They say hindsight is 20/20.

Phil Mickelson drove a ball near an OB fence and the ball was determined to be in bounds. He opted to play the next shot right-handed, turning over one of his irons, and ended up hitting the ball OB (by hitting it a foot). Then he had to take stroke and distance (that same foot).

Fortunately for Phil, the new Rules played a role and saved his bacon. Let’s step through this one.

1. Phil’s drive has to be determined to be just in bounds. When a boundary fence defines OB, then the inner edge of the posts at ground level defines OB. The post themselves are OB, but if any part of the ball is in bounds, the ball is in bounds. Phil’s ball, caught up in the netting, must have been partially in bounds. So, Phil’s ball was in play.

2. At this point, Phil had options, and he probably chose incorrectly.

  • Phil probably should have taken an unplayable. A boundary fence is not an obstruction, nor can it be moved (there are limited times, like when there’s a gate in a fence, that part can be moved). Declaring your ball unplayable gives you three options: a) stroke and distance (replay the tee shot), b) “back on a line”, and c) lateral relief. Lateral relief would have given Phil a quarter-circle shaped relief area two club lengths in radius inside the fence. As a lefty, he could have made a full swing easily.
  • Phil instead chose to try to play the ball. It’s in play, and that’s his option. Unfortunately, he cannot move the OB fence, so he had to try to hit the ball either through or under the fence. (He said he thought he could poke it under the fence.) Ooooookay.

3. Having hit the shot… Phil’s ball was now entirely OB. And his options, once numbering four (three under the unplayable ball, the fourth being to play the ball as it lie) dwindled to one: stroke and distance. Phil had to “return” to the location of his previous stroke… with the ball barely in bounds and on the wrong side of the fence.

4. Fortunately for Phil, the new Rules define a “relief area” for any such drop in the general area, penalty area, or bunkers (different methods are used on the putting green and the teeing area). Phil was given a one-club length radius quarter-circle into which to drop and play his shot – quite a bit smaller than the two club lengths he’d have gotten with the unplayable. Phil took this drop on the in-bounds side of the fence, played his shot, and moved on, incurring one penalty shot and yet another volume in the annals of “What Will Phil Do Next?”

Under the 2018 Rules of Golf, Phil would have likely chosen to take the unplayable, because had he failed as he did this year to get the ball back in bounds, he’d have not been given a relief area. He’d have been required to drop “as nearly as possible” to the spot where his ball originally was. Because his drop (from shoulder height no less) couldn’t have struck the fence before hitting the ground, Phil might still be trying to get a second successful drop before he could place the ball. There’s a chance he could have dropped “as nearly as possible” to the spot on the in-bounds side of the fence… but I’m not so sure of that. It would depend, on all things, how the fence was “folded” up.

P.S. Would Bones have used his one “over-ruling” per year for this? Hmmmm…

P.P.S. This is easily the shortest shot I’ve ever seen hit out of bounds.