During the last week of January, the stars of the LPGA Tour kickstarted their 2018 seasons at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. But the island reflected far different weather conditions than its name might suggest. Mother Nature imposed her will, bringing rain and heavy winds throughout the week, creating headaches for both players and officials.
When bad weather strikes in a competition, the Rules of Golf often have a more prominent place in the tournament storyline – and this year’s Bahamas LPGA Classic was no exception. For the first three days of competition, the heavy winds had players concerned about oscillating – and moving – golf balls during play. Their rounds started and stopped, and trickled into subsequent days due to the delays. On Friday, tournament officials shortened the competition from 72 holes to 54 holes to help ensure a Sunday finish. The Committee has the option to shorten a competition per Decision 33-1/2.
On Saturday, when the third round should have been completed, the Committee was forced to suspend play due to darkness with players on the course still playing their second rounds. The group of Lexi Thompson, Shanshan Feng and Nelly Korda was on the 18th hole – the players’ ninth hole of the round – when the air horn sounded three times to indicate play was suspended for a non-dangerous situation (darkness). When play is suspended by the Committee for a non-dangerous situation during the play of a hole, players have the option to discontinue play immediately or continue play of the hole until completion (Rule 6-8b). This left Thompson, Feng and Korda with strategic decisions to make.
Interestingly, each player decided to proceed differently. There is nothing in the Rules that requires players to make a collective decision on whether to keep playing or discontinue play. Korda decided to immediately discontinue play – before her second stroke from the fairway – leaving her with a long approach shot the next morning on the par 5 . Thompson, located in a similar spot in the fairway, decided to take on the challenge of playing her shot in near darkness, perhaps in hopes of grabbing a birdie before dinner. Unfortunately, she pulled her second shot into a greenside bunker and then decided to call it quits for the day.
After opting not to finish the hole, both Korda and Thompson marked the position of their golf balls before lifting them – marking and lifting your ball is recommended, but not required – see Rule 6-8c – with Korda positioned in the fairway lying two and Thompson in the greenside bunker lying three. Their fellow-competitor, Feng, chose a different option: to finish the hole to completion. With their golf balls in hand, Thompson and Korda watched as Feng struck her second shot from the fairway to just short of the green, then putted up close for a tap-in birdie to close out her day. Feng played spectator herself the following morning when Korda and Thompson replaced their golf balls at their marked positions and finished out the hole. Korda made a birdie while Thompson failed to get up and down from the bunker and settled for a par.
Occasionally, the Rules of Golf present players with unique decision-making opportunities, some of which rarely cross their minds until the situation arrives. If the Committee suspends play for a dangerous situation, frequently relating to lightning in the area, the players have only one option: play must be discontinued immediately. But in this case, the three players had options and each chose a slightly different approach.
Joe Foley is the manager of Rules outreach and programming for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.