Golf rules: Why taking relief may not be your best option

USA Today Sports Images
Jamie Lovemark's drop on the second playoff hole Monday left him with a rulebook decision.
By Mark Aumann
PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, May 02, 2016 | 6:01 p.m.

Just because the Rules of Golf offer you the option to take relief from an obstruction, it's not always in your best interests.

Consider the case of Jamie Lovemark on Monday in the Zurich Classic playoff. On the second playoff hole, Lovemark plugged his approach left of the green and near the grandstand. Because of the heavy rains that soaked TPC Louisiana all weekend, a Local Rule enabled him to drop from a point nearest to where his ball embedded, but it eventually came to rest just an inch or two away from the concrete cart path.

That qualifies as an immovable obstruction under Rule 24-2b, since the cart path could have interfered with the path of Lovemark's intended swing. But Lovemark knew -- and confirmed with a Rules Official -- he had the option of playing the ball there instead of taking relief.

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For Chip Essig, 2011 National PGA Golf Professional of the Year and Vice Chairman of the PGA of America's Rules Committee, that's a point every player needs to keep in mind. Assess your options before you lift the ball.

"If he was within an inch or two of the cart path, I'm sure he had cart path relief," Essig said. "But you don't have to take relief from an obstruction if you don't want to. It's something I always tell players: Before you lift your ball, make sure you know where you're going to have to drop it."

"This is a case where if he gone over there and immediately lifted it, he would have to take relief. And since he didn't, he could go ahead and play it."

Lovemark realized that where the ball came to rest -- on a relatively flat, somewhat dry lie -- was probably going to be better than taking relief and dropping into an area where spectators and carts had made a muddy mess. In addition, there was no telling what kind of a stance he might have.

And per the old adage, the better the devil you know rather than the devil you don't.

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"It was probably much longer grass, or sloped or wet where he would have had to drop it," Essig said. "He knew that gave him the best chance to get it there."

Given the options, Lovemark played it from next to the cart path. Unfortunately, his shot came up short -- not because of the obstruction -- and he lost the playoff to Brian Stuard. But he obviously felt like that lie gave him the best chance to get up and down from a difficult position.

Besides having Rules Officials at the ready to help answer questions, tour professionals have another advantage over amateurs -- they don't have to pay for  repairs.

"Those guys, they're not buying those clubs," Essig said. "There'll be a van at the next event that can make him whatever club he hit if he hits the cart path. Usually you won't damage your club if you hit the cart path anyway. You might scratch it but it won't affect it.

"He probably knew it was a place where he wouldn't damage the club or have much of an issue where he was going to hurt a wrist or something. And a flat, dry lie was way more valuable than possibly nicking a golf club."