Wednesday, April 14, 2010

AimPoint Charts Use Illegal?

Use of AimPoint Charts in USGA Round Illegal?

Folks promoting AimPoint charts appear to claim and tell users that "The charts conform to USGA Rules." I would think this advice can get a player penalized (2 strokes) for accepting advice, disqualified for using an illegal device, or render a round illegal for handicapping, for these reasons:


The AimPoint charts provide an end point to aim the putter and start the ball on line for a given green surface slope, speed, and distance. Here is a description of the Charts by one of the AimPoint teachers:

"This is a sample of one of the charts similar to what someone would receive at an AimPoint Green Reading Clinic. The AimChart’s should only be used for planar pin positions or pin positions that act like planar positions because of where you are. Here’s how they work. Each card will have a stimp number, %slope number, numbers of the clock and the aimpoints relative to the edge of the cup(the rings represent 5, 10, 15 and 20 feet). This particular card has a stimp number of 8 , %slope numbers 1.5% and 2.0%, the clock numbers and the aimpoints for 20 feet and in. Basically, here’s how they work. Assuming a green stimp of 8 on a 2.0% slope grade, aim 12 inches above the hole for a putt from 3 o’clock. The speed assumption here is based on a pace that would go past the hole from 8 to 12 inches."
The golfer needs skill or an artificial device to determine (assess / estimate) green slope, fall-line orientation, and green speed. AimPoint teachers recommend a lot of artificial devices, like the Exelys Green Reader for slope. (If you want to learn skills for seeing the fall line correctly, for assessing slope accurately, and for sensing green speed, visit this discussion of scores of techniques.) Then the Chart is consulted to read off the target location so many inches above the hole to aim the putter face at for the putt's start line:

"Reading the card for expected break is very simple. The AimCharts are split in half to reduce the need for carrying so many charts so as you look at the card above you will see 1.5% for the left half and 2% for the right half. 12 o’clock represents straight downhill and 6 o’clock is straight uphill. The 1.5% numbers for 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 o’clock will match the corresponding positions on the clock for 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 o’clock. So 7 and 5 are the same, 8 and 4 are the same and so on. This way, if you are at 2 o’clock on a 1.5% slope you would use the same aimpoint as the 10 o’clock number that is on the chart. The newer cards will actually say 1 and 11, 2and 10 and so on at both positions to avoid any confusion."
These teachers advise golfers that use of the Charts is "USGA/PGA Tour legal", and many golfers consequently believe they can use the Charts during an official round under the Rules of Golf. Perhaps one should read the Rules first.


[Rules quotations are indicated in ITALICS.]

Rule 8-1 prohibits advice or indications of the line of play:

8-1. Advice
During a stipulated round, a player must not:

(a) give advice to anyone in the competition playing on the course other than his partner, or

(b) ask for advice from anyone other than his partner or either of their caddies.

8-2. Indicating Line of Play
a. Other Than on Putting Green

Except on the putting green, a player may have the line of play indicated to him by anyone, but no one may be positioned by the player on or close to the line or an extension of the line beyond the hole while the stroke is being made. Any mark placed by the player or with his knowledge to indicate the line must be removed before the stroke is made.

"Advice" is any counsel or suggestion that could influence a player in determining his play, the choice of a club or the method of making a stroke.

The "line of play" is the direction that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke, plus a reasonable distance on either side of the intended direction. The line of play extends vertically upwards from the ground, but does not extend beyond the hole.

The "line of putt" is the line that the player wishes his ball to take after a stroke on the putting green. Except with respect to Rule 16-1e, the line of putt includes a reasonable distance on either side of the intended line. The line of putt does not extend beyond the hole.

Clearly, the AimPoint charts indicate the line of putt in an illegal manner prohibited by Rule 8-2a. The various devices for indicating "slope" alone are illegal as well, such as use of the Exelys GreenReader in a stipulated round.

Rule 14-3 by default prohibits use of artificial devices:

Except as provided in the Rules, during a stipulated round the player must not use any artificial device or unusual equipment, or use any equipment in an unusual manner:

a. That might assist him in making a stroke or in his play; or
b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play; or
c. That might assist him in gripping the club, except that:

(i) plain gloves may be worn;
(ii) resin, powder and drying or moisturizing agents may be used; and
(iii) a towel or handkerchief may be wrapped around the grip.

The penalty is disqualification.

The use of laser range finders is illegal unless specifically permitted by local rule, but even then the range finder cannot indicate anything other than distance, as such a device is per se barred even if the feature is not used by the player:

14-3/0.5 Local Rule Permitting Use of Distance-Measuring Device
Q. May a Committee, by Local Rule, permit the use of distance-measuring devices?

