Role of a rules official in a tournament

Summary of the role of a rules official in a tournament

Read the article below focused on the role of PGA Tour rules officials. When finished, write a 1-2 paragraph summary of the role of a rules official in a tournament.

Behind the scenes with PGA TOUR rules officials

Slugger White, left, and Mark Russell are two of 15 full-time rules officials on the PGA TOUR.

It’s a glorious early summer morning at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio, and Slugger White is sitting in a golf cart left of the 14th fairway during the opening round of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance. He’s easy to spot, wearing one of his 20 or so Panama hats, shirt and tie, walkie-talkie and clipboard in hand.

There is near-constant chatter over the radio. Already there have been three rulings and the second group of the day — Bo Van Pelt, Roberto Castro and Pat Perez — is being timed because they have fallen behind their expected pace of play.

“We will constantly monitor every group,” says White, a PGA TOUR Vice President of Rules and Competitions. White is one of 15 full-time officials and seven or eight on the road every week, each of whom arrives early in the week and is at the course on competition days an hour or more before the first tee time, staying until the final putt drops. “That’s all we talk about; where these guys are, are they on their time or over? You try to use common sense but most of the time it’s black and white.”

White identifies Van Pelt and Castro as the culprits, adding, “This guy never needs to be timed,” as he points to Perez’s name.

White, who was born Carlton Palmer White II and given the name “Slugger” after a professional boxer in the military who was a friend of his father’s, has been a rules official on the TOUR for more than three decades.

During that time, pace of play has been far and away the No. 1 topic of discussion. And not much has changed through the years.

“We’re not much faster or slower than we played in 1976,” said White, who turned 65 this year and calls Ormond Beach, Florida home. “Our problem is you have 156 players; 26 groups (in each wave) for 18 holes. Where are you going? The only thing time par (amount of time it takes to play a round) is good for is the first group, and they may bump into the last group when they make the turn. It’s constant; (pace of play) is all we talk about.

“It’s like the L.A. freeway. The L.A. freeway is slow because of all the cars on it. You don’t have as many cars, you don’t have as much traffic. But that’s what we have and we deal with it.”

By rule, the first player in a group is allowed 60 seconds to hit his shot; each player afterward 40 seconds. Should someone fall behind and be put on the clock, the player is allowed one bad time. If the player is given another bad time in the same round he is hit with a one-stroke penalty — a rare occurrence.

Also, if a player is hit with a second bad time in the course of a season, he is fined $5,000 and a third bad time and each subsequent one after that an additional $10,000. If a player receives 10 bad times in a year, he is docked $20,000.

“We’ve had several of those,” White said. “We’re actually trying to bump that up a little, too. These guys are making so much money now. It’s antiquated.”

White should know.

In his previous life White was a player on TOUR, earning just over $32,000 from 1976 through 1979. One year, he was playing with Tom Watson in Atlanta when Watson hit driver off the deck on the par-5 eighth. The ball trickled onto the green and White walked away thinking ‘I’m trying to beat this guy?’ That’s when White re-thought his future.

So what can be done about pace of play? Not much, White says, in tournaments with big fields. (The Memorial Tournament has just 120 in its field, however, and White adds that it is not as much of an issue).

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, though, and there is some data to support players’ arguments. At Bay Hill, another venue with a smaller-than-normal field, rounds typically stretch beyond five hours.

“I think guys have figured out that the only thing that is going to happen is they’re going to get a monetary fine and to guys on TOUR a monetary fine doesn’t mean anything,” William McGirt said. “NASCAR docks a guy points. Let’s dock a guy points, hit them where it really matters.”

Education is also a measure players have suggested.

“The first thing to help a guy improve is make him realize he’s a slow player,” McGirt said. “Ninety-five percent of slow players don’t know they’re slow. Ben Crane knows he’s slow, and he has worked on it and gotten a lot better. When he sees his group is behind he will make a conscious effort to get the group back in position.”

Seung-Yul Noh assessed penalty for hitting off of wrong green at Barclays

RULINGS

Mark Russell, 62, remembers the first ruling he made as an official. It was 1980 and his first week on the job and he gave a player relief from an obstruction. Fairly simple and not terribly of impact.

Seven years later in the third round of the Andy Williams Open (now the Farmers Insurance Open), the spotlight was quite a bit brighter and the scenario far more bizarre.

While playing the 14th hole at Torrey Pines, Craig Stadler had put a towel down to avoid getting his pants dirty while hitting a shot under a tree from his knees. A day later he thought he had finished in a three-way tie for second to earn more than $37,000, only to be informed that he had been disqualified.

In putting the towel down, Stadler violated Rule 13-3 1/2 (building a stance). But the infraction wasn’t discovered until Sunday when several viewers called in to inform officials.

