Excruciatingly close ruling costs PGA Tour contender down the stretch

J.T. Poston

J.T. Poston and an official on Sunday check to see if his ball is in bounds at Keene Trace Golf Club.

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J.T. Poston pinched together his right index finger and thumb, leaving just about the size of a tee head between them. Go ahead and do this, too. It’ll help best to illustrate the following: 

How close he was to being inbounds on the 15th hole at Keene Trace Golf Club. 

How near he was to winning the Barbasol Championship on Sunday. 

And why Poston, his caddie, Aaron Flener, three officials, a yellow string, a white piece of paper and three minutes were needed to confirm.

That close. And yet that far. 

Of course, none of us would be here right now had Poston not hooked his tee shot on the 516-yard par-5. With four holes to play, he held a four-shot lead over four players. Then, after an awkward follow-through from Poston, his ball took four bounces, the first bounce coming about 10 yards ahead of a white out-of-bounds stake, the last bounce appearing to jump ever so slightly to the left. He hit a provisional. 

Some 260 yards away, his first shot was inches to the left of a few cables, and even closer than that to a string, which officials had strung from two O.B. stakes about 30 yards apart and would be used to determine whether Poston’s ball was in or out. All ball and string needed to do was touch. If they didn’t, Poston would have to play his provisional and take a two-shot penalty. 

“It’s really close,” Poston said as he stood over his ball. He stepped back to see if the string was as straight as it could be. He shrugged his hands.  

“It looks like it might be out, but I don’t know what part of it is touching if it’s like sitting down, level with the ball,” Poston said.  

At this point, an official came over, and he placed a piece of paper between the string and the ball, much like an NFL referee when measuring a tight first-down call. Poston took off his hat and wiped his forehead, much like an NFL coach.    

“I don’t think any part of the ball is touching that, J.T.” the official said. “You agree?”

“I mean, I know it’s close,” Poston said. “I feel like it’s … if it’s out of bounds, I want to be sure.” 

“I wonder if the string’s all the way down, like ball level,” Flener said.  

“It’s supposed to be ground level at the base of this stake,” the official said.  

Poston and the official squatted over the ball, and the official again put the piece of paper between the ball and the string. Still a gap.   

“That’s why I’m trying to use the paper,” the official said.  

Here, Poston gestured with his fingers to show the distance, and the official motioned for another official to look. Same view.  

“You think it’s out?” Poston said. 

“Yeah,” the official said.  

“All right,” Poston said, and he hit his provisional and double-bogeyed the hole. 

From there, Poston bogeyed the 16th, too, and he eventually fell to Seamus Power in a six-hole playoff. 

That close. And yet that far. 

“I mean, that’s a hole where if you just get it in the fairway, almost everybody’s making birdie,” Poston said afterward of the 15th. “It’s a little bit of an awkward tee shot having to hit kind of a high fade. I like to draw the ball a little bit, so it’s definitely an uncomfortable one for me, but I just put an awful swing on it. I double-crossed it and it was out of bounds by half an inch or an inch or so.”

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