A. Yes. A Committee may establish a Local Rule allowing players to use devices that measure or gauge distance only (see the Note to Rule 14-3). However, the use of a distance-measuring device that is designed to gauge or measure other conditions that might affect a player's play (e.g., gradient, wind speed, temperature, etc.) is not permitted regardless of whether such an additional function is used.

In the absence of such a Local Rule, the use of a distance-measuring device would be contrary to Rule 14-3. (Revised)

It seems that under this rule range finders that have a feature to indicate elevation and effective yardage would be barred entirely.

Yardage books are strictly limited to giving distance between points on the course, and although electronic devices giving yardage are deemed acceptable, these devices cannot go beyond giving distance:

14-3/5 Booklet Providing Distances Between Various Points
Q. A booklet contains illustrations of the holes on a course, including isolated trees, bunkers, etc. Superimposed on each illustration is a yardage scale in increments of ten yards. Thus, a player using such a booklet can estimate how far his ball lies from a putting green or a tee. Is use of such a booklet during a round contrary to Rule 14-3?

A. No. Although such a booklet is an artificial device, its use has been traditionally accepted and Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies. (Revised)

14-3/5.5 Electronic Device Providing Distances Between Various Points
Q. With regard to Decision 14-3/5, may a player use an electronic device containing the same information?

A. Yes. Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies, but the player must not use a device with a measuring or distance calculating function. However, see also the Note to Rule 14-3. (Revised)

A pencil may be used to gauge distance as in trigonometry (holding the pencil at arm's length), BUT The pencil cannot have any marks to help gauge the distance. Such marks cross the line under the Rules.

14-3/2 Pencil or Score Card Used to Assist in Gauging Distance
Q. It is possible to gauge distance to a putting green by holding a score card or pencil at arm's length and comparing it with the height of the flagstick. Is such a practice permissible?

A. Yes. Provided the score card or pencil has not been specially marked, its use in this manner is traditionally accepted and Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies.

Use of anything specially marked to gauge distance is a breach of Rule 14-3. However, see also the Note to Rule 14-3. (Revised)

Plumb bobbing as an indicator of "slope" (not "line of putt") is allowed only with the putter, and not with any other device:

14-3/11 Plumb-Line
Q. Is a plumb-line, i.e., a weight suspended on a string, an artificial device within the meaning of the term in Rule 14-3?

A. Yes. If a player uses such a device to assist him in his play, he is in breach of Rule 14-3. (Revised)

14-3/12 Club Used as Plumb-Line
Q. May a player use his putter as a plumb-line to assist him in determining the slope on a putting green?

A. Yes. Use of a club in this manner is traditionally accepted and Exception 2 to Rule 14-3 applies. (Revised)

The player also cannot test the grain or the green surface except as limited:

Rule 16-1d. Testing Surface

During the stipulated round, a player must not test the surface of any putting green by rolling a ball or roughening or scraping the surface.

Exception: Between the play of two holes, a player may test the surface of any practice putting green and the putting green of the hole last played, unless the Committee has prohibited such action (see Note 2 to Rule 7-2).

Information about the conditions of play is pretty restricted. Pin sheets indicating the "location" [only] of the hole on the green is expressly allowed, and by implication OTHER indicators about the shape and contour and grain and slope and break and fall line of the greens is NOT allowed since not expressly permitted.

33/6 Map of Putting Green Indicating Hole Position Displayed at Tee
Q. At the teeing ground of each hole, a Committee has displayed a map of the putting green. The position of the hole on the green is indicated on each map. Is this proper?

A. Yes. Displaying such maps is not contrary to the Rules.


So, although the Rules have compromised to allow yardage books, the Rules explicitly bar giving or asking for advice about the line of the putt or conditions beyond distance such as grain, slope, break (with possible exceptions for spoken advice from caddies, partners, team captains). The Rules bar use of devices that give more than distance. Laser range finders are barred unless specifically allowed by local rule, and then cannot include features or conditions of play for more than distance. Even pencil and shafts cannot be specifically marked to aid determining how to play a stroke. While the line on a ball may be aimed along a start line, the start line is chosen by the player without influence by outside advice or artificial device. A booklet is specifically considered an "artificial device".

If the USGA has deemed the AimPoint Charts an exception to the Rules as a traditionally accepted artificial device on par with yardage books, I haven't seen it yet.

