The first Rule of Golf, aptly named Rule 1, is actually broken down into four distinct sections. While the first rule, Rule 1-1, is a feel-good, general statement describing the game of golf, Rule 1-2 is the first of many “No Funny Business” rules, and only seems straightforward in its prohibition against exerting influence on the ball or the course. However, the chiefs of in-depth thought and over-analysis at the R&A and USGA managed to proliferate no fewer than 2 exceptions and 14 formal decisions on Rule 1-2.
Rule 1-2 states:
A player must not (i) take an action with the intent to influence the movement of a ball in play or (ii) alter physical conditions with the intent of affecting the playing of a hole.
1. An action expressly permitted or expressly prohibited by another Rule is subject to that other Rule, not Rule 1-2; 2. An action taken for the sole purpose of caring for the course is not a breach of Rule 1-2. Penalty for Breach: Loss of hole in match play, two stroke penalty in stroke play; a serious breach is subject to disqualification.
Rule 1-2 falls under the “No Funny Business” collection of Rules because it actually governs how a golfer plays the game and imposes a severe sanction for noncompliance. At its most basic interpretation, the Rule requires the golfer to play the ball as it lies and the course as it’s found, subject to any other rules.
No Judge Smails “winter rules,” no foot wedges, no handballs. Don’t break branches off that tree, and don’t trample down all the tall grass around your ball in the “natural area.” And for Pete’s sake don’t tamp down spike marks on the green to improve the line of your putt.
The literal wording of the Rule make clear that Rule 1-2 governs the golfer’s intent. It’s also noteworthy to give the exceptions a critical read. The wording of the exceptions, especially the second one, reinforce that Rule 1-2 is a rule governing intent. Good golf etiquette should govern all a golfer’s actions on the course, and the exceptions to Rule 1-2 prevent penalizing good golfing citizenship.
I get Rule 1-2. It makes sense on its face. It ensures a fair competition. Nothing more needs to be said, right? Wrong.
The aforementioned 14 individual official Decisions on Rule 1-2 are a guaranteed cure for insomnia, if one can keep from laughing (the lawyers that drafted these things must have been terribly serious men).
The USGA and R&A were kind enough to write the Decisions down, so no need to go through them with a fine tooth comb here. However, further discussion of a few of the Decisions is warranted, just so everyone is clear that you are not allowed to intentionally exert influence on the ball or alter the conditions of play.
The first two Decisions (1-2/0.5 and 1-2/0.7 – yes, that’s really how they are numbered) make clear that intent matters and that the Committee should take any violation of Rule 1-2 very seriously. And exactly how serious they take it can be determined by a totality of the circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
Decision 1-2/1 is actually pretty comical, if you try to visualize someone acting this way.
Q. An opponent or a fellow-competitor purposely steps on the player’s line of putt with the intention either of improving the line (e.g., by pressing down a raised tuft of grass) or of damaging it (e.g., by making spike marks). What is the ruling?
A. In either case, the opponent or the fellow-competitor was in breach of Rule 1-2. The penalty is loss of hole in match play or two strokes in stroke play, unless the Committee decides to impose a penalty of disqualification – see the penalty statement of Rule 1-2.
Seriously, if you stomp on someone’s line of putt like Rick James on Eddie Murphy’s couch, then of course you should be penalized, and probably disqualified. The same goes for trying to use your golf bag to shield your putt from the wind (1-2/2) and breaking branches off a tree to build a stance or improve where you might have to drop (1-2/3).
Decision 1-2/4 almost reaches the same conclusion for the proposition of someone jumping up and down near the hole to try to get a putt to fall in. I say almost, because the official Decision, though technically correct, is the stereotypical example of a convoluted, long-winded decision undoubtedly drafted by a whole team of lawyers.
And it’s because of Decisions like 1-2/4 that a lot of amateur golfers, even avid amateurs, don’t actually know the Rules of Golf. Instead of just stating “Do this” or “Don’t do that,” and allowing something so simple to be committed to a golfer’s memory, Decision 1-2/4 references no fewer than two additional rules and four decisions with which the golfer must familiarize himself to gain a full appreciation of why he can’t do something that is common sense. To wit:
Q.A player whose ball overhangs the lip of the hole jumps close to the hole in the hope of jarring the ground and causing the ball to fall into the hole. Is the player penalized under Rule 1-2 for trying to exert influence on the movement of his ball in play?
A.If the player’s ball was at rest (or deemed to be at rest under Rule 16-2) and does not move, Rule 1-2 does not apply because the player was attempting to move a ball at rest and this is specifically covered by Rule 18-2a (see Exception 1 to Rule 1-2). As the ball did not move, there was no penalty under Rule 18-2a.
If the player’s ball was at rest (or deemed to be at rest under Rule 16-2) and the ball moves, Rule 1-2 does not apply because Rule 18-2a specifically covers a ball at rest moved by the player – see Exception 1 to Rule 1-2. The player is deemed to have caused his ball to move and incurs a penalty of one stroke in both match play and stroke play under Rule 18-2a and the ball must be replaced.
If the player’s ball was still moving when the player jumped, Rule 1-2 was the applicable Rule because the player took an action with the intent to influence the movement of the ball. In match play, he lost the hole. In stroke play, he incurred a penalty of two strokes and must play the ball from where it came to rest; if the ball was holed, the player completed play of the hole with his last stroke and must apply the two-stroke penalty under Rule 1-2.
• 2-4/2 Ball Falls into Hole After Concession of Next Stroke; 16-2/2 Ball Overhanging Hole Knocked Away by Opponent Before Player Determines Status; 18-2a/23 Ball Knocked from Lip of Hole in Disgust; 18-2b/10 Ball Falls into Hole After Being Addressed.
Blame Twitter and text messages if you like, but I started bleeding from the eyes two or three sentences into that monstrosity. And I read and interpret rules for a living.
If you want to be in compliance with Rule 1-2, simply be courteous and conscientious. Show respect for your playing partner or opponent, and show respect for the golf course, and you will generally be okay. Which translates nicely off the golf course, as well.