Rules

‘May sound silly’: Jack Nicklaus shares his side on Hideki Matsuyama rule infraction

Hideki Matsuyama

Don’t worry, golf fans. If you don’t fully understand a set of rules that an official himself called “very finicky and difficult,” Jack Nicklaus doesn’t either.  

A day earlier, at the course he founded, during the tournament he hosts, the 18-time major champion watched Thursday at Muirfield Village as Hideki Matsuyama was disqualified midway through his first round at the Memorial for using a nonconforming club. Only from there, some of the details become a bit muddled. 

What we also know is Matsuyama’s 3-wood had a white substance applied to the face. But unclear is how officials found out; tournament director Steve Rintoul would say only that “another person in the world of golf” had messaged a member of Rintoul’s team pictures from a “site on the Internet.” From there, Rintoul caught up to Matsuyama on the fifth hole of his round, confirmed that he had used the club and compiled evidence for his rules team — and four holes later, Rintoul told Matsuyama he was done.

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In question had been a white substance outlined in a circle on the club face. Rintoul described its texture as “White Out,” and rules officials determined that was enough to be a violation of rule 4.1a (3), which Rintoul said is defined as: “A substance or any treatment can’t be applied to the face of a club which could influence the flight of the ball, the spin, the loft or anything on the ball, how the ball performs.”

The rule also has a few clarifications. If Matsuyama had not hit the club and had it just in his bag, he would have been OK. If Matsuyama had removed the substance before hitting it, he would have been OK. If Matsuyama had used what Rintoul called “Sharpie dots,” he would have been good. Rintoul also said that if the substance “had been down in the grooves and in the bottom of the grooves where it’s not on the face, not making contact with the ball, again, no problem. 

“But it was the face.”

A little confused? Hopefully our explanation helped, but, in the moment, it can be a lot to process, and Nicklaus said as much Friday when he joined Golf Channel’s broadcast of Friday’s second round.  

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“Unfortunate circumstance yesterday with Hideki Matsuyama, Jack,” announcer Steve Sands said on the broadcast. “A nonconforming club. He got disqualified for the first time in his PGA Tour career. The 2014 champion, Hideki Matsuyama, not here at one of his favorite PGA Tour events.” 

“Yeah, he loves it here, and he’s played well here,” Nicklaus said. “I feel very bad about that. And I don’t — may sound silly, but I don’t understand the ruling because I just don’t enough about it. You know, I’m one of those old-time guys, ancient guys, and we didn’t know any of that stuff.”

Notably, the man who works on Matsuyama’s clubs was also confused by the specifics of the rule.  

According to Rintoul, the man had previously put the substance on Matsuyama’s driver in order to help with alignment and was warned about the infraction — but believed that it was fine to use on other clubs. 

“I would be lying standing here if I said these equipment rules can sometimes be very finicky and difficult,” Rintoul said on Golf Channel.  

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