In general, only the unadorned golfer and his clubs and ball may be used to influence how a stroke should be played. No outside advice about the line of the putt or how to play the stroke, no artificial devices or specially marked equipment.

I would caution players and coaches to be wary of advice to use the AimPoint charts during a stipulated round. Big boo-boo, I think.


Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist

Follow up: See this Blog Post for the Sad Update of this Continuing Saga!!!


Geoff said...

Here is a detailed description of the AimPoint system by John Graham, top golf teacher and all-around nice guy in Rochester NY, in his blog at this post: AimPoint Charts.

Erik J. Barzeski said...

The discussion of whether charts SHOULD be illegal is a different one altogether than whether they ARE illegal.

The simple truth is that they're not illegal. A golfer could read a copy of printed pages from your book, Geoff, while walking to each of the 18 greens he plays in the last round of a U.S. Open and it's not illegal.

Caddies can and do mark down direction of grain, elevation changes, and where drinking fountains and toilets are on their yardage books.

Charts are not a "device" and as 14-3/16 says you can even take a Kindle onto the course because it allows you to "access information on advice-related matters that was produced prior to the start of the player's round (e.g. an electronic yardage book, swing tips)."

Again, this is not a discussion of SHOULD AimPoint charts be illegal, but rather ARE they illegal, and the answer is clearly "AimPoint charts are legal."

I respect the heck out of you Geoff, and agree with much of what you say about AimPoint, but saying they're illegal is wrong and reflects poorly on the incredible work you've done and the man you are.

Geoff Mangum said...

Dear Erik,

The distinction is about something other than the golfer (or his caddie) offering advice or suggestion about how to play this stroke or shot. That's illegal, and the USGA has only allowed a "yardage book" as an exception officially. And even then, they called the yardage book a device and ruled it permissible ONLY because limited to nothing more than yardage. Specifically, the Rules disallow books that give gradient information in general, and these don't even offer a suggestion about how to play THIS stroke. The Aimpoint charts offer advice about THIS stroke, and so are two levels MORE illegal than caddie books with gradient contour lines and slope steepness and fall line direction marks, and are at least as illegal as Laser Range finders offering "plays as" advice for gradient.

The problem is not whether YOU want to use them or YOU or anyone else thinks they are a good idea. The problem is that when the USGA changes the Rules, they change the character of the game. This particular change in the official character of the game undercuts skill, officially, and amounts to the high school principal saying anyone who wants to graduate probably better learn how to cheat, because everything goes on the Bell curve and cheating is not illegal.


Erik J. Barzeski said...

Again, Geoff, discussions of "SHOULD" and the ramifications of the USGA's changes to the Rules are a different discussion.

Currently, the Rules of Golf specifically permit information like this to be used, as it's written prior to the round, and a piece of paper - laminated or not - cannot "offer advice" nor can they "measure" anything (ruling out your point about gradients).

Perhaps we'll have to agree to disagree, but I'm fairly certain of my understanding of the RoG on this matter.

And again, different discussion than "should" and the ramifications...

Geoff Mangum said...

Dear Erik,

Yes, the discussion I am engaging in is "should" this sort of cheating be allowed. You "argue" that the charts don't offer advice or a suggestion of how to play the putt, but that is ignoring what Aimpoint claims it is "FOR". Of course it offers advice about how specific putts should be aimed and played with line and speed. You can't seriously claim that's not the whole point of using the chart. The charts are designed and "patented" to solve the problem for a given slope and green speed and distance -- where to aim, the "aimpoint", as in, okay, dunderbutt, "it's a 2% slope Stimp 10 green from 4 o'clock and 15 feet, so my computer calculations of the physics for that situation ADVISES you to AIM 12 inches above the hole and putt the ball to arrive with a go-by speed of about 12 inches." That's cheating. If you think otherwise, I think you are just hoping not to be considered a cheater. Practice all you want ahead of time, and even memorize as many breaks as you can, but leave the cheat-sheet back in the locker room.

So it's cheating, plain and simple, according to the usual understanding of getting outside help on how to play the round, in the middle of the round. If you think the charts offer nothing that people don't already know or can easily see themselves or even can calculate, how about being clear enough to state that claim, and see how ridiculous it is when you say it out loud. So the use of the charts during a stipulated round are cheating.

