How a 7-Minute Wait in the Phoenix Open Led to Golf's 10-Second Rule

Once upon a time, a PGA Tour golfer waited so long to see if his ball would fall into the cup that the USGA and R&A created the 10-second rule. How long did that golfer wait, watching as his ball sat on the lip, hoping it would fall into the hole? Seven minutes.

The 10-second rule refers to what is now Rule 13.3, Ball Overhanging Hole. It covers the situation in which one's golf ball rolls up to the hole ... and then sits right on the edge, or even hanging over the edge, of the cup.

Golfers always think, in that situation, "if I just wait, maybe it will topple into the hole." And sometimes it does! But Rule 13.3 covers just how long golfers are allowed to wait to see if the ball falls in.

And 10 seconds is the answer. According to the rule book, "If any part of a player's ball overhangs the lip of the hole ... The player is allowed a reasonable time to reach the hole and ten more seconds to wait to see whether the ball will fall into the hole."

But prior to 1964, that rule didn't exist, and there was a specific incident on the PGA Tour in 1963 that inspired its creation.

Don January's 7-Minute Wait at the 1963 Phoenix Open

The 1963 Phoenix Open has a place in golf history: It was the first tournament in which Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus finished 1-2-3. Oh, and it's also where Don January caused the governing bodies to create a new rule.

January was grouped with Player and Johnny Pott in the final round, which was played in high winds. When they reached the 18th green, the final hole of the tournament, January had a 10-foot putt to finish in fifth place, while Player had a four-foot putt to birdie and tie Palmer for the lead, forcing a playoff.

When January attempted his 10-footer, the ball rolled right up to the edge of the cup without falling in. January walked up to the hole, checked the position of his ball, declared it was still moving and declined to tap it in, hoping the winds might give it that little push that sent it to the bottom of the cup.

So January stood next to the hole and waited. And waited. And waited. He waited seven long minutes. And remember, Gary Player was waiting to attempt a 4-foot putt to force a playoff.

"The ball stayed there for seven minutes but it felt like seven years," Player later said.

But January always defended the long wait, arguing that the wind was causing the ball to oscillate. He was quoted years later in the book The Golf Hall of Shame (affiliate link) describing the situation:

"It was late in the day and the wind was blowing and howling. I putted first and the ball stopped right on the lip, half in and half out. I walked up to it and looked at it very carefully. Hell, the ball was moving, and there's a rule that says you can't hit a ball that's moving. It's a penalty if you do hit it. I called Johnny (Pott) over and he said, 'It's moving.' I called Gary over and he said, 'It's moving.'"
Player's later comments indicate some disagreement: "January didn’t have a right to wait seven minutes for that putt to drop. It wasn’t going to drop ever, not without hitting it."

And hit it January finally did, after that seven-minute wait. Finally, it was Player's turn to try that all-important birdie putt ... and he missed.

There have always been slow players at the top levels of professional golf, although slow play on tour wasn't as big an issue then as it later became. But waiting seven minutes to see if a ball will drop into the cup? That got everyone's attention.

And in 1964, the USGA and R&A revised what was then Rule 16-2, adding the 10-second rule to the Rules of Golf. It came with a penalty, too: A golfer who stood over a ball on the lip of the hole for more than 10 seconds before tapping it in would get a two-stroke (later reduced to one stroke) penalty.

Answer to a trivia question: The first PGA Tour player penalized under the new 10-second rule was Tommy Bolt. Bolt, apparently forgetting about the new 10-second rule, waited two minutes hoping his ball would fall into the hole during the 1965 Colonial Tournament.

This incident wasn't the first time Don January had caught the attention of the rulesmakers, either. January was actually suspended by the tour after deliberately carding high scores to intentionally miss the cut during the 1957 Kentucky Derby Open.

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