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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Shifting Sands of the Rules

I wanted to mention this because it's the kind of question that players often face when they get an awkward lie in the sand. Haru Nomura is leading the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, but she had to get a ruling after she finished. Did she build a stance in the sand at 6?


This is the original report Whit and Karen filed. The one they filed after the ruling was made wasn't up yet on golfchannel.com when I did this post, but Haru was ruled NOT to have built a stance after about 45 minutes of questioning and repeated viewings of the video by LPGA officials.

Why was this ruling so difficult? It's because The Rules of Golf allow a player to 'fairly take a stance' when playing a shot. And it appears that a couple of factors were in play here:
  • Haru was unable to keep from slipping in the sand after a typical 'digging in' move, even after repeated attempts. Every time she made a practice swing, her right foot would slip. In fact, if you look at her initial attempt to take a stance -- right around the :58 second mark -- you can see tracks in the sand where her right foot slipped quite a way just by trying to step into the trap.
  • Apparently the officials looked to see if the angle of her foot was noticeably changed by her attempts to take her stance. You hear Karen mention that there didn't seem to be much difference but if her foot looked to be on 'flatter ground' after digging in, they would have likely ruled that she altered the ground and thus built a stance.
That last one seems to be the most obvious way to tell if someone is building a stance, at least on a slope like Haru was on. As long as her foot still followed the slope so that her spikes were holding her in place -- as opposed to a flattened area of sand -- she was allowed to dig in enough to find that solid ground.

I don't think she would have gotten a favorable ruling had the slope been less severe or the sliding of her foot less obvious. Even with those two things in her favor, it still took 45 minutes for officials to make the ruling!

The result is that Haru Nomura has a 3 shot lead instead of a 1 shot lead going into the final round. It was a major ruling that could have changed the way things play out today. Bear in mind that the leader was at -9 after the first round but the current leader is only at -10 after a favorable ruling. And conditions aren't likely to be much easier today.

Remember: You have to be careful when digging into the sand. It's a fine line between a fair stance and a built stance.

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