On the afternoon before the start of the recent Masters golf tournament, a wonderfully evocative ceremony took place at the farthest reach of the Augusta National course - down in the Amen Corner where Rae’s Creek intersects the 13th fairway near the tee, then parallels the front edge of the green on the short 12th and finally swirls alongside the 11th green.
Now the drama began to unfold, and because of the unusual setting it was indeed charged with the quality of theater: only the players, their caddies and officials are allowed beyond the roping around the 12th tee, and one could only watch the pantomime activity taking place on the distant stage of the 12th green and try to decipher what was happening. To begin with, there was an animated and protracted discussion between Palmer and a member of the tournament rules committee, obviously on the subject as to whether or not Palmer could lift his ball without penalty. Apparently the official had decided he couldn’t, for Arnold at length addressed the half-buried ball and budged it about a foot and an half with his wedge. It ended up in casual water then, so he lifted and dropped it (patently without penalty) and then chipped close to the pin on his third stroke. He missed the putt and to a 5. This put him a stroke behind Venturi.
Then the situation became really confusing. Palmer did not walk off the green and head for the 13th tee. He returned to the spot in the rough just behind the apron where his ball had been embedded and, with the member of the rules committee standing by, dropped the ball over his shoulder. It rolled down the slope a little, so he place the ball near the pit-mark. Apparently, now, the official had not been sure of what ruling to make and Palmer was playing a provisional or alternate ball in the event it might later be decided he had a right to lift and drop without penalty. He chipped stone-dead again and this time holed the putt for a 3. Now the question was: Was Palmer’s score a 3 or 5?
Granting the difficulty of the job, it was nonetheless unfortunate that the member of the rules committee working the 12th hole sector didn’t know his job well enough to make an immediate and proper decision on the buried ball. In truth, as rules go, it wasn’t a really tough one or an involved one. Because of the soggy condition of parts of the course after the heavy rains, the tournament committee had involved for the final day of play a local rule permitting the players to lift, clean, and drop without penalty any ball which became embedded "through the green" in its own pit-mark. (You will find this explained under "Local Rules" on page 58 of the 1958 USGA Rules Book.) Since the term " through the green" takes in all parts of the course except trees, greens, sand traps, and water hazards, it clearly applied to the rough in which Palmer’s ball pitched and stuck. One possible explanation of the indecisiveness of the official who was handling the 12th was the fact that the ball was embedded only a foot or so below the bankside trap and, since some of the sand had been washed out of the traps by the rains, he may have been uncertain whether or not the area in question was rough or part of the hazard. However, the ball clearly lay below the well-defined outline of the trap.
All in all, it was unfortunate that the rules question arose at such a crucial juncture of the tournament, and it was extremely fortunate that the confusion which developed did not untowardly affect the play of the contenders or the ultimate winning and losing of the tournament.