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iacas

Testing the Condition of a Bunker — Digging in With Your Feet

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Note/Edit (a few days later): I wanted to put this at the top, because I was wrong about this rule and it's basically this: you can do virtually anything with your feet in a bunker that doesn't affect the CATS (conditions affecting the stroke - your lie, your area of stance or swing, etc.) and it's not a penalty.

https://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/rules/rules-2019/rules-of-golf/rules-and-interpretations.html#!ruletype=fr&section=rule&rulenum=12&subrulenum=2

Rule 12.2b(1) says that you cannot "Deliberately touch sand in the bunker with a hand, club, rake or other object to test the condition of the sand to learn information for the next stroke, or…".

But, 12.2b(2) also says:

Quote

(2) When Touching Sand Does Not Result in Penalty. Except as covered by (1), this Rule does not prohibit the player from touching sand in the bunker in any other way, including:

  • Digging in with the feet to take a stance for a practice swing or the stroke,
  • etc.

I got into a discussion elsewhere about this. It began when one player said he dug his feet in six feet away from the ball. He didn't make a practice swing or anything, he just dug in, moved up to his ball, dug in again, and hit his shot.

My initial reaction was that likely constituted a breach for testing the condition of the bunker:

  • I believe you can't ever "specifically" test the condition of the bunker, unless you're doing it as a byproduct (not the main intent) of something that's allowed like taking your stance, setting clubs down that you don't want to use, or some of the other exceptions in (2).
    • The definition of a "stance" is "The position of a player’s feet and body in preparing for and making a stroke." A stroke is not a practice stroke, as it's defined as "The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball." So, I also believe(d) that you couldn't take a stance for a practice swing well away from the ball, because you're not setting up to strike the ball.
  • Intent matters here. Michelle Wie grounded her club in a hazard (yes, in the pre-2019 Rules) and reportedly lied and said she was doing so for balance (an allowed action), but they determined she was full of it and penalized her for grounding her club in the hazard. I believe the same kind of standard holds here: the intent matters. You can lean on a club in a bunker for balance, but if you're just sticking a club in the sand, then some judgment calls might need to be made.
  • What constitutes "other objects" isn't made clear. Do shoes constitute "other objects"? If they don't, does a glove?

In short, my contention was that you couldn't dig in to the sand six or ten feet away from your ball because the only real purpose for that would be to test the condition, and that's forbidden.

I was somewhat surprised when someone called the USGA's rules line and talked with them, and they told him what I've posted below. I'm going to quote him quoting them, so even though this is in a quote box, it's third-party and isn't an exact quote.

Quote

I asked them a hypothetical: What if I went in a bunker and kicked sand everywhere, dug in with my feet in several places, etc.?

They said that as long as I did not improve my lie it was legal. They also said it would look suspicious, and other things could come out of that dealing with etiquette and conduct, but per the Rules of Golf it was legal.

I had a hard time believing this to be true. The same person came back with what amounts to this (emphasis added by me in posting it here):

Quote

What I got from the USGA person with whom I spoke was that, though it may look suspicious (there could be issues with etiquette and conduct), the Rules allow for the testing of sand with feet.

So, if what they told was true, Pinto’s caddie could have avoided a breach if he had brushed the sand with his foot instead of his hand.

So, I filmed this video:

I still have a hard time believing the actions in that video are "legal." What am I doing if not testing the condition of the bunker, repeatedly, nowhere near my ball?

Now, I've seen a few people say "you can't gain information digging in somewhere else that you can't gain by digging in to your ball," and to that I say "poppycock!" Of course you can. If a player could gain all of the possible information available to be gained by digging in once, why is there a penalty at all for testing the condition? Why did what Pinto's caddie did in the U.S. Am result in a loss of hole? Also, it fails basic logic: if you're testing to see how ripe a fruit or vegetable is, you often don't just push or tap in one place. You test a few places. Of course there's more information to be gained than by digging in to one specific spot.


Three more points, and then a summary:

  • I specifically remember a discussion about this rule in a recent Rules seminar I attended. The discussion semi-jokingly included saying how a player could could avoid being penalized for some of the bunker infractions if he said "I was caring for the course." Questions involving this were on the test. We talked about digging in to a spot not near your actual stance, and the conclusion (I wrote a bit of this down, and I almost never take notes) was that it would possibly or likely be a breach for testing the condition.
  • This is one of the few Rules where "intent" matters. Again, the Michelle Wie thing springs to mind. If in the video above I'm clearly "testing the condition," then I think that renders the (2) part of the rule invalid, and I'm penalized under part (1).
  • The 2018 Rules of Golf included a Decision, 13-4/0.5, that defined what "testing the condition of the bunker" meant. It said you could dig in to take a stance for a practice swing anywhere in the hazard or even in a similar hazard, without penalty. So, there's "kind of" a precedent for allowing you to do this with your feet… but at the same time, they changed the language of the Rule itself for 2019+ and the 2018 Rules literally don't matter at all in the context of 2019 Rules. They have no weight whatsoever.

