Clever rules play lets pro hit from nearby fairway — after burying tee shot in sand

Keegan Bradley on Friday on the 15th hole at Congaree Golf Club.

Golf Channel

Keegan Bradley, buried in the sand, dug himself out with a rules book. 

And just how bad of shape was his ball?

“He had one of the worst lies I’ve ever seen — he was plugged in the bunker and up against the fescue,” on-course analyst Smylie Kaufman said on Golf Channel. 

Bradley, though, didn’t hit from there during Friday’s second round of the CJ Cup. Or the sand at all after his tee ball on the par-4 15th at Congaree Golf Club. In fact, he took his next shot from the fairway. Here’s how.

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At Congaree, while there is more sand than a beach, there are no bunkers. That’s important, and Bradley knew it. Instead, all sand is considered waste area, and the rules of golf treat it as part of the general area. It’s here where you may remember maybe the most memorable incident involving this distinction — at the 2010 PGA Championship, all of the sandy areas at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin were treated as bunkers, Dustin Johnson thought some sand wasn’t, and, after grounding his club, he was hit with a two-stroke penalty while leading on the 72nd hole.

In Bradley’s case, the classification unlocked an option he wouldn’t have had. 

With no shot, Bradley was going to take an unplayable lie penalty and drop. Had he been in a bunker, according to rule 19.3, here were his options: 

“A player decides that his or her ball in a bunker is unplayable. The player has four options: 1) For one penalty stroke, the player may take stroke-and-distance relief; 2) for one penalty stroke, the player may take back-on-the-line relief in the bunker; 3) for one penalty stroke, the player may take lateral relief in the bunker; 4) for a total of two penalty strokes, the player may take back-on-the-line relief outside the bunker based on a reference line going straight back from the hole through the spot of the original ball.”

Essentially, if the sand were a bunker, and Bradley wanted completely out through an unplayable, he would either have to rehit the previous shot, or take two penalty strokes and drop under back-on-the-line relief. 

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But since the sand was considered part of the general area, Bradley was instead able to follow rule 19.2 — “relief options for unplayable ball in general area or on putting green.” Here’s how he escaped the sand entirely. 

While his ball was in a rough spot, it was just feet to the left of the fairway. 

So, he took lateral relief — two club lengths to the right, with a one-stroke penalty — and dropped in the grass.

“What he decided to do was take an unplayable and take it out of the sandy area, which I think that he is able to do this week because it’s not a bunker,” Kaufman said on the broadcast. 

“That’s exactly why he was able to take that ball back to the fairway — penalty shot, unplayable lie,” analyst Curt Byrum said on the broadcast. “But you see what looks like a bunker up there, really they’ve considered it — it just rolls right into the sandy areas, these natural areas. So they call it all sort of a natural sandy area rather than a bunker.”

From there, playing his third shot, Bradley hit to 10 feet, though he missed the par putt.  

“That was a smart decision using the rules to your advantage and getting out of that bunker,” Kaufman said on the broadcast. 

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.