“I instantly realized if he did that, he’s disqualified,” recalls Russell, who became a rules official following a stint as director of golf at Walt Disney World and has since risen to Vice President of Rules and Competition. “He handled it OK, but his (then) wife Sue didn’t handle it well at all.”

In 2006, Stadler’s son Kevin suffered a similarly cruel fate.

Just three strokes off the lead entering the final round of the Las Vegas Invitational, Stadler realized the shaft on one of his irons was bent as he prepared to play his second shot on the opening hole Sunday.

He called for White to ask for a ruling.

“I said ‘I think we have a problem here, Kevin,’” White recalled. “I let him continue to play and tried to get him out of it but knew I couldn’t.”

Because Stadler had started a round with a non-conforming club — and the shaft wasn’t bent during the course of play — he was disqualified. White waited until Stadler made the turn and pulled him off the course.

“I was sick to my stomach,” White said. “I was emotional about it and I didn’t like the way the rule was. (Kevin) was in tears and I was nearly in tears. It cost him a ton of money. And he hadn’t done a damn thing.”

With more than 2,000 decisions in the Rules of Golf, it’s impossible for players, or even officials, to know every rule off the top of their head. It’s one of the reasons officials file a weekly internal report of the week’s events and attend seminars regularly, including two a year with the United States Golf Association.

“That’s the key, you’ve got to be properly prepared,” Russell says in his folksy North Carolina drawl as he sits in a cart between holes at TPC River Highlands during the second round of last year’s Travelers Championship. “You have to ask the questions that matter.”

And it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Case in point: The 2014 PLAYERS Championship.

Justin Rose

Justin Rose was issued a two-stroke penalty following the third round after it was determined through multiple broadcast feeds and high definition zoom that his ball had moved as he addressed it with a wedge behind the 18th green.

But at dinner later that night, Russell and other officials realized a new rule states if a ball moving is not “reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time” and requires enhanced technology such as HDTV, no penalty can be issued and the following morning they reversed their decision and rescinded the two strokes.

“We had to put our heads together on that,” Russell said. “We didn’t do that on Saturday. But we slept on it.”

With Rose in contention in one of the biggest tournaments of the year, it was a tense situation and one that came with a lot of pressure.

It also came a year after the most controversial ruling of 2013 when Tiger Woods was issued a two-stroke penalty a day after taking an improper drop during the second round of the Masters.

Just how good is a player’s knowledge of the rules? According to one player, about 6 out of 10.

“You realize how big the rule book is?” Brandt Snedeker said.

Big enough that even officials can make the rare mistake, which is why they work tirelessly not to.

“It’s not an ego thing,” Russell said. “We just want to get it right. The biggest thing is to make sure it’s correct. We talk it out. It’s not a dictator situation. It’s a committee.”

Tiger Woods reacts after his approach on the 15th hole caromed off the flagstick and into the hazard at the 2013 Masters.

 

On average there are between 15 and 20 rulings made each week on the PGA TOUR, according to Vice President of Rules and Competition Slugger White.

Some are more significant than others and some are sparked by viewers calling in.

“I’m always amazed they know who to call,” says White, who adds that there are not as many call-ins as you might think. “They always find the number.”

Usually that number is the tournament office, or the television network or the PGA TOUR headquarters itself. The message gets relayed and the situation examined when warranted. Most calls, White says, turn out to be bogus.

The most notable call of 2013 was anything but, and it didn’t come from just any fan. It came from Champions Tour player David Eger, who knew exactly who to dial as he watched the second round of the Masters from his home in Florida. Through the magic of modern television Eger was able to rewind and watch Tiger Woods play his third shot on the 15th hole, the one that hit the flagstick and ricocheted into the water.

Woods took a drop “a couple of yards” away from where he hit the shot and Eger, who had a long career as a tournament director with the TOUR and USGA and is well-versed in the rules, got a hold of Fred Ridley at Augusta National.

Though as many as four or five PGA TOUR rules officials are on site for major championships they are there mostly to assist than to oversee the rules, which is done by the governing bodies that run those tournaments.

 

PGA TOUR rules official Slugger White, right, watches Bubba Watson take a drop at The Barclays in August.

We equate (our job) to being an airline pilot: Hours of boredom and moments of fear.

White was in Hilton Head, South Carolina, as the advance rules official for the following week’s RBC Heritage when the Woods news began to unfold. The advance official for each event checks course condition, boundaries, obstructions, possible hole locations and so on.

He had no idea what was happening at Augusta National until a writer called. White hung up and called fellow Vice President of Rules and Competition Mark Russell, who was at the Masters and smack in the middle of the storm as a member of the tournament’s rules committee.

