Learn from Kaymer's unplayable lie

Martin Kaymer
USA Today Images
Martin Kaymer takes a drop Saturday after declaring his lie on No. 4 unplayable.
By Mark Aumann

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Sunday, June 15, 2014 | 12:25 p.m.

It's hard to imagine that an unplayable lie could have been the catalyst to turn Martin Kaymer's round around, but that was the case Saturday in the third round of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

After making just his second bogey of the tournament on the previous hole, Kaymer pulled his drive low and left into a group of pine trees, his ball landing in an area where rain had washed the pine needles into a large pile. With his ball sitting on hardpan but nestled against the pine needles, Kaymer asked for relief.

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Here's how Bryan Jones, co-vice chairman of the PGA Rules Committee, saw the situation unfold:

"The walking referee was Tom O'Toole, current USGA President and a very qualified rules official. However, you see that he immediately calls in Jeff Hall of the USGA, who is the best of the best and in the position of a rules 'rover' in the championship. In the major championships, whether there are walking referees or hole referees, the committee utilizes its authority to limit a referee's duties under Rule 33-1 regarding Abnormal Ground Conditions (in this case, determining ground under repair) because the roving referee will be better informed as to the overall condition of the course and will be in a place to rule fairly. That is what Jeff did; he denied any relief for ground under repair.

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"Martin now decides he does not want to risk a shot at the ball in its current lie so he -- the only person who can -- declares it unplayable under Rule 28. He now has three options, which include a stroke penalty: 1. go back to where he last played, 2. while keeping the current ball position between it and the hole, he may drop a ball on that line as far back as he wants; 3. drop two clublengths, no closer to the hole from where the ball lay. My experience is that these guys never want to give up ground so he decided on Option No. 3.

"Now another rule takes over that might look a little odd to the viewer. The reason he chose not to hit the ball originally was because of the gigantic clumps of pine straw around the ball. So before he drops the ball, may he clean out the pine straw? The answer is yes, the pine straw is a loose impediment, no matter how many thousands of pieces are involved. Decision 23-1/6 says that a player dropping a ball may remove loose impediments in the drop area. The restriction is that sand or loose soil may not be removed but the careful player can legally get all the way to a clean/bare lie in the area in which the drop will occur.

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"Martin did not go that far. He still dropped on a small layer of pine straw. It was a terrific example of the roles the various referees play, using the rules to maximize a situation despite suffering a penalty stroke and then playing well, and Martin was able to make bogey."

Even though Kaymer hit his next tee shot off-line at No. 5, he drilled his second shot onto the green and made the eagle putt to get himself back to 10 under. So his recovery at No. 4 completely changed Kaymer's momentum.