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Opinion & Analysis

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



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 new 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.)



  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:!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

Clampett: Is confusion the leading cause of golfers quitting the game?



It seems that lately I’ve had a run of golfers attending my two-day Signature School with similar stories.

“Bobby, I have too many swing thoughts! I don’t know what I should think about when I swing.” Nearly without exception, these golfers tell me that their increased frustration had led to a deterioration of their game. It’s really a shame, because many of these frustrated golfers were at one time low, single-digit handicap players that had fallen to bogey-level golf.

In these schools, I have the time to start peeling back the onion with each student, and I’m hearing the same story over and over. My first question is always, “How did you find out about us?” Usually, it’s through referral or the result of an internet search for instruction help. My second questions is, “What do you hope to accomplish in our two days together?” They almost always respond, “Bobby, my head is spinning with too many swing thoughts. I don’t know what to do. Your approach to impact makes the most sense I’ve seen. That’s why I’m here.”

Statistics indicate that 4 million golfers quit the game in the United States every year. And if you polled each of these 4 million golfers, you’d find confusion to be the common denominator in their decision to quit.

I googled “golf instruction” and received more than 33 million results. Then I went to “YouTube” and typed in “Golf Tip.” There were 932,000 results. Scores of golfers get emails everyday suggesting a new thought or idea to improve their game. They watch television and pick up some more advice. They subscribe to golf magazines suggesting all kinds of ideas. Then they go to the range or course and put as much of it into action as their memories and bodies will allow… only to find it just doesn’t work! They’re farther away from playing good golf than they were when they began seeking out these swing fixes.

Many of my students are avid golfers who come to my schools on the brink of quitting the game all together. One student’s story was so sad. He confessed that no one at his club wanted to play with him anymore because his game had declined so sharply. He was considering selling his membership. In tears, he shared with us that all of his friends were members of his club.

Why is there all this confusion around the golf swing? There are two simple reasons.

The first involves the idea that “style-based” teaching is still the most common approach to improving a golfer’s game, and in my opinion, this doesn’t work very well for most golfers. Style-based instruction centers around a certain look. These teachers ask golfers to set up to the ball this way, get in these backswing positions, make this move on the downswing, look like this at the finish… and so on. Meanwhile, the Dustin Johnsons, Jim Furyks, and Bubba Watsons of the golfing world don’t possess golf swings that look anything like the “style” being suggested. When swing tips are given for “style” reasons, they’re arbitrary, a visual preference, and can’t be measured.

The second reason golfers are more confused today than they’ve ever been is the climate of today’s golf instruction world. We live in a new age, the digital age, and golfers are being bombarded by countless forms of media suggesting how to improve their games. These tips have a very wide range of theories and suggestions, most of which are conflicting.

Set up with your weight on the left foot. No, on the right foot. No, in the middle.

Have a short, compact swing. No, get a big shoulder turn for more distance. No, just swing around your body.

Finish high. No, finish low and left.

You get the picture. Without the ability to discern fact from fiction when it comes to all of this information, golfers go to the driving range in search of that secret pill that’s going to make it all work. The truth is that a secret pill that’s “style-based” just doesn’t exist. The best golf teachers know that the “style” of swing really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters in playing good golf is creating good impact. That’s what Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson all have in common, and that’s why they are all great golfers and great ball-strikers.

Good instructors understand what it is that these great players do to create that good impact, and they have the ability to offer clear remedies that might be built on only one or two simple thoughts. When a golfer is limited to thinking about only one or two key things, their mind is free and so is their swing. It’s not paralysis by analysis that ruins golfers, but rather paralysis by having too many needless and ineffective swing thoughts that ruins golfers.

Good instruction and good swing tips help golfers understand the impact their swing needs to create to be a good ball-striker. When a golfer’s impact isn’t good, a good instructor will help the student understand the specific element of their impact that wasn’t good and provide the appropriate remedy to fix it. Using today’s modern technology helps reveal precisely what was good or bad about a swing’s impact. After the remedy is given, technology will specifically be able to measure and show improvement in the various elements of impact. Game improvement can now be measured and verified by viewing the specific areas where impact is improved. When students see this measured improvement, hope is restored, confidence grows, scores drop and fewer golfers quit the game!

Be aware that it’s fine to read these articles and view these swing tips for their entertainment and educational value, but golfers should only apply the tips when they know they will help them improve a specific element of their impact. Then and only then will their game improve. One thing is for certain in golf, better impact equals better golf. That is where the “hope” of a good golf game is to be found.

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Opinion & Analysis

The difference between “ugly” and “unorthodox” golf swings



I’d like you pretend for a moment that you were asked to name the five ugliest golf swings by players who had won a major championship. Who would you select, and what criteria would you use to make that judgment? You might say you’re not sure, but you would have no difficulty identifying an ugly swing if you were to see one, right? The question is, what factors would move you toward that decision?

