Spieth uses the rules to his advantage and wins his first Open Championship

By | July 24, 2017

The Open 2017: Should the driving range have been out of bounds? | Neil Tappin for Golf Monthly Magazine

Let’s be clear here – Spieth did nothing wrong. In fact, it was his knowledge of the rules that played to his advantage. That it took so long wasn’t his fault either. As golf is played on a natural landscape, these things can and do happen. He followed the letter of the law and did so with a rules official by his side. It was all above board.

I agree that Spieth did absolutely nothing wrong on the 13th hole yesterday on his way to winning The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale as the Rules of Golf currently exist. It certainly made for some interesting drama. The rulings he received were correct. The 25-minutes he took between shots was extreme, but, within the rules. That Spieth went on to only make bogey and then played his next four holes 5-under par is the stuff of legend. Were the rulings within the spirit of the game? There I’m having a small problem.

Let’s compare yesterday to a situation that tends to come up a bit more often. A player finds his ball at rest on a cart path. He takes his typical closest relief and then finds himself blocked by a temporary immovable object, say, a television tower. He then receives relief from the TIO and finds himself several yards away from where the ball originally came to rest. Not how a typical golfer would experience the hole on a typical day, but, all perfectly legal and unavoidable given the situation. There was no choice but to bring the TIO into play when a normal point of relief was chosen from the path.

Yesterday, unlike the cart path relief, there were several other points of legal relief available to Spieth that would not have brought a TIO into play. When several legal options exist, to intentionally select the point of relief that brings a TIO into play seems improper. It is legal, but, feels outside of the spirit of the game.

In Spieth’s case, again, it didn’t really change the outcome. But, what if using the TIO rules took some natural obstructions out of play? Now we have the TIO essentially being used to create an advantage instead of just eliminating an artificial disadvantage.

Again, since the practice grounds were not out of play yesterday, and if those equipment trucks weren’t present, Spieth likely would have dropped his ball within a few yards of where he played his approach shot from anyway. I don’t believe that using the TIO rule yesterday greatly changed the outcome of the tournament. No trucks and he drops a few yards farther to the left to face a very similar shot. I would feel better if the rules were amended to eliminate intentionally choosing a drop that brings a TIO into play when other legal options are available.

That said, Spieth played amazing golf down the stretch and the drop became a sideshow more than a turning point. Thankfully, by winning with a 3-stroke margin, there is no doubt that the best player won the tournament, drop or no drop.

As an aside, I would also be interested in asking the R&A what they intend to do about their slow play rules. I understand that the rulings on the 13th hole were complex and took time to get right. However, the Spieth / Kuchar group had already been warned about slow play and ended up finishing two holes behind the rest of the field. Far more out of position that the 25-minutes between shots on the 13th would justify. With that precedent on the books, a two-hole gap without even being put on the clock, I would dare a rules committee to challenge me with a slow-play penalty in the future.

How do you feel about how The Open played out yesterday?