Two second opinions at last week’s Valspar Championship (along with Steve Rintoul’s recent blog on pace of play) triggered me to write a few notes detailing the whys and wherefores of the “Second Opinion”.
For those of you not Rules savvy, let me start by detailing exactly what a second opinion is.
During the course of a round a player may find himself in a situation that requires him to call for help from a referee. This could be anything from explaining relief options from a water hazard, clarifying doubt to a procedure (e.g. how far can a ball roll once it first strikes part of the course and whether a re-drop is required), or simply how to take relief from an Immovable Obstruction such as a sprinkler head.
The majority of these rulings are handled without drama or delay and the player accepts (all be it sometimes begrudgingly) the decision made by the referee and plays on. However, occasionally players do not get the answer they are seeking and want another member of the Committee to rule upon the situation. This usually happens for a number of reasons; 1) they simply don’t agree with the decision made; 2) they sense from the referee’s communication that this is a borderline decision; or 3) they don’t recognize the official involved and want to hear it from someone they know and trust. This last reason is particularly prevalent at the Majors where we have a large committee made up of officials from many different golf associations from around the world.
In most if not all cases, if the player requests a second opinion it will be granted. At that point the first official will fully depart the area. Another member of the Rules Committee will then come and provide the player with a new opinion. It should be noted that other than the location of the ruling, there is no communication between the two officials to ensure that the player gets a fresh look without any influence.
As you’d expect (given that we are all professional referees on the PGA TOUR) the first decision is usually upheld, though once in a while another official may see a situation differently and overturn the original answer.
The next question worthy of clarification is why do we as a Committee allow a player to seek a second opinion? Well, the easiest way to explain it is that the Rules of Golf are not always black and white and sometimes certain scenarios call for the official to make a judgement call.
This was definitely the case last week in the situations involving both Brett Stegmaier and Daniel Berger.
During round 3 on hole #6 Brett hit his tee shot into the right trees and found a lie in the pine straw and leaves that appeared embedded. He called for an official and I was first on the scene. After a brief inspection (and some probing in the area, yet careful not to disturb the lie) I determined that the ball wasn’t embedded in the ground, but merely embedded in a good amount of sand, pine straw and other loose impediments. Given how dry it had been leading up to the event, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook was very dry outside the ropes so I was confident I’d made the correct decision. Brett however felt differently and asked for a second opinion (which didn’t come as surprise given the situation). Steve Rintoul was the closest and he came over to give the player a fresh look. Unfortunately for Brett, Steve saw it the same way as I did, and after demonstrating to the player how deep the loose impediments extended before the surface of the ground was reached, he denied relief. Brett took both decisions in a professional manner and proceeded to chip it out sideways.
The second opinion involving Daniel Berger again happened during round 3 this time right of hole #9. Unfortunately, the his ball came to rest in a hole of some description in the sand beneath the Live Oaks. The player claimed that the hole had been made by a burrowing animal and wanted relief under Rule 25-1 (Abnormal Ground Conditions).
Sadly there was no evidence to suggest this was the case. I explained that it was most likely caused by one of the many squirrels that inhabit the property and as these were animals that didn’t fit the definition of a Burrowing Animal (make holes for habitation or shelter) then relief would be denied. My decision was largely based on the appearance and make up of the hole, and my knowledge of the property and the type of animals that inhabit it. In essence, it was a judgement call. Daniel called for a second opinion (which I expected given the lie) and I left the scene. Peter Dachisen (our newest recruit from the FSGA) handled the second opinion and felt as I did that there was no evidence to suggest that it was made by a burrowing animal. Daniel took it on the chin and played away without any further delay.
Unfortunately the downside with rulings and particularly second opinions like the examples detailed above is that they take time to resolve. Delays are almost inevitable which can be frustrating, particularly when we spend so much of our time focusing on pace of play.