As to whether the cheating SHOULD be allowed, the answer is obviously no. As to whether the USGA SHOULD allow cheating, the answer is obviously no. If some current staff member of the USGA screws up and gets confused about fundamental differences like skill and cheating, and actually SAYS cheating is not illegal, does that mean YOU should cheat? Then the answer comes out, "it depends on how much is at stake". You clearly say "if it's okay to cheat, count me in, no matter how low the stakes, and of course allow the pros to cheat where they could find themselves at the end of the day being handed only another $100,000 for the week instead of another $500,000 or more." I have a rather simpler answer: "just don't cheat, even if some goof at the USGA says you can."

So stop dodging the issue. The issue is REAL CLEAR: is it outside advice about how to play the putt? Of course it is. Is that in general illegal because it undermines skill and replaces it with questionable influences beyond the skill and knowledge of the competing golfers? You bet. Should the USGA make an exception here because golfers suck at reading putts and the ones who suck want to win more? Not in the least. Has the USGA decided that using the charts during a stipulated round are legal? Not really. One person who rules on PRODUCTS has said the charts seem okay to him, and he's mistaken. The entire USGA has not made a ruling, there is no decision, and the R&A hasn't made a ruling, and the next revision of the Rules of Golf by the joint committee of the USGA and the R&A is not due until 2012. In the meantime, cheat you rear end off, if that's what you want. Golf is the golfer, the clubs, and the course, and no outside advice during the round about how to play the shot.

Practice all you want, learn all you can, even use better calculations than the ones out there right now-- knock yourself completely OUT, but leave the charts in the locker when the round begins. It's not hard to understand. Otherwise, you're a sub-golfer and someone who has little regard for the role and value of SKILL in the game.


Geoff Mangum
A person who doesn't care to play a game where the Rules allow others to cheat. It's a game -- learn it and try to play it, or leave it alone.

Geoff said...

Once again with feeling: The "equipment czar" in an advisory letter about an artificial device rendered a ruling in March 2008 that was obviously wrong under the Rules as written. It happens. If you think his ruling is not inconsistent with the Rules as written (Rule 14), then I ask you to explain how the ruling that says "yardage books are the only artificial device allowed, and only then because they are limited to 'yardage only" and not gradient or slope" can be consistent with the czar sort of feeling it is okay to look up slope and break computations in an artificial device. You can't. That means the czar issued an opinion that is clearly in violation of the Rules. It happens. That doesn't mean the charts are legal. It means the czar is off the rez. In November 2008, the entire USGA and thge entire R&A addressed electronic artificial devices and the main bodies both said "heck no, it's illegal as heck to use gradient or slope information in computing how to play a shot -- no laser range finder that does this can even be present in a golf bag anywhere on the planet, and the golfer who carries one is DQ'd." So, apparently, the czar got it wrong and there is a bit of a mess in Far Hills that needs cleaning up. What you HOPE is legal is just a mess created by the czar. The Rules are pretty clear, both as written and as clarified by the higher authorities who probably should fire that particular czar to avoid similar goofs.

Geoff said...

And oh yes, as to the idea that just because the advice is computed prior to the start of the round means it is okay: that's just goofy thinking by willful people in Far Hills trying to bend the rules so hacker get a lower score without real skill. That sort of reasoning is specious. the Rules restrict the game to the golfer and the course; not the golfer and the course and prior computations and measurements of slope and gradient and contour and green speed and break etc. That's just weird to say that all that info is allowed so long as it's measured and computed before the round.

Apparently, the weirdos undermining the game at Far Hills have the bizarre notion that measurement of slope and green speed and the computing break is simple math like adding 1+1 or multiplying 2 times 3 and then the unquestionable fact of the break is KNOWN the same way yardage is KNOWN as 153 yards once measured. That's not real. The break computations depend on the facts of the course, not a general pattern of a 2% slope and a Stimp 10' booklet computation using a level of touch that Ben Crenshaw sometimes dreams he had. The Aimpoint "reads" are generalized opinions based on an assumed touch that is not real, and all the assumptions required to compute the suggested aim point means the use of the chart is using suggested aims, not computed realities that are simply measured and computed. Even the laser range finder computations are "plays as" suggestions. That's the problem and that's why it's not allowed and shouldn't be, and if someone at Far Hills says that's okay, they'll be facing some tough questions about their future employment when the twin ruling bodies meet to clear all this up in 2012.

Erik J. Barzeski said...

Geoff, you continue to be wrong on this. I can write whatever I want down in a yardage book. I cannot actually "measure" something during a round of golf.

It's very easy to understand.

But at this point you can take it up with the "weirdos undermining the game at Far Hills."

Good luck to you.

Geoff said...

