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Opinion & Analysis

The View from the Ref’s Side of the Fairway: An Unasked Question

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Amateur golfers sometimes have the opportunity to interact with Refs during their tournament play, and at times that can be a big help. But whether you participate in formal tournaments or not, knowing what might be going on in a Ref’s mind can give you an edge when playing.

At a recent Public Links Championship, I was assigned to officiate the sudden-death playoff starting on the course’s first hole, a short par-4 with Out of Bounds down the left side. One of the three players who made the playoff pulled his drive, and it ended up about 18 inches from the vine-covered chain-link fence that defined Out of Bounds. The other two players were in relatively good shape, so I moved toward the player who faced this challenge and stood at a respectful distance to observe, and to help if possible.

The hole had a paved cart path that also ran along the left side. It was about two or three feet from the fence where the ball came to rest, and the ball sat awkwardly between the fence and the path. I watched as this right-handed player tried to squeeze himself between the fence and the ball, trying to figure out if he had even a marginal backswing with which to work. Then he turned his club over, moved to the other side of the ball and started to take repeated left-handed practice swings, trying to figure out if he wanted to try to punch his ball toward the green with the back of his iron. (His stance from this side of the ball was necessarily on the paved cart path.)

Here was what was going on in my mind as I watched: “The player isn’t asking me for relief from the boundary fence, which is interfering with his backswing. He seems to know that the Definitions section of the Rules has a clause regarding Out of Bounds that says, ‘Objects defining Out of Bounds such as walls, fences, stakes, and railings are not obstructions and are deemed to be fixed.’ Good deal so far, looks like I won’t have to disappoint him with that knowledge.”

Once he started taking a stance on the paved cart path and making his practice swings, I began to worry. It was obvious to me that this opposite-handed swing he was testing was a reasonable choice given the challenge the player faced, and I know that Decision 24-2b/17 allows free relief from interference from the Immovable Obstruction the cart path represents (even if the interference occurs due to an “abnormal stroke,” as long as the abnormal stroke is “reasonable” given the circumstance).

“I hate this,” I thought. “I wish I could tell him that he has the option of a free drop from his stance on the path, but doing so would essentially be providing him with advice on how to play — that’s not acceptable coming from me. I can intervene to protect him from making a Rules violation if I see that might be about to happen, but there’s nothing illegal about standing on a cart path, so I’m going to have to shut up and hope for the best. I wish he’d ask me about his options, one of them is a free drop. In this particular case given the nearby OB, the free drop would actually have to be on the fairway side of the cart path — that’s where the Nearest Point of Relief is. And once that drop is successfully made for the planned left-handed stroke, he could even legally decide to abandon the left-handed stroke and take his normal right-handed swing. If he was aware of his choices, he could have a completely unencumbered shot at the green!” 

Sadly, the player never asked. He made a decent, but not spectacular left-handed punch, and he ended up losing the playoff on the first hole. It will never hurt you to ask a Ref what your options are — consider doing so next time you’re in a tournament and something awkward is going on. We’re there to help, but depending on the circumstances you might have to ask!

If you’re not in a tournament, try to remember the principle behind Decision 24-2b/17. If a situation reasonably causes you to have to make an abnormal stroke or take an abnormal stance, and doing so creates interference from an Immovable Obstruction, you are entitled to free relief. (A key thought is whether you’d be making this unusual stroke or stance even if the Immovable Obstruction were not present. If you wouldn’t be, then you are not entitled to free relief as the next Decision in the book, 24-2b/18, makes clear.)

Take care, and play well!

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Howard Meditz is a member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association and author of the book, How to Love the Rules of Golf, available on Amazon. He holds “The Highest Level of Rating” in knowledge of the Rules of Golf, a designation awarded by the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association. He's a member of the Rules & Competitions Committee and a rules official for New York’s Metropolitan Golf Association; a member of the Executive Committee and a rules official for New York’s Westchester Golf Association; a rules official for the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association; and holds a seat on the Board of Governors and is Rules Chairman at Connecticut’s busiest golf facility. (He really loves the Rules of Golf.)

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Double Mocha Man

    Oct 10, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    I play croquet on a severely sloping front lawn with my son. We have no rules. It is terrific fun!

  2. Brian

    Oct 9, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    This is an excellent example of rules, but I have to admit, it raises questions in my mind (and if you have addressed them previously, I apologize). Can you elaborate on this: “given the nearby OB, the free drop would actually have to be on the fairway side of the cart path — that’s where the Nearest Point of Relief is”? Is it because if he took a drop, then he wouldn’t be able to make an unencumbered swing due to the OB fence? It’s hard to visualize exactly what was going on, but I think I got most of it… Excellent thought provoking article!

