Justin Thomas denied rules relief. Then risks ‘something very bad happening’

Justin Thomas, rules official

Justin Thomas and a rules official on Thursday on the 2nd hole at Riviera Country Club.

PGA Tour Live

Tiger Woods, from the fairway on Riviera’s 2nd hole with PGA Tour Live announcer Michael Collins, smirked. He knew what could lie ahead, facetiously so. 

“As we were walking up,” Collins said on the broadcast, “he said, I bet you JT *bleeping* makes a par on this one.”

With friends like that … yeah, you know the rest. The thing is, while Justin Thomas, or JT, and Woods are close, and these are the kinds of bouquets pals toss each other, you can’t fault Woods for feeling a bit stupefied Thursday for about a 15-minute sequence during the first round of the Genesis Invitational

In order:

— Thomas, after a disappointing par on the par-5 1st, went left off the tee on the 480-yard, par-4 2nd. His ball settled inches to the right of the support of the fence that separates Riviera’s driving range from the hole, and next to a black-and-green rope and power cables. 

— Thomas called for an official. Could he get relief?

From the rope and power cables, yes. They are movable obstructions, and rule 15.2 says this: “Without penalty, a player may remove a movable obstruction anywhere on or off the course and may do so in any way. … If a player’s ball moves while they are removing a movable obstruction, there is no penalty, and the ball must be replaced on its original spot (which, if not known, must be estimated) (see Rule 14.2).”

But what about the board below the fence? 


It is deemed a boundary object.

The USGA website spells out well how a player is to proceed: “You do not get free relief from objects that define or mark the course boundary. You may not move objects marking course boundaries or take free relief from them like you would from other artificial objects, like a cart path, a building, or a stake marking a penalty area.”

“Your options are to play your ball as it lies, proceed under penalty of stroke and distance by playing again from the spot of your last stroke (see Rule 18.1), or decide your ball is unplayable (see Rule 19.1).”

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— Thomas almost immediately went with the first choice. He was going to hit. With his ball near the support, he was going with a ricochet play off of it. He started to move fans out of the way. 

But shouldn’t he have taken an unplayable lie, allowing him to move the ball two club lengths to the right under the penalty of a stroke? Wasn’t there a chance he’d wreck his club? Or his hand or wrist? 

On the PGA Tour Live broadcast, Thomas’ move was questioned. 

“It’s worse for bodily injury,” announcer Craig Perks said. “Doesn’t feel like he can advance it left-handed. You’re risking something very bad happening. You potentially should just take an unplayable lie here.”

Collins noted that an observer said the shot was making him nervous.  

“It should,” Perks said. 

— Thomas hit. The ball went about 5 yards out to the right. 

“He obviously considered his options,” Perks said on the broadcast. 

— Thomas almost immediately went to work. He tried to find a line to the green, about 180 yards away. 

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There were trees in his path. But if he could work the ball right to left, there was a chance. 

— Thomas hit. 

His ball dropped short of the green, and it rolled to 7 feet. 

And Woods joked with Collins. In the end, though, Thomas missed the par putt to the right, and he finished with a five.  

“Yeah, I think maybe that was just the mindset,” Perks said on the broadcast of the second and third strokes, “…if I can advance it to a point where I can get a swing, which was risky, then I felt like I could get it up on the green and give myself a chance to make four.”

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.