In the 2018 Australian PGA Championship, this happened:

John Senden is teeing off, and from later videos (see below) we can see that the club snaps between his hands, under the grip, mid-downswing. The clubhead clunks into the ground, misses the ball entirely, and Senden aborts his follow-through, drops the club (fortunately not hitting the ball again!), and spins away in pain as his finger had been pinched by the shaft.

Unfortunately for John Senden, he made a stroke at the ball, and his ball, sitting on the tee, lay one.

The definition of a “stroke” is:

In 2018: A “stroke” is the forward movement of the club made with the intention of striking at and moving the ball, but if a player checks his downswing voluntarily before the clubhead reaches the ball he has not made a stroke.

2019’s definition is a bit simpler: The forward movement of the club made to strike the ball.

In 2018 (and 2019), a player is deemed not to have made a stroke if he (or she) stops the clubhead before impact (Tiger Woods has famously halted his downswing on a few occasions), if he intentionally alters the path of the clubhead to miss the ball (like Kevin Na below), or if he never makes a forward stroke at all with intent to hit the ball (like when you accidentally bump the ball off the tee when setting up or waggling for a tee shot).

Kevin Na did not make a stroke at this ball:

John Senden wasn’t so lucky. The shaft broke mid-downswing and he didn’t have the time to alter his path to miss the ball. That the clubhead missed the ball is immaterial here – his swing met the definition of a stroke, he’s lying one, and the ball is in play.

So, Senden pinches his finger, whiffs, and has a broken driver shaft. His ball is teed up two inches, and the next best club he’s got is his 3-wood. Predictably, Senden is not happy about having to hit a 3-wood from a ball teed up two inches, but the Rules save him. The definition of an obstruction is:

An “obstruction” is anything artificial, including the artificial surfaces and sides of roads and paths and manufactured ice, except:

  1. Objects defining out of bounds, such as walls, fences, stakes and railings;
  2. Any part of an immovable artificial object that is out of bounds; and
  3. Any construction declared by the Committee to be an integral part of the course.

The Rules Official on the scene correctly noted that Senden’s ball was sitting on an obstruction: his tee! Rule 24 (2018 Rules) says that:

If the ball lies in or on the obstruction, the ball may be lifted and the obstruction removed. The ball must through the green or in a hazard be dropped, or on the putting green be placed, as near as possible to the spot directly under the place where the ball lay in or on the obstruction, but not nearer the hole.

So, Senden was able to pick up his ball and drop his ball in order to play his second shot. And he very nearly made par on the hole despite lying one with his ball sitting on the tee in the teeing area!

A Small Change in 2019

In 2019, it’s important to note that Rule 6.2 would allow John Senden to re-tee his ball, move his ball, or otherwise do anything he would normally be able to do within the teeing area as his ball meets at least one of the three requirements of 6.2a:

• The player is starting play of the hole (see Rule 6.1),

• The player will play again from the teeing area under a Rule (see Rule 14.6), or

• The player’s ball is in play in the teeing area after a stroke or after the player has taken relief.

This is further clarified in an Interpretation called “6.2b(6)/1 – BallThat Comes to Rest in Teeing Area Does Not Have to Be Played as It Lies” which says:

Any time a player’s ball is inside the teeing area, the player may move the ball to another spot within the teeing area, and may play it from a tee without penalty.

For example, a player makes his or her first stroke from the teeing area, barely making contact with the ball, and the ball either comes to rest on the ground within the teeing area or remains on the tee.

Since the ball is in the teeing area, the player may play the ball as it lies or, even though the ball is in play, may move the ball to any other spot within the teeing area and play from there without penalty. The player may also place the ball on atee or adjust the height of the tee the ball is resting on.