Dear Erik,

With all due respect, you can write whatever you want in a yardage book, but the Rules of golf don't allow you to carry a book that someone printed and sold you that contains advice about how to play a shot or that contains elevation or gradient measurements in it. That's an "artificial device", all are illegal unless approved as "a traditionally accepted" artificial device, and there is only one, a "yardage book" limited strictly to yardage only and NOT gradient or slope. Perhaps you should read Rule 14.

As to what goes in YOUR yardage book, well, that's a problem, but I am talking about buying measurements and calculations sold commercially.

But even as to your written notes, I personally would not think you were playing by the Rules if you measured the hell out of a course's greens and wrote "answers" to putts in a book, and then consulted this on every putt, because to me that is just not golf. But if you think that's golf, you're probably someone who thinks there's nothing wrong with doing whatever it takes to win so long as you don't get caught or fined or penalized or DQd. Looking around seeing others doing this does not make it right or legal or even golf, but I suppose that point is difficult for many people to see and accept.

Erik J. Barzeski said...

The Rules do permit you to carry around a book that someone printed and sold. You can carry around and refer to fourteen instruction books by Hank Haney and David Leadbetter if you want. As John Graham pointed out, you're leaving out the word "manner."

It's very simple: you're wrong, and the USGA will tell you.

As for your last paragraph, Geoff, I'm content in the knowledge that it says far more about you than me. I no longer care what you "personally" think and am quite content in the knowledge that I'm an honorable, upstanding guy who takes the Rules and responsibilities that come with them seriously.

Geoff said...

We are not discussing instruction books but a chart designed to help you decide where to aim for the break of THIS putt and then THAT putt etc. throughout a stipulated round of "golf" as defined by the written Rules. One cannot interpret the Rules without reading them and discussing the language of the Rules, but you don't seem to do that. Show me the language in the Rules that authorizes what you claim, and then we can discuss it. Otherwise, you're just speculating, as most people do.

Here is the language:

The actual Rule (14-3) absolutely BANS use of ANY "artificial device":

"Except as provided in the Rules, during a stipulated round the player must not use any artificial device or unusual equipment, or use any equipment in an unusual manner:

a. That might assist him in making a stroke or in his play; or

b. For the purpose of gauging or measuring distance or conditions that might affect his play; or

c. That might assist him in gripping the club."

The only two "traditionally accepted" exceptions to this utter ban are yardage books and plumb bobbing with a club (which falls under the "unusual use of equipment" part of 14-3).

A yardage book" is specifically defined in the Decisions as "an artificial device" and is traditionally accepted as limited to ONLY yardage information. Decision 14-3/5 states: "such a booklet is an artificial device". Hence, an aimpoint chart or booklet is also an "artificial device".

Is it the case that the aimpoint "artificial device" "might assist him in making a stroke or in his play"? If so, then using it gets the player DQd. Of course -- that's the whole reason the charts are made, and sold, and used. No one contends otherwise, including you.

I think the language that MOST seems to apply is "might assist him in his play". What does that mean? I believe based upon reading many Rules and Rules decisions and the Joint Statement on Electronic Artificial Devices that this means help decide where to aim the putter based upon the slope and green speed and intended pace and distance from hole and ball position in relation to orientation of the fall line thru the hole. For example, placing a drink bottle on the green when done to "gauge the slope of the green" gets the player DQd because this is deemed "using equipment in an unusual manner to assist him in his play." (Decision 14-3/12.5) The KNOWLEDGE of the slope is what is not allowed to be used.

The aimpoint chart assistance comes from "calculating" all these "conditions of play" factors and then informing or advising the golfer what spot above the hole to aim at and what "line of play" to aim his putter face along for purposes of sinking the putt. That use of the chart clearly "might assist him in his play" by giving KNOWLEDGE as to how the calculations and assumptions all work out for "line of play".

Hence, the use of the chart for that purpose is use of an artificial device in violation of Rule 14-3 unless such use is a "traditionally accepted" exception to the ban and the DQ. Unless the USGA rewrites Rule 14-3, aimpoint CANNOT be legal unless the USGA says flat out that it's use has been "traditionally accepted." The USGA hasn't said that, and neither did Dick Rugge in his form letter about the product in a pre-clearance process for commercial widget manufacturers that is not really a ruling in the playing of the game by golfers.

You don't disagree with any of that, nor does anyone promoting aimpoint.

Bottom line: yes, the USGA is confused and pursuing an very ill-advised path under the leadership of Dick Rugge to debase the skills and personal know-how traditionally required for the game of golf in pursuit of happier hacks spending more to resorts and courses and widget makers. I object, and if you don't, then please stand on the other side of this line in the sand.