Obscure bunker rules take center stage in Farmers Insurance playoff

Luke List, Will Zalatoris

On the left, on the first hole of a playoff, Luke List's ball. On the right, Will Zalatoris' ball. After 300-yard drives.


Luke List and Will Zalatoris, through 72 holes and four rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open, were tied at 273 strokes apiece late Saturday afternoon in San Diego, and after each hit drives of 300 yards on the first playoff hole at Torrey Pines, they were inches — inches — apart in a fairway bunker.  

But if you thought that was out of the ordinary …  

How strange did it get from there? Multiple obscure bunker rules came into play. A caddie raked the sand to the applause of the gallery. As did a rules official. And that’s not to mention that both List and Zalatoris were also playing for their first PGA Tour wins.

So, yes, strange. It all began after the players walked to their second shots on the par-5 18th and saw just how close their golf balls came to each other. Near the green ahead, analyst Nick Faldo, a six-time major champion, said on the CBS broadcast said he had “never seen inches away off a tee shot” — List’s ball was plugged, Zalatoris’ wasn’t, and they were separated by maybe the size of a driver head, with Zalatoris’ slightly ahead.

It’s here where the rules came into play. Zalatoris was overheard asking List if he wanted him to mark his ball, and eventually, List hit without him doing so. But, according to rule 15.3b (2), it was only List’s decision. The rule states: “If a player reasonably believes that another player’s ball anywhere on the course might interfere with the player’s own play: The player may require the other player to mark the spot and lift the ball (see Rule 14.1), and the ball must not be cleaned (except when lifted from the putting green under Rule 13.1b) and must be replaced on its original spot (see Rule 14.2). …

“A player is not allowed to lift his or her ball under this Rule based only on the player’s own belief that the ball might interfere with another player’s play. If the player lifts his or her ball when not required to do so by the other player (except when lifting the ball on the putting green under Rule 13.1b), the player gets one penalty stroke.”

Will Zalatoris faced this after Luke List hit just to the left of his ball. CBS

List hit. And from there, another rule was employed. And Zalatoris’ caddie and a rules official grabbed a bunker rake. 

The mark that List had created had worsened the conditions to the left of Zalatoris’ ball, which is where Zalatoris would soon take his stance. And that entitled him to rake the sand, under Rule 8.1d, which states: “If the conditions affecting the stroke are worsened by any person other than the player or by an animal or artificial object, without penalty under Rule 8.1a the player may: Restore the original conditions as nearly as possible.” (An interpretation of the rule further states: “Examples of when restoration is allowed include when: A player’s lie or area of intended stance or intended swing is worsened when another player’s stroke creates a divot or deposits sand, soil, grass or other material on or around his or her ball.”

Said Mark Dusbabek, senior director, TV rules and review analyst, on the broadcast: “So Will is able to have the lie that he had going into it. Since it was destroyed from Luke’s shot, Will is allowed to have the lie he was entitled to when his ball came to rest.” 

Enter the raking. And the cheers. Zalatoris’ caddie, Ryan Goble, took five careful strokes, from above the ball, to smooth out the area, and each was serenaded by the gallery — “ohhhh” as the rake pushed the sand, and “heyyyy” as the rake was lifted. Zalatoris then called over the nearby official to point out that the area above the ball had also worsened. 

Will Zalatoris watches as a rules official rakes above his ball. CBS

So the official grabbed the rake, the “ohhhhs” and the “heyyys” began again, and the area was cleaned up.  

“You are entitled to the lie you had before that shot was hit, and that’s all Will was trying to say,” analyst Dottie Pepper said on the broadcast.  

Finally, after List and Zalatoris had hit within inches of each other about three and a half minutes earlier, Zalatoris hit his second shot. List added two more strokes, Zalatoris three, and List was the winner.  

Said Zalatoris of it all: “Yeah, no, honestly, very weird. I don’t know if they added more sand this week from the [U.S.] Open (last year), but there’s way more sand in the bunkers this week. Jason Day had one on 5 that was unbelievable; I’ve never seen anything like that on Tour. Then again, fairways are pretty pure out here, so don’t hit it in the bunkers.”

And said List: “Just get out in the fairway, give yourself a shot and was able to do that. Again, just stayed positive with the lie and happy with the result.”

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