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Testing the Condition of a Hazard

Posted: 3/29/2013

Is a player responsible for her caddie's actions in a hazard?

In playing the golf course, the Rules of Golf grant us broader or more restricted rights based on where our ball has come to rest. On a putting green, we can mark and lift our ball. In a hazard (bunker or water hazard), the Rules impose a number of prohibitions on what we may do. Among those prohibitions, Rule 13-4a (“Ball in Hazard; Prohibited Actions”) states that when a player’s ball lies in a hazard, she must not “test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard.” While there are a number of actions a player may take without violating this Rule, it is always a good practice to avoid doing anything that could be considered testing when your ball lies in a hazard.

On the 16th hole during the third round of the 2013 RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup at Wildfire Golf Club in Phoenix, Stacy Lewis’ tee shot came to rest in a fairway bunker. During a discussion with her caddie, Travis Wilson, he stepped into the bunker to look over the lie. As they discussed how much sand might lie under the ball and how firm it was, Wilson bounced down then up and very slightly twisted the front of his right foot in the sand.

A Golf Channel viewer called the LPGA regarding the possible infraction of Rule 13-4a. After the round, but before she returned her scorecard, the incident was brought to the attention of Lewis and her caddie. Both went into a television trailer to observe the footage with LPGA officials.

Lewis recounted in her post-round press conference:

“I didn’t see Travis do anything when we were playing. I wasn’t looking at his feet obviously. So, we looked at the video and – you have to slow it down and you’ve got to zoom in on his foot. He walks in the bunker, he kind of pushes, he kind of bounces his knees a little bit and his foot turns and that was kind of the big indicator, is that his foot turned and you could hear the sand crunch a little bit.  So that’s deemed to be testing the sand. When you put it on video and you look at it from an outside perspective, it’s a two-shot penalty.”

Decision 13-4/0.5 (“Meaning of “Test the Condition of the Hazard” in Rule 13-4a”) allows players to dig their feet in for a stance in a hazard, and even for a stance for a practice swing. However the Rules do not permit players or their caddies to dig into the sand otherwise.

Although Lewis herself had not tested the hazard, she was still responsible for the actions of her caddie. Rule 6-1 (The Player:  “Rules”) says, “for any breach of a Rule by her caddie, the player incurs the applicable penalty.” The two-stroke penalty moved Lewis four strokes behind the leader, Ai Miyazato, going into the final round.

Later in her post-round press conference, Lewis said, “The good part is we got it before the cards were turned in, so I can still play tomorrow and we have a chance to win.” On Sunday, Lewis, with Wilson’s able assistance,  shot a 64 for a three-stroke victory and ascended to the No. 1 spot in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.


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