A few years ago, as I refereed at the prestigious and competitive Tannahill Shield that is played at the Royal Nairobi Golf Club, I was called upon to make a ruling on a green. The format of play is match play and the competitors who are some of the best amateur golfers in the country can be quite spirited. So, whatever ruling I make, I always expect some push back from the party that feel aggrieved.
In this particular case, one of the young players, in an uncharacteristic slip-up, had picked up his ball from the putting green without first marking its position.
The jubilant opponents were very certain that he had lost the hole and the young player looked like he was close to tears as he seemed resigned to that fate. His calm team captain, on the other hand, kept calmly insisting that everyone wait for me to give my ruling.
“The player gets a one-stroke penalty and returns the ball where it was…” I announced loudly for all the participants to hear.
What followed was complete pandemonium as the opponents felt robbed and the spectators protested my decision. One older spectator walked up to me and queried my decision.
“So, how do we know where the ball was before he picked it?” he asked
“We don’t have to know. The player must estimate where he thinks the ball was before he picked it up.” I answered.
I knew that many of the of the spectators walked from there thinking that I had made a mistake. I was glad when some of the players walked up to me after they completed the hole to seek clarification. As a teacher of the Rules of Golf in East Africa, I am always happy to clarify any doubts.
This past Saturday, I was hoping that the boys involved in the incident were watching the BMW Championship on the PGA Tour when Jon Rahm, the current world number two golfer made the same mistake. In a brief moment of upset mindedness, Rahm picked up his ball from the putting green without marking its position. Naturally, this is not a scene that is common at the highest level of the game, and he went on to win the tournament despite the uncharacteristic mistake.
In as much as we don’t see this kind of mistake often among the professionals, the same cannot be said of amateur golfers. I have received many calls from golfers seeking a ruling from this mistake.
Many golfers seem to think that this slip-up must be punished by loss of the hole in match play or a two-stroke penalty in stroke play. However, since there is no advantage to be gained and the player can easily estimate the position of the ball prior to the slip up, it should never be a big deal.
In the case of Jon Rahm, it is very unlikely for him to repeat the same mistake ever in his career. He would definitely have been extremely upset with himself had he lost the competition by one stroke, since every stroke in golf counts. Such slip-ups do happen and they will continue to happen but they should never stop a round of golf.
– Wang’ombe is General Manager of Kenya Open Golf Limited