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Monday, July 14, 2014

Rule 13-3/3: Building A Stance

Sun-Ju Ahn, 2014 RICOH Women's British Open
Photo credit: www.golfweek.com/Getty Images
While there are only 31 of them, the Rules of Golf are rather like the Rules of Life.  They're complicated, thickly textured, and not always entirely clear.


I was watching when South Korea's Sun-Ju Ahn, who had a slim one stroke lead going into the 72nd and final hole at the RICOH Women's British Open, hit her 3rd shot into that deep bunker on the left front of the green.

Ahn's ball was lying on a fairly severe upslope and she was having some trouble getting a secure and stable stance.  We've all been in the situation, needing to be standing firm and on balance in order to execute a difficult and important shot.  I watched as Ahn, using her left foot, slowly and carefully scraped some sand from the side of the bunker down a bit creating a small, level ledge on which to place her left foot.  Her right foot was already well dug into the sand.

From the ESPN broadcast booth Dottie Pepper, 17-time LPGA champion, was providing commentary for the Open, alongside Hall of Famer Judy Rankin.  "She's building a stance," Dottie exclaimed - a potential violation of Rule 13: Play the ball as it lies.

I'm not a rules expert.  The ball hadn't moved.  I was confused.

After Ahn had completed her round officials reviewed the video of Ahn's action and ruled a 2-stroke penalty that altered the course of the final round.

I went to the USGA Rules of Golf and did some reading, particularly Decision 13-3/3, which is very clear: we can't knock down the sides of the bunker to improve our stance.

Quite frankly, I've always shied away from reading those decisions.  But after Ahn was assessed that penalty I reflected on my own behavior and the difference between taking a stance and building a stance.

Here in the Carolinas golf courses have a substantial number of areas in which trees and shrubbery are mulched in pine straw.  It's hard to hit from that stuff -- it tends to wrap itself around your club and twist the face out of line --, and it's hard to get a secure stance, which you need if you're going to successfully power through the shot and keep a firm grip on the club.

I'm fairly certain I've violated 13-3 more than once as I scraped around, kicked pine cones out of my way, moved pine straw with my feet -- just generally made myself at home and gotten comfortable before I took my shot.

I suspect I've also moved sand around in a bunker, as Ahn did, and for the same reason -- I was having trouble establishing secure footing.
Alma Barnes, 2014 Sandlappers
at Links at Stoney Point

Ahn, who didn't embrace the penalty, excused herself by explaining that she wasn't aware of the rule.  My golfing buddy Alma has told me over and over, sometimes emphatically, often sternly, that not knowing the rules doesn't make me exempt from them.

My Grandmother once told me that I could save myself trouble and grief by learning from the mistakes of others and letting them take the punishment.  My Grandmother was a wise and shrewd woman.
Read the rules, Ms. Bethel - Alma Barnes