Intensive video review results in costly penalty for Pebble Beach contender
Two weeks after embed-gate, Maverick McNealy found himself in the most unenviable of positions Saturday. He was on the fifth hole during his third round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when he came upon his ball resting against a pitch mark in the rough beyond the green.
Immediately he knew he’d have to move carefully. The wind was gusting and his ball rested dangerously in an unsecured position. He quickly began his pre-shot routine.
McNealy, who was 10-under at the time and flirting near the top of the leaderboard, took a practice swing and addressed his ball. Almost instantaneously, it rolled off the pitch mark and back into the rough.
The ball had moved all of an inch, but that was more than enough to constitute a potential rules violation.
McNealy stepped away and turned his head toward the heavens. Then he called a rules official over.
“I took my practice swing, addressed the ball, looked up at the hole, looked down at the club, and was about ready to hit it,” he told the official. “I was being very careful because I thought the ball was in a precarious position, and I was trying to hurry up and hit it before it moved, and then it just fell back.”
Initially, the rules official believed the situation was not worthy of assessing a penalty. As long as McNealy’s ball hadn’t moved as a result of him addressing the ball, he’d be allowed to play it from its original position penalty-free. But, to be sure, the official wanted to utilize a video review to ensure the movement hadn’t been caused by McNealy’s address.
“I was being very careful, but I did address it,” the player repeated. “I don’t think I caused it to move because I was being careful cause I thought it was already on the back of a pitchmark.”
But a lengthy video review did nothing to exonerate the 25-year-old pro, appearing to show the ball move the exact instant he placed his club next to it.
As a result, the rules official had no choice but to assess a one-stroke penalty under rule 9.4(b) of the Rules of Golf, which penalizes players who cause their ball to move — even accidentally — when it is off the green.
Sharp golf fans might remember a similar situation involving Dustin Johnson at the 2016 U.S. Open in which he accidentally moved his ball with his putter. Johnson was assessed a penalty at the time, but a recent update to the rules of golf would not have penalized him because his incidental movement occurred on the green — a new exception outlined in the rulebook.
McNealy would go on to make bogey on the hole and enters in the final round Sunday just three strokes off Jordan Spieth’s lead. Still, we’re guessing he won’t be buying a lottery ticket on his way out of Pebble Beach Sunday.