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I Am Standing On A Cart Path: Do I Get Relief?

Posted: 10/24/2011

The USGA receives a fair number of calls and e-mails each year regarding whether a player may take relief from an obstruction (i.e cart path, sprinkler head or something similar) if the interference occurs through the use of an abnormal stance, swing or direction of play. Picture the following situation:



A competitor's ball comes to rest next to a bush adjacent to a cart path.  If he takes his regular right-handed stance, he is not standing on the path but he cannot hit the ball because the bush interferes with his normal right-handed swing. However, he could hit the ball with a left-handed stroke and when he addresses the ball this way he is standing on the cart path.  Is this right-handed player allowed relief from the cart path by adopting this abnormal swing and associated stance? If he is, his nearest point of relief would be on the other side of the cart path and after taking his drop within one club-length of that point not nearer the hole he would be able to hit the ball right-handed with a clear shot to the green. Is this permissible? 


The Rules cover the answer to this scenario in the Exception to Rule 24-2b (Relief from Immovable Obstructions). In the above situation the player needs to ask, “How would I play this stroke if the immovable obstruction (i.e. cart path) were not here?”  


If the abnormal (left-handed) stroke is not reasonable, in other words if the player would not attempt to make such a stroke if his stance were not on a cart path, the player is not entitled to take relief under Rule 24-2b - see also Decision 24-2b/16 and Decision 24-2b/18. 


If the abnormal (left-handed) stroke is reasonable and the player would make a left-handed stroke even if the cart path was not there, the player is entitled to take relief under Rule 24-2b - see also Decision 24-2b/17. Note that the player should determine the nearest point of relief (see Definition of Nearest Point of Relief) using a left-handed stance and address position.  After taking relief, the player may play his next stroke as he sees fit, including playing it right-handed. 


At this year’s PGA Championship, Johnson Wagner was able to utilize this Rule to his advantage. Jesse Barge, the PGA official on hand, discussed the situation that took place. 

During the third round of the 2011 PGA Championship Johnson Wagner hit his second shot on the par-5 12th hole left of the green. His ball rolled across the cart path and under a hedgerow. The ball was about 10 inches from the edge of the cart path. 

Johnson and his caddie determined the only shot he could play was a low trajectory chip back toward the fairway. He would be standing on the path to play this shot. He asked for relief from the immovable obstruction. Since he had demonstrated his ability to make the stroke with a normal stance and in a direction that was not abnormal for this situation the exception under Rule 24-2b did not apply. He was entitled to relief. However, I explained to him the nearest point of relief would be further into the hedge. 

I determined his nearest point of relief. He then measured the one club length area where he could drop the ball. I then explained he would extend his arm into the hedge and drop the ball. After a brief conversation with his caddie he asked another question, “What if the ball ricochets off the branches and hits the ground outside the one-club length area?” I told him the branch was a part of the course so his ball would have first struck the course where required in compliance of Rule 20-2b. This is the exact circumstance addressed in Decision 20-2c/1.3. 

Wagner dropped the ball and it did strike a branch and then hit the ground and came to rest about 3 inches past the tee used to mark the one club length. I then had him take his stance to be sure he did not have interference for the shot he had demonstrated. The ball was now located at the end of the row, which restricted his back swing for the chip he had demonstrated but he could now play a left-handed stroke directly toward the flagstick. When he took his stance for the left-handed stroke his right foot was on the cart path. Since the left-handed stroke was not abnormal in these circumstances he was once again entitled to relief. Decision 24-2b/9.5 covers this situation. 

Before Johnson dropped the ball he asked if he could remove pine straw from the area where he was going to drop the ball. Since pine straw is a loose impediment this is permissible as outlined in Decision 23-1/6. After removing the pine straw, Wagner dropped the ball within one club length of the nearest point of relief for the left-handed shot. When the ball came to rest he could now play a right-handed pitch shot to the flagstick. Again, Decision 24-2b/9.5 informs us such a stroke is in accordance with the Rules of Golf.  

Johnson pitched the ball onto the green. He then took two putts to record a 5 on the hole. This was a great example of how knowing the rules can save a player strokes. Wagner asked the right questions and with assistance from a very knowledgeable caddie managed to make par. 


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