Only weeks after regaining exempt status on the PGA Tour, Ian Poulter worked his way into contention on the weekend at The Players Championship. After a bogey-free round of 1-under-par 71 in the third round on Saturday on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Poulter backed up his performance with three birdies and one bogey during his first 17 holes during the final round on Sunday. He arrived at the 18th hole only two strokes back of the leader, Si Woo Kim.
It was on the final hole that things got interesting. In what Poulter called a “flat-out shank,” he struck his second shot from the light rough into the trees right of the fairway, far short of his intended target. Faced with a nearly impossible shot from a bush, Poulter opted to proceed under option c of Rule 28 and drop a ball within two club-lengths of the spot where the ball lay, but not nearer the hole, under penalty of one stroke.
Before dropping his ball, Poulter began removing pine straw from the area where he was to drop his ball. He was permitted to remove the pine straw because these natural objects are considered loose impediments under the Rules of Golf, and Rule 23-1 along with Decision 23-1/6 specifically permit Poulter’s actions.
The true question at hand was whether Poulter breached a different Rule through these actions – Rule 13-2. Among other things, Rule 13-2 states that a player must not improve the area in which he is to drop a ball by removing sand or loose soil. Therefore, in moving the pine straw, was Poulter subject to penalty for moving sand or loose soil as well?
PGA Tour Rules official Stephen Cox, at the scene of the ruling with Poulter, confirmed via Twitter the following day that Poulter did not remove sand or loose soil and, therefore, was not at odds with the Rules of Golf:
After removing the pine straw and proceeding under Rule 28, Poulter played an incredible shot and managed to make what was an impressive bogey on his final hole of the tournament, and secured a tie for second in what has been a very positive month on Tour for the Englishman.
Joe Foley is the manager of Rules outreach and programming for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.