Ask the Rules Guy: Pettersson’s PGA Penalty

February 2, 2013

The PGA of America tried to prevent a rules controversy like the one that befell Dustin Johnson at Whistling Straits in 2010 by declaring all sandy areas at Kiawah's Ocean Course as waste areas, as they've done in the past. Not to be deterred, the Rules of Golf found another way to cause mass confusion and excessive hair-pulling. On the first hole of the final round of the PGA Championship — and playing in the final group with Rory McIlroy — Carl Pettersson hit a drive to the right that rested deep in in the rough, just a foot or two over a red hazard line. Pettersson took his second shot and eventually made par. However, a few holes later a Rules Official approached Carl and told him he had been penalized two strokes for moving a dead leaf in his backswing in the hazard. The penalty eventually cost Carl second place and many thousands of dollars, but was the ruling correct?

As we see again and again when dealing with the esteemed but unforgiving Rules of Golf, the correct ruling isn't always the fair ruling. When one looks at the television replay of Pettersson's shot, his club makes contact with a small, dead leaf, causing it to flip in the air. This clearly violates Rules 13-4c, moving a loose impediment in a hazard. Presumably, the rule was designed to prevent players from improving their lies when they hit into hazards, a noble cause indeed. Unfortunately, while Pettersson is innocent of that crime, he is no doubt in violation of the rules. And you know what they say — rules are rules, especially in golf!