Broken club: What's allowed under the rules?

Zach Johnson
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Zach Johnson repaired his driver during Sunday's final round of The Barclays.
By Mark Aumann

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Tuesday, August 26, 2014 | 11:24 a.m.

When Zach Johnson repaired his driver during Sunday's final round of The Barclays, it set off an interesting rules discussion among golf fans. What's allowed and not allowed if you happen to unintentionally damage a club?

Here's a synopsis of Rule 4-3a: If a player's club is damaged in the normal course of play, he has three options. One, he can continue to use the club for the remainder of the round. Two, he can repair it or have it repaired without unduly delaying play. Three, if the club is unfit for play, he can replace the damaged club with any club, with three caveats: you can't borrow a club from anyone playing the course, you can't fix it by carrying around spare parts and you can't delay play while making the switch.

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We asked Bryan Jones, co-chairman of the PGA of America Rules Committee, to interpret Rule 4-3.

What if you happen to break a club on the range before your round? If you have time to go back to the car for a spare or buy one from the pro shop, it's not an issue.

"That's certainly not a problem because a player may choose his 14 clubs all the way up to the start of his stipulated round," Jones said.

But what if you bend a shaft, lose a grip or crack the driver during the round, like what happened to Johnson? It comes down to how you define "damaged" and "normal course of play."

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Obviously, we've all been with someone who's snapped a shaft against a tree or tossed a club into a pond in a fit of anger. That does not constitute "normal course of play," as you get no relief from temper tantrums.

Instead, Rule 4-3a is more about unexpected equipment failure. I've had a driver head snap off the bottom of a graphite shaft in the middle of a round, and under the rules, I would have had three options, the first -- keep using it -- would not have been much help. Neither was fixing it, and remember, you're not allowed to carry "spare parts," just in case.

So here's where the third option comes into play, Jones said.

"If the damage escalates to the rules category 'unfit for play'  -- which is defined as a dented or broken shaft; loose, detached or significantly deformed club head or a loose grip -- then the player may replace the club with any club he or she chooses," Jones said.

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That means if you break a driver, you don't have to replace it with a driver, or a wedge with a wedge. You can add any club as a replacement, as long as it keeps you at the 14-club limit. However, you can't borrow it from anybody in your foursome, or delay play while you go back to the parking lot.

Besides, there aren't many of us who have a spare driver head lying around nearby, like Johnson did Sunday.




Obviously, there's a fourth option: play a club short for the rest of the round, and make do with what's left in the bag.

And if you're just playing "relaxed rules" with friends -- without the club championship or money at stake -- and you wind up driver-less or putter-less, it's only good sportsmanship to share.