Yesterday we talked about Webb Simpson's penalty on the 15th hole at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Webb was penalized one stroke when addressing a tap-in par putt. He called the penalty on himself as he saw the ball move. Had he not incurred that penalty, he may have won the tournament rather than going into a playoff and subsequently losing.
The rules of golf state that if you address the ball and it then moves, you are deemed to have caused it to move. In Webb's case, he put the putter down several inches behind the ball. It was not him or his putter which caused the ball to move. It was the wind.
This same situation happened coincidentally enough on the 15th hole at the 2010 Masters to Padraig Harrington. While in contention on Sunday, Harrington addressed a five foot birdie put. A gust of wind came up and he moved away from the ball. A few seconds later the ball moved. Even though Harrington was several feet away from his ball, the fact that it moved after he had addressed it meant a penalty for him. That penalty ate up a crucial stroke, affected Padraig mentally and ruined his chances for the victory that day.
This particular rule is a tough one, as these two examples above show that a player may be penalized for something which really isn't his fault. But the rules are in place for a reason, and that is to insure the purity of the game.
Knowing the rules is an advantage
Knowing the rules helps players avoid useless penalties. Here are two ways to avoid the penalty mentioned above. Despite these solutions, there may still be an unavoidable penalty like this occasionally.
1. Jack Nicklaus used to hover his putter above the ground behind the ball and not ground his club. This insured that if the ball moved he wouldn't have officially addressed it and wouldn't be penalized.
2. In the case of Harrington, there is a way he could have avoided the penalty. When you address the ball, then move away, you are still deemed to have addressed it. You could walk 100 yards away and would still be deemed to have caused it to move. In order to "un-address" the ball on the putting surface, you must mark and remove the ball. Then replace the ball. Had Padraig known what to do in his situation, marking then replacing, he may have won a green jacket.