Rules Debate: Was Charl Schwartzel Entitled to Relief?
By Conor Nagle under General

The lie in question

While playing the eleventh hole during today’s second round at the Memorial Tournament, Charl Schwartzel’s tee shot came to rest in the semi-rough behind two embedded sprinkler heads. The South African, apparently anxious that his follow-through would graze the plastic rim of one these sprinklers, requested a drop from Tour rules official Jon Brendle (he of the Padraig Harrington divot fiasco and Joost Luiten’s disqualification yesterday evening).

What sounds like a pretty routine ruling was complicated by the fact that Schwartzel’s swing didn’t really seem to be impeded by the sprinkler head at all. In fact, it appeared as if the Master’s champion would need to swinging in-to-out so violently as to court a 45-degree push in order to come anywhere near the offending plastic disc.

Brendle and Schwartzel discussed the distinction between psychological (ie. fearing a nearby object) and actual interference for nearly five minutes before eventually awarding relief to the South African, leaving him with a second shot from an pristine fairway lie.

In [EXCLUSIVE] conversation with Stephanie after the ruling, which left members of The Golf Channel’s commentary team dumbfounded, Jon Brendle had this to say:

“He was in that gray area. He told me that his swing was going to interfere with it. There’s a point where it starts to not interfere [and] there’s a point where it has to interfere. His ball was in a questionable area… I’m not playing so he has to tell me if it’s going to interfere and what kind of shot he’s going to hit. The whole thing is that you have to have interference. You have to tell me the kind of shot you’re going to play is going to hit that… I have no doubt that it was relievable.”

Brendle makes the point that, in a situation like Schwartzel’s, he ultimately lacks the authority to reject the claims of a player when presented with a degree of evidence, even if it is somewhat questionable. Schwartzel’s request, therefore, lies just within that ‘grey area’ that prevents him from being able to impose himself on the situation and call foul. That’s all sounds well and good, at least until one realises that the catchment of that ‘grey area’ is determined entirely by Brendle himself.

Was Schwartzel’s request for relief any more blatant an attempt to stretch the rules, it’s unlikely the South African would have initiated proceedings in the first place. This ‘grey area’, even assuming Schwartzel’s case falls within it, doesn’t suddenly make rules judgments the prerogative of the player involved; in fact, it’s precisely the point at which the rules official becomes most significant as an arbiter of judgement.

You can’t really blame a player for attempting to push the boundaries of the rules (though Schwartzel doesn’t come out of this looking at all well), but you can hold a rules official responsible for failing to interpose himself between the player and an illegitimate ruling. I mean, how absurd would the situation have had to become before he vetoed a drop?

Conor Nagle
[For what it’s worth– and I say little!– Steph completely disagrees with me.]

*Update, 6/3, 8pm: Sorry, the Tour instructed me to take down the video. Copyright regulations or something.