‘A first for me’: After bizarre penalty, Luke Donald still in hunt at Ryder Cup host site

Luke Donald stares after poor shot at 2022 Italian Open

Luke Donald committed a costly rules infraction on Friday at the Italian Open.

Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Former World No. 1 Luke Donald was only four strokes off Rory McIlroy’s lead at the halfway point of this week’s Italian Open. That’s impressive on its own for a player who is 44 years old and one year away from captaining the European Ryder Cup team.

But his position would have been a whole lot more impressive if not for a rare rules infraction on Friday that cost him a couple of precious strokes.

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This week’s Italian Open is being played at Marco Simone, which happens to be the host venue for next year’s Ryder Cup. That made it a no-brainer for Donald — who was chosen to replace original European captain Henrik Stenson after Stenson defected to LIV Golf — to play, providing him a thorough look at the course and allowing him to keep a close eye on his potential Ryder Cup team members.

Few thought Donald would have any chance to contend, but by Friday morning he was firmly in the mix. After shooting 69 in Round 1, he made par on his first hole in Friday’s second round, the 10th, before reeling off three-straight birdies to reach five under and challenge for the lead.

Then something happened that mid-handicappers might be familiar with, but what Donald called “a first for me” in a Twitter post after his round: he played the wrong golf ball.

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“I did something I don’t think I’ve ever done in golf. I hit the wrong ball on 16, which was, yeah, frustrating,” Donald shared with reporters after the round, “I hit a poor tee shot left in the rough. The spotter kind of went straight to the ball and I just assumed it was mine and mine was a few feet left of it. Yeah, it was a costly 7.”

Playing the wrong ball is obviously a major no-no in the rules of golf, and in Donald’s case it resulted in a two-shot penalty, turning a bogey-5 on the par-4 16th hole into a triple-bogey 7.

As he alluded to in his post-round press conference, Donald could have avoided his fate by making use of Rule 12-2, and lifting his ball to identify it and ensure it was his own before hitting it without penalty.

Alas, he didn’t, but he did realize his error before finishing off 16, which was crucial; had he started the next hole playing the wrong ball, he would have been disqualified.

Fortunately for Donald, he did notice, fixed the error, then went on to birdie five of his next eight holes to get back into contention.

Kevin Cunningham

Kevin Cunningham

Golf.com Editor

As managing producer for GOLF.com, Cunningham edits, writes and publishes stories on GOLF.com, and manages the brand’s e-newsletters, which reach more than 1.4 million subscribers each month. A former two-time intern, he also helps keep GOLF.com humming outside the news-breaking stories and service content provided by our reporters and writers, and works with the tech team in the development of new products and innovative ways to deliver an engaging site to our audience.