The Rules of Golf are largely enforced through the honor system, with players self-reporting infractions. If a player doesn’t self-report, or is unaware of a violation, another individual may report the infraction. Typically, the infraction must be reported immediately in match play and before the competition ends in stroke play. Penalties usually are not assessed when infractions are reported too late -- unless the infraction results in a player’s disqualification.
Rule 34b of the Rules of Golf states that a penalty “must not be rescinded, modified or imposed after the competition has closed” in stroke play. The exceptions involve disqualification penalties for infractions such as signing an incorrect scorecard. A key factor in determining if a penalty may be assessed after competition closes is whether the player was aware of the violation. For example, if a player changes the weight of an adjustable club during a round, and the penalty is reported after the competition concludes, the tournament committee should disqualify the player if he knew he’d violated the rules. But, pursuant to Decision 34-1b/4, the committee may not impose a penalty if the player was unaware of the infraction.
A player or team’s strategy may change as the score of a match changes, so the Rules of Golf demand that match play infractions be reported as soon as possible. A match play tournament committee may only consider a claim if it’s made “in a timely manner,” according to Rule 2-5. Typically, a claim is timely if it’s made before the opponent begins play on the next hole, or before she leaves the green of the final hole. The claim might also be considered timely, however, if it’s reported before the result of the match is officially announced.
Suppose, for example, that a player who has lost a match 5 and 4 as of the completion of the 14th hole discovers after the 16th hole -- as the two golfers continue the round -- that her opponent has one too many clubs in her bag. After completion of the round, she reports the infraction. Under Decision 2-5/5.5, the presumed winner is penalized with the loss of hole 14. Holes 15 through 18 are replayed, with the penalized player leading by three holes as they begin play on the 15th.
Harrington Disqualified One Day Later
Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the 2011 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship one day after committing an infraction. On the seventh hole of the first round, Harrington accidentally moved his ball slightly while replacing it and failed to return the ball to its original spot. Harrington believed the ball had simply rocked slightly forward, then moved back to its original spot. A television viewer detected the movement and e-mailed the information to the European Tour, which confirmed the infraction after viewing a replay. Because Harrington didn’t apply a two-stroke penalty to himself, the scorecard he signed after the first round was incorrect and he was disqualified the day after the infraction occurred.
Mallon Disqualifies Herself
Meg Mallon was leading an LPGA tournament in Toledo when she hit a ball that rolled to the edge of the cup and stopped. As Mallon waited to putt, the ball fell into the hole. The next day, Mallon consulted a tournament rules official and both viewed the TV replay. The video showed that 19 seconds had elapsed between the time the ball first stopped rolling and the instant it dropped into the cup. Under the Rules of Golf, a player incurs a penalty for waiting more than 10 seconds to play a ball that has come to rest at the edge of a hole. Mallon had failed to assess a penalty against herself when recording her score on the hole. She therefore was disqualified from the tournament for signing an incorrect scorecard.