A Dangerous Situation
ARDMORE, Pa. – During the third round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, Dustin Johnson’s ball came to rest in tall grass above a greenside bunker on the par-5 fourth hole. His stance to play a right-handed stroke would have been in the bunker with the ball so far above his feet that he decided to play the shot left-handed. When he went to take his stance for that stroke, there was a small hive of bees near where he would have to stand. The Rules of Golf do not contemplate a player being faced with a dangerous situation, so a Decision has been written that uses the concept of “equity” to resolve it. “If any point in dispute is not covered by the Rules, the decision should be made in accordance with equity.” Decision 1-4/10 covers a player who is faced with a dangerous situation such as a snake, alligator or bee hive.
Since Johnson’s ball laid through the green, the Decision allowed him to find the nearest point through the green that was safe and not nearer the hole. He was then permitted to drop his ball within one club-length of that point, not nearer the hole. The location was determined and Johnson dropped the ball properly. Once the ball was dropped, he was in a position where he could play the shot right-handed, which he did. Johnson went on to make a 5 on the hole.
A player may not use an unnecessarily abnormal stance, swing or direction of play just to take advantage of this Rule. In order to get relief from the dangerous situation, the stroke must be reasonable for the situation. In Johnson’s case, the original left-handed stroke was reasonable because a right-handed stroke was not possible due to the bunker. Decision 24-2b/17 clarifies that the player may then turn around and play right-handed after taking relief.
To see what Johnson’s options would have been had his ball been in a bunker or water hazard, you can refer to Decision 1-4/10.
Written by John Van der Borght, manager of Rules communications for the USGA.