Mark Russell

Russell had also received a text from another official stating that Woods might have violated a rule by taking an incorrect drop. Eventually it was decided the following morning Woods would be hit with a two-stroke penalty with Ridley and Russell delivering the news to Woods directly.

It was a tense situation to say the least. Woods was in contention at the time and some in the media were calling for him to withdraw or be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. The important thing to Russell, however, is that ultimately the right penalty was levied under the rules.

Ditto White, who was the official who issued a two-stroke penalty to Woods five months later when it was determined that Woods’ ball moved when he tried to remove a twig from behind it during the opening round of the BMW Championship at Conway Farms outside Chicago.

A free-lance videographer for the PGA TOUR spotted the infraction as his camera zoomed in and later called his boss, who forwarded the message up the chain. Woods was adamant that his ball merely oscillated but the penalty held after a lengthy review.

When it comes to someone calling in a violation, neither White nor Russell particularly mind. There aren’t enough officials to see every shot on every hole and unlike other sports the logistics of officiating as many as 156 players across hundreds of acres over 10 or 12 hours are fluid.

“If someone’s adamant about it we have to look into it,” White says. “We’re protecting the field, we’re protecting the player.

“I’d rather be waiting on the player in scoring and then we can go through it. I’d rather stop a fire from starting than have to put one out.”

 

 

 

 

WEATHER PROBLEMS

The skies above the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance and the following month’s Travelers Championship are surprisingly quiet.

Both events have been plagued by bad weather through the years with summer storms popping up in the Midwest and Northeast. But the blimp remains overhead, always a telltale sign electricity isn’t nearby.

“The biggest problem we have is dealing with the weather,” Russell says. “If we have bad weather you have to work with it. We have this little window to get this tournament in. We want to finish at 6 o’clock on national television.”

Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate and unlike enforcing the rules Russell has zero say in that matter, which is why he and the rest of the staff, which has grown from five full-time officials to 15 in his 30-plus years on TOUR, is in constant contact with the on-site meteorologist each week.

In addition to a local rule sheet, a chart with how long it should take for a group to play each hole and a walkie-talkie officials carry a copy of the day’s forecast. These are the tools of the trade and with 19 events delayed by inclement weather in one way or another last season, the latter can be especially important.

Weather can impact everything from tee times, to preferred lies, to having to suddenly stop play and have dozens of players shuttled off the course quickly.

But with sunny skies overhead and little in the way of a rules controversy — at least for the moment — White and Russell have little to worry about on this particular day.

“Hell yes,” White says when asked if he ever gets lonely sitting by himself in the middle of a golf course waiting for something to happen that requires his assistance. “We equate it to being an airline pilot: Hours of boredom and moments of fear.”

 

Penalty shots: Five of golf’s most memorable rules violations

1968 Masters Roberto De Vicenzo cost himself a chance at a playoff when he signed an incorrect scorecard for a higher number. Playing partner Tommy Aaron had marked a 4 instead of a birdie 3 for De Vicenzo on the 17th hole and De Vicenzo’s signature validated the score, causing the Argentine to react famously, “What a stupid I am!”
1987 Andy Williams Open In the third round at Torrey Pines, Craig Stadler placed a towel under him to avoid getting his pants wet while hitting a shot below a tree from his knees. It was a violation of Rule 13-3 1/2, which states that doing that exact thing constitutes building a stance and is a two-stroke penalty. Stadler finished second but was disqualified since he had signed for an incorrect score the previous day. Eight years later, Torrey Pines decided to eliminate that tree and Stadler helped cut it down.
2001 Open Championship In the final round at Royal Lytham& St. Annes, Ian Woosnam had just taken the lead with a birdie on the opening hole when he was informed by caddie Miles Byrne that he had an extra driver in his bag, giving him 15 clubs and one more than the limit. Woosnam was hit with a two-stroke penalty, bogeyed two of his next three holes and went on to finish third to David Duval.
2010 PGA Championship Dustin Johnson appeared to be headed for a three-man playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson but didn’t know he had grounded his club in one of Whistling Straits’ hundreds of bunkers before his approach shot on the final hole of regulation. Johnson had played from a sandy area that had been trampled by fans and was informed of the violation after finishing 18 and was given a two-stroke penalty.
2013 Masters In Friday’s second round, Tiger Woods’ approach to the 15th hole caromed off the flagstick and into the water. He took a drop and went on to make bogey. He was later was deemed to have taken an improper drop and the following morning his score on the hole revised to a triple-bogey 8. Before 2012, he would have been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Under a new rule, however, a player can have penalty strokes added afterward when facts were not reasonably presented at the time he signed his scorecard. He went on to finish fourth four strokes behind winner Adam Scott.

 

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