallace is a manager of Rules education and digital content for the USGA. Email him at jwallace@usga.org.

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