The Pros Getting It Wrong – ‘Play the Course as you Find it!’

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Patrick Reed found himself embroiled in a rules controversy during the third round of the December 2019 Hero World Challenge, with the former Masters champion issued with a two-stroke penalty for improving his lie in a sanded waste area.

Footage of Reed’s actions on the 11th hole at Albany resulted in the rules officials informing the 29-year-old of his punishment during a five-minute post-round discussion.

Reed claimed to have been totally unaware of the affair until that point. The Rules of Golf allow players to ground their club in waste areas but they cannot improve their capability to play a shot by “removing or pressing down sand or loose soil.” Rule 8 covers a central principle of the game: “play the course as you find it.”

When the player’s ball comes to rest, he or she normally has to accept the conditions affecting the stroke and not improve them before playing the ball. To support this principle the Rule restricts what a player may do to improve any of these protected “conditions affecting the stroke” (anywhere on or off the course) for the next stroke the player will make: Reed broke Rule 8.1a4, which states that golfers cannot “Remove or press down sand or loose soil” to improve the conditions affecting the stroke. Reed remained adamant he did nothing wrong knowingly and that a single camera angle, from behind and which twice shows the Texan flicking sand during practice swings, is deceptive.

“It was in a full footprint and I felt my club was that far behind the ball when I was taking a practice swing,” Reed said. “It was obviously hitting a bit of sand, though I didn’t feel any drag. But when they brought it up for me [on the TV] I definitely saw it drag and, because of that, it is a two-shot penalty even though I didn’t feel like it would have affected my lie.

“I don’t ever put the club directly behind the ball in a situation like that as I am scared of it moving. Intent is a big part but with only one camera angle it is a 50-50 battle when you are being assessed for anything like that.

I told them there was no intent and it was far enough away from the ball, but they didn’t have another camera angle to show that and they felt it might have been improving the lie.” Reed, who was three shots from the lead held by Gary Woodland in the Bahamas with 18 holes to play, appeared perfectly calm when discussing the scenario.

“At the end of the day you have got to let things roll off your shoulders and I still have one round to play tomorrow,” he said. “If I stew over something, it is my word against their word and because they only have one camera angle, I don’t really have a choice. After seeing it brush some sand, they thought that was a breach and, in the Rules of Golf, if you improve your lie, it is a penalty.

At the end of the day you have to accept it and move on.” Slugger White, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competitions, who issued Reed with the two strokes. He said: “I don’t know if he could have seen it as clearly as we did but he could not have been a better gentleman. Intent would not matter here, that’s not in the mix.”

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