From the Golf Journal Archives - School Daze

Feb 26, 2010

One recent Rules of Golf workshop included a most unlikely student: Annika Sorenstam, the two-time and defending U.S. Women’s Open champion.

By Annika Sorenstam

(Note: This article originally appeared in the May 1997 issue of Golf Journal.)

LAST YEAR’S Women’s Open will always be memorable to me, but not for the mere reason that I won. During the first round, a Rules situation backed up play to the point where several groups waited on the same tee while players and officials sorted through the confusion. Then a player asked for another opinion, which delayed things even more.

A few weeks later I was playing in Rochester, N.Y., and one evening I was sitting around, chatting with my hosts, Jerry Stahl, who was then a member of the USGA's Executive Committee, and his wife, Susan. We were discussing the Women's Open and I brought up that Rules situation. I mentioned that I have always had an interest in the Rules, and Jerry said, “Well, if you’d like, I’ll give you a Rules book and a Decisions book, and even if you read them casually on an airplane or when you have some free time, you might familiarize yourself with them.” I said that would be fine, but then he made another suggestion. “Or you could attend a Rules of Golf Workshop.”

He sent me the information, and in fact the dates of one workshop coincided with a week off in the LPGA schedule. Better yet, it was within driving distance of home. So in late January I found myself in a hotel conference room in Newport Beach, Calif., seated before the workshop’s two instructors: Jeff Hall, who works in the Rules and Competitions Department of the USGA, and Chuck Bassler, a member of the PGA of America’s Rules Committee. I know that sometimes I question myself and we do get a Rules official to come out and determine if something is right or wrong. Then I feel very comfortable, but many times I don’t feel comfortable, and if someone starts questioning me, I want somebody to come out and straighten me out. Maybe this can really help me instead of looking just at the negative side of the Rules.

DAY 1: An easy start
I don’t think I know much about the Rules, to be honest with you. I know how to drop for casual water, for ground under repair and things like that, but when it comes to knowledge outside those areas, I don’t know much at all. I haven’t really studied the Rules. For me, this is something I should have done many years ago, before I turned professional. I think it’s very important – something that can help a player at any level.

It didn’t take long to get my first surprise. I expected a smaller class, but I’d estimate there are 80 people, maybe more, and some of them are taking the workshop for the fifth or sixth time. At first I thought, “Why do they come back?” I thought maybe they had a bad memory, but now, being here, I realize I should come back myself, maybe in a year or two, just to refresh my memory. Rules do change.

Jeff made a good point in his opening remarks. “There are two kinds of Rules officials,” he said, “those who have made mistakes and those who will make mistakes.” That makes sense. Every player misses two-foot putts now and then and I guess Rules officials are no different; sometimes they miss an easy one, too.

I think the Rules have scared me because I didn’t know anything about them and they always seemed so complicated. But once you sit down and look at the Rules and ask questions, it’s more logical than anything. If you think logically, I think you can solve a lot of these Rules.

The material we covered today was not complicated, and some of it dealt with areas most professionals don’t worry about too much. But when we got to declaring a ball unfit for play, that got my attention. I find it hard to say no when somebody asks me. You don’t want to be the one who plays the police. But after today, I realize there is a straight line where you could change it or not change it. I think many times, especially when a ball hits a cart path and there’s a little scratch on it, other players say, “Okay, if you think it is unfit, then it is. Fine.” Now I will know personally what’s right and what’s not, that it’s something to check closely.

DAY 2: When 1+2=2
Today was definitely more difficult than yesterday. We went through 16 Rules straight, and it seemed like everything had to do with dropping, placing, the ball moving here and there. I think I learned a lot, but at the end of the day I got a little tired and maybe I didn't pick up everything they said. I’m not used to sitting in a classroom all day.

One thing I did learn was that if you hit a ball from a water hazard and you can’t get out, you have the option of going back to where you last hit from outside the hazard. I didn’t know about that; I thought you always hit from your last position. That’s not a situation I see too often, but it’s good to know you have that option.

I learned about a lot of situations that should come in handy. In taking relief from a lateral water hazard, for instance, it is possible for the ball to come to rest nearly four club-lengths from where it last crossed the hazard margin after dropping it and not have to be re-dropped. That’ll be a good thing to remember.

I also learned why some people think the Rules are confusing. For instance, it’s a one-stroke penalty if you fail to inform your fellow competitor that you plan to lift your ball for identification, and it’s a two-stroke penalty if you put the ball back in play by dropping it instead of placing it, but if you break both Rules on the same occasion your total penalty is two strokes.

I would guess most players don’t know that, just like I would guess most players don’t know there are different Rules for match play and stroke play. We don’t play too much match play, so I really don’t know what the differences are in these types of formats. It’s interesting to see there are different Rules, though, and perhaps learn about an advantage you can use in match play.

With all the confusing situations we covered today, I definitely have more respect for our Rules officials on tour. I think I'll be a little more friendly toward them when I do ask a question. Now I know what they think, how they think and how they try to solve the problem. They definitely have a difficult job.

DAY 3; How can that be allowed?
I haven’t been involved in too many difficult Rules situations in my career, but in the Solheim Cup, Michelle McGann had a putt right in my line and Meg Mallon had a six-footer. It was Meg’s turn to putt, but she said, “Michelle, why don’t you putt?” So I said, “Well, hold on here. If Michelle’s going to putt, she’s going to step on my line.” We discussed it back and forth, and I didn’t think it was right that Michelle could putt and stand in my line, but according to the Rules, and we had an official there, Meg could ask her partner to putt.

Today’s material wasn’t too bad. We didn’t talk too much about dropping, placement, moving balls and things like that. We discussed four-ball matches, three-ball... a lot of things that don’t affect me as I play on tour.

The one slide we discussed a lot today involved a player who wanted to take relief from a cart path he was standing on when he addressed the ball, but a tree, inches in front of the ball, was in the way for a stroke. I’ve been around when that’s happened, and remembered those instances when I saw the slide. It makes a lot of sense, and I think a lot of people try to get additional relief when they shouldn’t. You can’t hit through the tree.

Another thing I learned that I didn’t know was that if you take relief because you’re standing on the cart path, and you swing left-handed, and when you take relief, you can swing right-handed, and if the cart path is still an obstruction, you can get additional relief. I didn’t know that; I thought once you decided to swing left-handed, you had to swing left-handed.

The fourth and final day of the workshop is an optional 100-question test they give to see how much you’ve learned, but I won’t be able to stay for that part of the workshop because I’m attending my first PGA Merchandise Show. Overall, I’m glad I attended. I think I picked up a lot of new things, and I refreshed my memory in certain things I knew a little bit about.

The workshop is definitely something I’d recommend to every player, even if it’s just to refresh some of the things you think you know but maybe aren’t 100 percent certain about. There are several occasions we showed here where you can use the Rules and get a better lie. And many times, I would have stopped halfway and thought that would be the final place to drop, but no, you can look into other options. Most people think the Rules are there as a kind of punishment, but you can use them to benefit you.

I knew they would be long days. But I didn’t really know so many different incidents could happen. The Decisions Book is so thick, and it has so many things that can happen on a golf course. It’s more complicated than I thought. We’ve reviewed so much material the past few days, it’s difficult for someone going through this the first time to comprehend it all. I think I need to come here a few times because this is not something you just learn overnight. I need to go home and study so I can remember all these things. But it’s a beginning – something I will like.

If nothing else, it has reinforced what I thought when I started: You’re surprised how much you don’t know.