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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Of D.A. Points and Practice Aids

As you probably heard, D.A. Points got DQ'ed at Pebble Beach for using a foam ball -- a training aid -- to stay loose during the slow play on Friday. There was a lot of talk about it on Saturday, but this kind of thing happens occasionally. You may remember Julie Inkster got DQ'ed last year for using a weighted club to stay loose during a delay.

The rule that deals with this problem is Rule 14, Striking the Ball. Here is the complete rule, copied from the USGA's Rules of Golf website; I'll go over the main "points" that affected D.A. Points after you read it:

14-3. Artificial Devices, Unusual Equipment and Unusual Use of Equipment

The USGA reserves the right, at any time, to change the Rules relating to artificial devices, unusual equipment and the unusual use of equipment, and to make or change the interpretations relating to these Rules.
A player in doubt as to whether use of an item would constitute a breach of Rule 14-3 should consult the USGA.
A manufacturer should submit to the USGA a sample of an item to be manufactured for a ruling as to whether its use during a stipulated round would cause a player to be in breach of Rule 14-3. The sample becomes the property of the USGA for reference purposes. If a manufacturer fails to submit a sample or, having submitted a sample, fails to await a ruling before manufacturing and/or marketing the item, the manufacturer assumes the risk of a ruling that use of the item would be contrary to the Rules.
Except as provided in the Rules, during a stipulated round the player must not use any artificial device or unusual equipment (see Appendix IV for detailed specifications and interpretations), or use any equipment in an unusual manner:
a. That might assist him in making a stroke or in his play; or
b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play; or
c. That might assist him in gripping the club, except that:
  • (i)  gloves may be worn provided that they are plain gloves;
  • (ii)  resin, powder and drying or moisturizing agents may be used; and
  • (iii)  a towel or handkerchief may be wrapped around the grip.

Exceptions:

1. A player is not in breach of this Rule if (a) the equipment or device is designed for or has the effect of alleviating a medical condition, (b) the player has a legitimate medical reason to use the equipment or device, and (c) the Committee is satisfied that its use does not give the player any undue advantage over other players.
2. A player is not in breach of this Rule if he uses equipment in a traditionally accepted manner.

PENALTY FOR BREACH OF RULE 14-3:

Disqualification.
Note: The Committee may make a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only.
Basically, the rule says you can't use any "artificial device or unusual equipment" during the round that might help you make a stroke (that's the line marked "c"); if you do, you get DQ'ed. In other words, NO training aids on the course. And #2 under "Exceptions" says you can use your regular equipment in a normal manner as long as it doesn't help you make the stroke.

BTW, that's why I don't recommend or advertise any training aids on my site. It's not that I have anything against them, but I want you to learn ways to correct swing problems that are legal while you're playing. After all, that's when you need help the most!

The question becomes... what constitutes "using equipment in a traditionally accepted manner?"

Here are a few examples:
  • If you need to stay loose while you're on the course, you can swing two clubs at once rather than using a weighted club. The clubs are standard equipment and that's an accepted way of using them to loosen up. That's what Julie should have done.
  • In fact, you can use your clubs to help you stretch in many different ways during your round, like putting one behind your back and using it to stretch your torso by turning from side to side. Again, that's "a traditionally accepted manner."
  • You can stick a club cover under your arm during practice swings to help you work on your swing, but you CAN'T do it when you hit the ball. This is what D.A. should have done. (This one sounds questionable to me, but I found a Decision that explains the logic behind it. We'll get to it in a moment.)
  • You can lay clubs on the ground to check your alignment during the round. This is an accepted way of using clubs. Again, the trick here is that you CAN'T leave them down while you actually make the stroke, as this would "assist you in making a stroke or in your play." (I know, this one also sounds questionable. But it's one of the things that was specifically mentioned during the discussions on TV.)
It may help you to know how the Decisions clarify this question concerning the stranger things I just mentioned that are allowed by the Rules. Decisions 14-3/6 and 14-3/6.5 deal with a player holding a golf ball in his or her left hand against the grip during a putting stroke. (Some of the Decisions deal with strange stuff!) The first decision says a player may not do this during the actual putting stroke, while the second decision says it's okay during a practice stroke. That second decision includes this paragraph:
The prohibition in Rule 14-3 against using equipment in an unusual manner applies to strokes that count in the player's score and not to practice swings or practice strokes.
That may help you to identify potential rule infractions before you "infract" them. Trust me, you don't want to break Rule 14-3 because this rule doesn't assess stroke penalties -- you just get DQ'ed, period.

And hopefully that clears up some of the confusion you may have experienced this weekend.

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