I think the language of this rule is lousy. What is "an other object"? Can you test the condition of the bunker with your elbow? It's not your hand, a rake, or a club. It's not an "other object" - it's a body part. What about a glove? What if the glove is on your hand? Or off your hand? When does a player cross the line from digging in legally to digging in excessively and nowhere near his golf ball in order to continually add to his knowledge of the bunker and conditions?

Or are the USGA/R&A really just saying "do whatever you want so long as you don't say 'I am going to test the condition of this bunker," do so with your fingers like Pinto's caddie, or improve the CATS"? Again, I doubt they are saying that.

What do you guys think?

@Rulesman, @fredf, @Asheville?

Maybe I'm still completely wrong. Maybe the USGA/R&A really don't give a crap what you do in a bunker so long as, again, you don't:

  • say "I'm testing the condition"
  • improve or change the CATS
  • touch the sand with your fingers/hand in not removing a loose impediment or other allowed acts.

But I think, still, that you can be penalized for "testing the condition" even if you do so by digging in with your feet away from the ball (especially if you do so repeatedly).

P.S. The Michelle Wie conversation is here.

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2 hours ago, iacas said:

So, if what they told was true, Pinto’s caddie could have avoided a breach if he had brushed the sand with his foot instead of his hand.

I would think if the caddy walks into the bunker and twists his foot in any way like he did his hand its the Stacey Lewis caddy penalty for testing the sand. Does a caddy ever have a legitimate purpose of entering a bunker before the player? The building a stance and practice swing doesn't apply because the caddy is not the player.  I'm not really up to date on caddy rules, but it seems like common sense whether its the caddy's hand, foot, rake, etc before the shot is played. 

2 hours ago, iacas said:

In short, my contention was that you couldn't dig in to the sand six or ten feet away from your ball because the only real purpose for that would be to test the condition, and that's forbidden.

Would you have a problem if it were 2 feet away? I totally see your point that the farther away it is from what most people would deem reasonable to take a practice swing that it seems to become more nefarious as to the intent of the player. I agree that doing it more than once seems egregious but its hard to see what the player is really thinking. 

I'm getting the popcorn out for when the experts weigh in. 🍿 

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Going forward the Tour will be leasing several lie detectors.  They will be utilized at all sand traps where a tour player is twisting/digging in his feet.  All players will be tested after completing their shot.

Point being, you can't get into the pro's mind to tell if there was intent.

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29 minutes ago, TourSpoon said:

I would think if the caddy walks into the bunker and twists his foot in any way like he did his hand its the Stacey Lewis caddy penalty for testing the sand.

Oh yeah I forgot about that one!


WHAT'S YOUR REACTION? Stacy Lewis goes into Sunday’s final round of the LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix trailing leader Ai Miyazato by three strokes.   A victory would give her the Rolex No. 1 ranking.  But for a...

Now, a caddie isn't going to play a shot, so for him, digging his feet in is only to test the condition… but that kind of goes along with my point: if you're doing it to test the condition, I don't think you get away with it via (2).

34 minutes ago, TourSpoon said:

Does a caddy ever have a legitimate purpose of entering a bunker before the player?

If he's taller, he could help choose a line. That would be fine, so long as he walks lightly.

1 minute ago, Double Mocha Man said:

Going forward the Tour will be leasing several lie detectors.  They will be utilized at all sand traps where a tour player is twisting/digging in his feet.  All players will be tested after completing their shot.

Y'know, it'd be cool if you were serious once in awhile.

And, nobody's said you can't dig your feet in to hit the actual shot. That's specifically allowed, and nobody really ever has a problem with it.

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3 hours ago, iacas said:

Digging in with the feet to take a stance for a practice swing or the stroke

Shouldn't that part make it pretty cut and dry? That reads to me that digging your feet in is only allowed when you are taking a stance for practice swing or stroke. If you aren't taking a stance for a practice swing or the stroke, then IMO the "other object" part of 12.2b(1) would include feet as well, especially since there really wouldn't be any other reason to dig your feet in elsewhere in the bunker other than to test the conditions of the sand.

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I agree with you but the one flaw in your logic is what's the benefit over testing the sand with your feet a few feet away versus feeling the sand when you dig in for your shot. Really no real advantage - maybe you dig in a few feet away and decide to play the shot differently, but you could just as easily dig in for your shot, decide you don't like what you feel, and then step out to restart the process (maybe with a different club). So while I think it's a rules violation, I don't see a reason to do it because you'll get the same information when you set up for your shot.

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This is the response I got back from the USGA, 

Quote

Rule 12.2b(1) penalizes a player for testing the condition of a bunker when they deliberately touch sand in the bunker where their ball lies with a hand, club, rake or other object.  What you do with your feet when in a bunker is not treated as testing by this or any other rule.

