Timing Is Everything

When Timing Is Everything In Golf

Contributor: Alistair Tait

Reducing the Rules of Golf from 34 to 24 for implementation on January 1 2019 was supposed to simplify the rules and arguably cut down on infractions. R&A Rules of Golf Director David Rickman said upon the announcement of the new laws: “This will make the game simpler and make the rules easier to apply.” He did add an important caveat: “But I still think golfers will still manage to hit their golf balls into weird and wonderful places.”

What he didn’t say was this royal and ancient game would still throw up an abundance of weird and wonderful situations. The 2021 season proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Timing is everything in golf. Not just to produce a good golf shot, but when it comes to the Rules. Talk to Madelene Sagstrom or Si Woo Kim, and they’ll have differing views on how long it takes for 10 seconds to elapse in a round of golf.

Sagstrom learned to count to 10 in future when conceding a match play opponent’s putt as it sits on the edge of a hole. Had she waited another three seconds on the par-five 13th hole on the opening day of the Solheim Cup at Inverness, then Nelly Korda wouldn’t have made eagle and won the hole.

Korda’s 20-foot eagle attempt didn’t actually find the bottom of the cup. It came to rest on the edge of the hole. Sagstrom picked the ball up and conceded Korda’s next shot. However, the Swedish player had acted too hastily by doing so within seven seconds.

Under Rule 13.3b, What to Do If Ball Overhanging Hole Is Lifted or Moved Before Waiting Time Has Ended, Sagstrom had to wait 10 seconds to allow Korda’s ball to drop. By acting prematurely, the rules official accompanying the match had no choice but to penalise Sagstrom under the rule, which states: “If the opponent in match play … deliberately lifts or moves the player’s ball overhanging the hole before the waiting time has ended … the player’s ball is treated as holed with the previous stroke.”

Even though Sagstrom believed there was no chance of the ball toppling into the hole, Korda was granted her eagle because the Swede had jumped the gun. It proved crucial to the outcome of the fourball match. Korda and playing partner Ally Ewing defeated Sagstrom and Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen by one hole, albeit Europe went on to win the cup.


Kim didn’t have to worry about a playing companion lifting his ball as it hovered over Harbor Town’s third hole during the third round of the RCB Heritage. That’s a no-no in stroke play golf. Instead of jumping the gun, Kim waited too long for his ball to drop. Under 13.3a, players are “allowed a reasonable time to reach the hole and 10 more seconds to wait to see whether the ball will drop into the hole. If the ball drops in this waiting time, the player has holed out with the previous stroke.”

Kim’s ball eventually dropped into the hole, but since he’d tarried a tad too long he had to add a penalty shot; the rule states that if the ball drops into the cup after the allotted 10 seconds “the player has holed out with the previous stroke, but gets one penalty stroke added to the score for the hole.”

It’s not just timing that’s important when it comes to the Rules of Golf, standing a tad too close to the ball while making practice strokes can also result in embarrassment. American Matthew Wolff and Michael Campbell, of New Zealand, both learned that during the 2021 season.

Wolff was rehearsing a putt during the first round of the WGC Workday Championship at the Concession in March when he accidentally hit his ball. Campbell was taking a practice swing before a tee shot during the opening round of the Senior Open Championship at Sunningdale. Both players would have been penalised one shot under the old laws of the game, but suffered no penalty. Wolff was cleared by Rule 13.1d(1), No Penalty for Accidentally Causing Ball to Move on a putting green. Campbell took refuge in rule 6.2b(5), which deems no penalty for balls accidentally moved on the teeing ground.

Those who want to see law makers make more use of Rule 5.6b, Prompt Pace of Play, which recommends 40 seconds to play a shot, will have been heartened by the actions of rules officials during 2021. A number of slow play penalties were handed out.

American John Catlin was penalised twice for taking too long. The first incident occurred in the opening round of the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. The three- time European Tour winner was given a bad time on the seventh hole for taking 73 seconds to play a shot. He was handed another bad time for a 63-second pause before a shot on the 12th, and with it a one-shot penalty.

Catlin’s US Open experience was decidedly worse, albeit he wasn’t the sole culprit. Competing in US Open Final Qualifying at Meadow Springs Country Club in Richland, Washington, Catlin suffered three penalty shots when the group he was part of missed three timing checkpoints during the round. The penalties applied to all three members of the group. Catlin missed out on a place in the US Open at Torrey Pines by, you guessed it, three shots.

Spanish Solheim Cup player Carlota Ciganda also felt the full force of Rule 5.6b during the Bank of Hope LPGA Match Play. Ciganda was adjudged to have taken too long on the 18th hole against Sarah Schmelzel. The loss of hole penalty cost the Spaniard the match.

Maria Fassi was another casualty of the 40 second recommendation. She was hit with a two-shot penalty, also on the 18th hole, during the second round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. It turned a 75 into a 77, and Fassi missed the cut by a stroke.


Quick play advocates were given a further boost at the end of the year when The R&A and USGA announced a Model Local Rule (MLR G-11) to limit the use of green- reading materials. Competitors consulting green-reading books has been a source of consternation for many, who argue that not only does it take the skill out of reading greens, but significantly slows play. Imagine their joy on hearing committees now have the power to force players to use only an approved yardage book, and restrict the information players and caddies can add to approved books.

Annika Sorenstam was renowned during her career as a player with excellent knowledge of the rules, so it was perhaps ironic that on her first return to golf in 13 years the 10-time major winner fell foul of the laws. Through no fault of her own.

Sorenstam’s ball came to rest near a fence on the fifth hole in the first round of the Gainbridge LPGA. The ball was in bounds and Sorenstam was under the impression she could open a nearby gate to play the shot. A rules official deemed she couldn’t. The Hall of Fame member had to take a penalty drop en route to a triple bogey. Rules officials had to admit a mea culpa the following day and admit the official got the ruling wrong. Thankfully it did not stop the Swede from making the 36-hole cut, but it proved that law makers don’t always make the right call.

Too bad Sorenstam’s mother wasn’t on hand to give advice, as Viktor Hovland’s was during the opening round of The Player’s Championship. Hovland had to move his ball marker on the 15th hole away from the line of playing companion Justin Thomas. He thought he had replaced it properly until a phone call with his mother later that evening, who asked him if he had been penalised for his action on the 15th green. Hovland had moved his marker further away from the original spot, not closer to it.

Hovland realised he had breached Rule 14-7, Playing From a Wrong Place. He duly informed rules officials, who added two shots to his score. His 70 became a 72. Hovland missed the cut, and discovered, once again, that mothers really do know best.

Alistair Tait blogs daily at alistairtaitgolf.com and is rare among golf writers in having passed The R&A’s Rules of Golf exam


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