Rules

How knowing the rules, and a little lobbying, turned potential disaster into a birdie for Xander Schauffele

February 12, 2023
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For a tour pro, it pays to know the Rules of Golf—and to not be afraid to ask for a second opinion. That’s what Xander Schauffele seemed to prove during Saturday’s third round at the WM Phoenix Open.

Trailing tournament leader Scottie Scheffler by one as he played the par-5 13th hole at TPC Scottsdale, Schauffele watched as his drive wandered right into a desert area, eventually coming to rest behind a palo verde tree. As TV cameras showed, Schauffele had no chance of advancing the ball forward with the tree in the way, plus, as CBS on-course announcer Mark Immelman noted, the ball was up against a root. 

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Seemingly, the only play would be to punch the ball out left or right and try to salvage something from there, and even that punch out would be a tricky shot.

But Immelman then relayed to viewers that Schauffele believed he would be standing in an animal hole when playing the shot. And under the Rules of Golf, a player is entitled to take relief without a penalty in such a situation if his or her ball “touches or is in or on an abnormal course condition” or if “an abnormal course condition physically interferes with the player’s area of intended stance or area of intended swing.” (Rule 16.1a)

Cameras captured what appeared to be depressions around the ball. But according to Immelman, when Schauffele made the argument to a first rules official on the scene, he was denied relief. Immelman then said that Schauffele asked to get “a second opinion” and was subsequently allowed to take a free drop.

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Schauffele, now playing one club-length left of the tree, had an opening with only 200 yards to the hole. He proceeded to play a punch shot, the ball taking a nice hope in front of the green and then rolling to the back of the green, nearly 54 feet from the hole.

“That’s a massive break,” said CBS analyst Frank Nobilo. “It pays to know the rules that’s for sure. Take anything after that. Second shot being right that tree could be looking at five, six.”

Two putts later, Schauffele was able to write down a birdie 4 on his scorecard.

“[He] just turned six into four,” Nobilo said.

“My goodness, that is downright robbery,” Immelman added.

Despite his good fortune on the 13th hole, Schauffele struggled coming in, making bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes to finish with a one-under 70 and fall four shots back of Scheffler at day’s end. That’s a fair amount of ground to make up on Sunday during the final round, but it could have been a lot worse if Schauffele wasn’t up to speed on the rules on Saturday.