 

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5 minutes ago, klineka said:

Shouldn't that part make it pretty cut and dry? That reads to me that digging your feet in is only allowed when you are taking a stance for practice swing or stroke. If you aren't taking a stance for a practice swing or the stroke, then IMO the "other object" part of 12.2b(1) would include feet as well, especially since there really wouldn't be any other reason to dig your feet in elsewhere in the bunker other than to test the conditions of the sand.

You would think so. But… no, apparently.

3 minutes ago, gbogey said:

I agree with you but the one flaw in your logic is what's the benefit over testing the sand with your feet a few feet away versus feeling the sand when you dig in for your shot. Really no real advantage - maybe you dig in a few feet away and decide to play the shot differently, but you could just as easily dig in for your shot, decide you don't like what you feel, and then step out to restart the process (maybe with a different club). So while I think it's a rules violation, I don't see a reason to do it because you'll get the same information when you set up for your shot.

I addressed this. You get more information doing it multiple times.

Just now, saevel25 said:

This is the response I got back from the USGA, 

I don’t get it. I just don’t.

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6 minutes ago, gbogey said:

what's the benefit over testing the sand with your feet a few feet away versus feeling the sand when you dig in for your shot. 

Because (IMO) of how the rule is written one of those is allowed and one of those isn't.

You are allowed to dig in for your shot, but (based on how i interpret the rule) you aren't allowed to dig in with the intention of testing the sand when you aren't doing a practice swing or hitting your shot.

 

Edited by klineka

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2 hours ago, saevel25 said:

This is the response I got back from the USGA, 

 

Then why is there an exception for digging in to make a stroke? If whatever you do with you feet is OK (or at least not addressed), then no need to make the exception. Really strange response by them, I think.

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2 hours ago, saevel25 said:

This is the response I got back from the USGA, 

 

So one can read a green with his feet but testing sand is impossible? They don’t think feet have any value for obtaining knowledge?

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3 hours ago, klineka said:

Because (IMO) of how the rule is written one of those is allowed and one of those isn't.

You are allowed to dig in for your shot, but (based on how i interpret the rule) you aren't allowed to dig in with the intention of testing the sand when you aren't doing a practice swing or hitting your shot.

Kevin, the USGA is telling everyone (I haven't asked directly, but Matt has, and so have others and reported back) that this is not how the Rule is written. That you can basically do whatever you want in a bunker with your feet, and it's fine.

I suppose if they said "what were you doing taking six stances before you hit the ball" and I said "I was testing the condition of the sand" that I might be penalized, but even then, given all the USGA has said, I don't think I would be. Apparently, you can do whatever you want with your feet in a bunker and so long as you don't affect CATS, you're fine.

1 hour ago, Dick Kusleika said:

Then why is there an exception for digging in to make a stroke? If whatever you do with you feet is OK (or at least not addressed), then no need to make the exception. Really strange response by them, I think.

They're basically saying that digging in never constitutes "testing the condition of the sand."

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I wonder if the RBs consider that as bunker surfaces and underlying ground in individual bunkers at most clubs is so variable, that screwing his feet in tells the player nothing about the ground where his ball lies. And therefore they have seen no need for a prohibition.

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7 minutes ago, Rulesman said:

I wonder if the RBs consider that as bunker surfaces and underlying ground in individual bunkers at most clubs is so variable, that screwing his feet in tells the player nothing about the ground where his ball lies. And therefore they have seen no need for a prohibition.

I doubt that. Besides, the bunkers at the courses I play are pretty consistent within the same bunker, and such an assumption would rely on the conditions being highly variable at a lot of courses, and never changing or improving. At every level of the game.


What's your take on the whole of this? Even if you understood how the rule seems to be applied (i.e. you can do whatever you want with your feet and it'll never be deemed testing the condition), is that surprising to you? Do you read it as it is apparently intended to be written?

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Overall, I find it just lazy on the USGA. They opened the flood gates on intent and its making them want to be lazy. They rather just ignore the blatant cheating that is possible in this case than deal with asking each golfer why they excessively moved their feet around. 

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4 hours ago, saevel25 said:

Overall, I find it just lazy on the USGA. They opened the flood gates on intent and its making them want to be lazy. They rather just ignore the blatant cheating that is possible in this case than deal with asking each golfer why they excessively moved their feet around. 

Yes. And really...you’re going to hit your shot standing on your feet. How is reaching down and brushing the sand with your hand like that caddie did more informative than moving your feet vigorously, the feet you’ll be using to make your shot?

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12 hours ago, iacas said:

What's your take on the whole of this? Even if you understood how the rule seems to be applied (i.e. you can do whatever you want with your feet and it'll never be deemed testing the condition), is that surprising to you? Do you read it as it is apparently intended to be written?

I am surprised but it such an obvious change that I reckon they intended it. I can't say I'm too fussed either way.

Edited by Rulesman

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2 hours ago, Rulesman said:

I am surprised but it such an obvious change that I reckon they intended it. I can't say I'm too fussed either way.

It’s not really a change, though. Which I must have glossed over for years.

Oh well. Learned something new that day.

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