    • Howard Meditz

      Oct 9, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the kind words. To answer your question, the reason the Nearest Point of Relief is on the fairway side of the cart path has nothing at all to do with the OB fence. In the definition of Obstructions we see that objects defining Out of Bounds are excluded from being identified as Obstructions, therefore no free relief from the fence is granted (or, for that matter, from any object which is situated Out of Bounds). The reason the player would have to take relief on the fairway side of the cart path is that if he chooses to take relief for his left-handed stance on the path, the Nearest Point of Relief must free him from interference from the path and also be in bounds. Since the OB line runs close to and parallel to the cart path, in this case he’d have to go back 20 or 30 yards before the OB line was far enough from the path to provide relief. Instead, about two or three yards away from his ball on the fairway side, the actual nearest point exists. So the wise player lucks out with the NPR being right where he probably would want it to be. BTW, if there was room to drop near the fence that was nearer than the point of relief on the fairway side of the path, the player choosing relief would have to drop near the fence even if it was just two inches or so from the fence. And his drop might go right up against it, creating a much worse problem with no free relief. Be careful to evaluate things before you pick up your ball for a free drop — you might not like where you get to drop!

  3. MikieFlorida

    Oct 9, 2017 at 6:24 am

    Based on the image depicted and the description of the original position/lie of the ball relative to the OB fence and the cart path – THE NEAREST POINT OF RELIEF can only to the left side of the cart path. To drop on the otherside/rightside would be farther away than the NEAREST POINT OF RELIEF – the rules of golf only afford “ONE” NEAREST POINT OF RELIEF. The point of player electing to take abnormal stance is a non – issue. The options available would be play it as it lies(righty), take an abnormal stance and swing(play backhand/lefty) or take a one stroke penalty under the unplayable lie options of max two club lengths or going back to,the point of where the player last played from with a one shot penalty

    • Howard Meditz

      Oct 9, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      HI Mikie,

      While the picture may not make the situation completely clear, let me point out that the Nearest Point of Relief, per its definition, must be “on the course” (not OB). In this situation, with the OB-indicating chain-link fence so close to the cart path, when taking relief for a left-handed stroke the player taking a normal stance would have to move back way further than the width of the paved cart path before he could drop in bounds and still be free of the path. Therefore, the Nearest Point of Relief is only on the fairway side in this particular situation.

    • mctrees02

      Oct 9, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      In the depicted image, it doesn’t appear to have enough room for a player to drop on the left side of the path and still play a left handed shot without taking a stance on the cart path. Once he elects to take relief from an immovable obstruction (in this case the cart path), his nearest point of relief is the position where “if the ball were so positioned, no interference by the condition from which relief is sought would exist for the stroke the player would have made from the original position if the condition were not there.”

      In other words, he has to find the nearest point where the cart path would not interfere with the abnormal, left handed swing. He then marks that reference point and drops the ball within one club length of it, no closer to the hole.

      After completing that relief drop, if he then chooses to hit right handed and finds that the cart path interferes with the swing or stance, then he can once again take relief from the cart path.

      As mentioned multiple times in the article, this is outlined as 24-2b/17: http://www.usga.org/rules/rules-and-decisions.html#!decision-24,d24-2b-17

  4. SteveK

    Oct 9, 2017 at 1:09 am

    To ask, or not to ask –that is the question:
    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles….

  5. Acemandrake

    Oct 8, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Would it be acceptable for a rules official to ask the player in question if he has any questions???

    • Howard Meditz

      Oct 8, 2017 at 6:28 pm

      Hi Acemandrake,

      Of course, a serious obligation of every Ref is to be even-handed. In my opinion, the propriety of a Ref asking such a question depends on what the circumstances are . . . for instance, is it the Ref’s intention to push the player into asking — or is he instead responding to some form of communication from the player, even an expression, that inspires the Ref to follow up by asking. Still in my (subjective) opinion, the Ref making himself available by approaching the player is already beginning to approach a sort of “Do you have any questions?” move, and anything more feels to me like he’s making a “recommendation to ask” which I think goes over the line. The closest thing I find in the Rules themselves which speaks to this issue is Decision 34-2/3 which requests that Refs make sure even warnings about potential Rules breaches be done uniformly to all players. Taken to an extreme, we wouldn’t want a Ref following around a favored player and interrupting with “Have any questions?” every time the Ref had a different idea of what a player should do next.

      I can’t promise that every Ref you encounter will see this in exactly the same way as I do, but I can say that you can save yourself by being sure to be the one to speak up!

  6. Howard Meditz

    Oct 8, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Hi Walt,

    Once the player successfully drops free of interference for the originally planned shot, a new world exists. He may play it, or change clubs, stance and direction of play based on the new situation. So he would again have a choice — maybe he likes his new lie and chooses to stand on the path, maybe he hates his new lie and wants to try again and may do so based on his right to choose relief from the Immovable Obstruction once again. Decisions 24-2b/9.5 and 20-2c/0.8 confirm this.

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Opinion & Analysis

A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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