I struggled with this exact question when it was posed to me and others who were members of Golf Magazine’s “Top 100” panel at the time. In making my decision, I was concerned that I did not confuse UNORTHODOX with UGLY. The fact is that some of the greatest golfers throughout history have been considered to have had unorthodox swings.

  • The word “unorthodox” is defined as that which is contrary to what is usual, traditional or generally accepted.
  • The word “ugly” is defined as that which is unpleasant or repulsive in appearance.

In comparing the two definitions, they are clearly quite different. The word “unorthodox” suggests something that is different from the norm, while the word “ugly” relates to the appearance of an object regardless of its status. The problem with labeling any golf swing as unorthodox is that the definition of that condition varies with time. What was once considered to be unorthodox may later be considered perfectly acceptable, and we’ve seen this happen over and over again in golf instruction.

Case No. 1

It was considered unorthodox when Harry Vardon moved his thumbs toward the top of the shaft and placed the little finger of his right hand over his left forefinger knuckle. The standard grip in his era featured both thumbs to the sides of the shaft. The club was held more in the palms of both hands and with all ten fingers, rather than more diagonally through the palm as in Vardon’s Grip. As Vardon began to win, however, his competitors copied his grip. What once was considered unorthodox became orthodox.

Case No. 2

Hogan and Nicklaus were paired together in the final round of the 1957 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. The dichotomy between their backswings couldn’t have been more evident. This was due to the way in which they utilized their right elbows in the backswing. Nicklaus allowed his right elbow to work up and away, pointing more outward at the top. Hogan’s right elbow was closer to his body and pointed more downward.

At the time, Hogan’s backswing was considered orthodox while Nicklaus’ swing was considered unorthodox. As Hogan faded from the winner’s circle and Nicklaus began to emerge, what was once thought to be unorthodox later came to be considered orthodox.

There are some swings that most observers would agree are both unorthodox and ugly. For example, most observers would say that Jim Furyk’s swing is not pretty — they might even go so far as to categorize it as ugly. This is despite the face that Furyk has had an outstanding career and has a U.S. Open victory to his credit. What is it that observers find so offense in his swing? The answer is the differential in planes between the backswing and the downswing, or what might be referred to as a “loop” in his swing.

In Furyk’s case, the club is taken well outside what might be considered the traditional backswing plane. Then it is looped well to the inside and back into position on the downswing. This is is a perfectly acceptable way to play golf, which is evidenced by the size of his bank account and the number of trophies on his mantle. As you might surmise, because of his golf swing, Furyk has not been asked to write any full-swing instruction books.

The problem is that, in the eyes of the observer, the combination of the two distinctly different planes gives a disjoined appearance to the swing. Does it follow then that the variance in the backswing and downswing is the primary factor in determining if a swing qualifies as being ugly? The problem with reaching that conclusion is that it doesn’t hold up to comparison with other players who employ a similar pattern… beginning with Freddy Couples. He begins his swing by lifting his arms well outside the traditional plane line. With a delayed turn of his torso, he then brings the club back into a more traditional plane at the top.

In the case of both Couples and Furyk, their backswings operate well outside the traditional plane line with both players “looping” the club back into position prior to impact. And yet Couples’ swing is universally admired, while Furyk’s swing is in some quarters ridiculed. This begs the question of why Couples’ “looping” swing motion is considered more acceptable than Furyk’s. The answer to that question is two-fold.

  1. Furyk’s loop is created ostensibly by a change in plane with the arms and the hands, giving the swing a frenetic appearance.
  2. Couples’ loop is created with a graceful turn of his body with the arms following in perfect harmony.

And so, when taking the swings of Couples and other “loopers” into consideration, it would seem that the dramatic change in plane between the backswing and the downswing in and of itself does not warrant the classification of ugly.

Author Footnote: A point worth considering as part of this discussion is that there have been other accomplished players throughout the history of the game whose backswings have operated on the same principles as Couples. This would include perennial Champion’s Tour winners Kenny Perry, and earlier Jay Haas, whose swings were generally admired despite their unorthodox approach to the backswing.

What does this all mean? First, while a loop in the golf swing may be unorthodox, is not necessary considered ugly provided that the club is routed into plane with the turn of the body rather than just the arms and the hands. Second, as stated earlier, the definition of unorthodox can and does change depending on the era. And third, an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly. The two classifications are very different.

As you evaluate golf swings, remember this adage; an unorthodox swing is not necessarily ugly, but an ugly swing is always unorthodox.

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TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?



Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

For more info on the topics, check out the links below.

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19th Hole