Hideki Matsuyama caught in sticky rules situation — and Jon Rahm defends him

Hideki Matsuyama

Hideki Matsuyama on Friday in the bunker on the 7th hole at Wilmington Country Club.


Jon Rahm was disgusted. From just off the green, though with his ball pinned against the collar of thicker rough, he left his chip shot a disappointing 14 feet short on the 7th at Wilmington Country Club. Rahm bent over in frustration. 

He then helped relieve Hideki Matsuyama

In a sequence on Friday that featured the rules, a call to a rules official, and a playing partner plea, Matsuyama escaped a penalty during the BMW Championship second round. And Rahm played a part.  

To begin, Matsuyama’s tee shot on the par-3 had dropped just above the top of a greenside bunker, then it dropped in after Matsuyama, from the sand, took a few short swipes with his wedge about a foot from the ball. He looked down, looked up at his caddie, Shota Hayafuji, looked down, looked up at Hayafuji, looked around and looked down. Questions were raised. 

Did Matsyama’s cuts cause the movement? That would have forced him to take a one-stroke penalty under rule 9.4b. But did the ball move on its own? If this were the case, rule 9.3 comes into play — and he would be allowed to play the ball from the new spot, and notably, do so penalty free. It’s all hard to gauge — it’s not as if you can ask the ball what happened — so players’ words are strongly considered. Hayafjuki signaled Rahm and called for a referee. 

Rahm hit his chip before the official came over. PGA Tour Live mics then picked up this conversation. 

“The ball was here?” the official asked, pointing to an area. 

Matsuyama said yes. 

“And you took some practice swings over here?” the official asked. 

Matsuyama demonstrated his moves. By this point, Rahm was close by. 

“And it was just hanging basically just right on top up here?” the official asked.  

Matsuyama and Hayafuji showed the official where the ball was.  

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“It was not deep,” Rahm said.  

“It was really perched up?” the official asked. 

“That thing could have fallen at any time,” Rahm said. “He did not make it move. It was literally like the last little grass was keeping it up.” 

He was right, at least in the eyes of the official. After a little more back and forth, the official determined that the ball fell on its own. The crowd even cheered. 

From there, Matsuyama got up and down for his par, shot a four-under 67, and he’ll begin Saturday’s third round three shots behind leader Adam Scott. Rahm, meanwhile, shot a 70, and he’s nine back of the lead. 

“You got to be happy you don’t get a penalty for that,” analyst Andres Gonzales said on the PGA Tour Live broadcast. “The way things are interpreted. You can see from our camera angle that he did nothing to cause that to move, but there’s always that little bit of uncertainty that you don’t know about when you start getting other minds in. 

“That was good of Jon Rahm to back him there.” 

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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.