1. Spieth Takes an Unplayable:
After evaluating the situation and realizing that attempting to play his ball as it lay was not the best choice, Spieth decided to deem his ball unplayable. For a penalty of one stroke, there were three options available to him under Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable), and Spieth decided to choose the back-on-a-line option (28b).
Under Rule 28b there is no limit to how far back on the line a player may go, provided the location the original ball had come to rest remains between the hole and the spot where the player is going to drop the ball. In Spieth’s case, this option took him back to the practice range, which was not defined as out of bounds.
2. Temporary Immovable Obstruction (TIO) Interference:
Once Spieth went back on the line, keeping the original location of his golf ball in line with the hole, he found himself in the middle of some equipment trucks, which were defined as Temporary Immovable Obstructions (TIOs).
Since the TIOs intervened directly between Spieth’s ball and the hole, and were on his intended line, they interfered with Spieth’s next stroke, and he was entitled to relief without additional penalty. Under the watchful eye of a referee, Spieth dropped a ball in the area where he was clear of interference from the TIOs.
3. Pace of Play:
The 13th hole at Royal Birkdale took the final pairing longer to complete than expected, and as a result, Spieth and fellow-competitor Matt Kuchar fell more than a hole behind the preceding group. However, it is important to recognize that players cannot be held responsible for delays that are out of their control. Simple rulings take time, and very involved rulings like this one take even more time, especially when so many spectators are present.
In order to protect all of the players in the field, the referees used many available resources, including an overhead image of the situation, to ensure that Rule 28b, and the ruling as a whole, was properly executed.
After the ruling was complete, Spieth and his caddie, Michael Greller, made an educated guess of the yardage to the green, and once spectators were out of the way, Spieth swiftly made his stroke, with his ball coming to rest short of a greenside bunker. He would then get up and down from there for an excellent bogey, setting the stage for his historic finish.
Ben Schade is a Rules of Golf Associate for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.