With ‘vote of confidence’ rules gesture, Scottie Scheffler rescues bewildered pro

Scottie Scheffler, Jimmy Walker and a host of others on Saturday on the 15th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links.

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Jimmy Walker was searching. Then Scottie Scheffler shouted.

That’s the short summation of a wild sequence during Saturday’s RBC Heritage third round that also featured a mishit from Walker, a host of rules considered and an eventual bogey by the 2016 PGA Championship winner. But in between was a moment of sportsmanship from Scheffler — for the second time in his past three events. 

To begin, on his second shot on the 580-yard, par-5 15th at Harbour Town Golf Links, from 246 yards out, Walker pulled a 3-iron left and toward a batch of trees and water. But there was no ball to be found. There were some water ripples, though. A lengthy process started.

— Had Walker’s ball hit the tallest pine in the area, about 50 yards from the hole, and dropped onto the turf below, or in the water a few feet to the left? He began his search there. On the CBS broadcast, analyst Trevor Immelman noted that he had seen the ripples in this area. Then again, “it could have been a pine cone,” he said. Walker found nothing. He moved on. 

— Could Walker’s ball have somehow avoided the water and landed on a patch of land to the left of it? Walker headed there next. At this point, PGA Tour rules official Andrew Miller had joined him. On the broadcast, Immelman said it was unfortunate that no one had seen the ball. 

“Couldn’t agree more,” on-course analyst Dottie Pepper said.  

“Might as well give it every chance you have to discover it,” announcer Jim Nantz said. 

“You have three minutes,” Immelman said, referring to the rule for a search. 

Walker found nothing again. 

— Could the ball have gotten stuck in a tree? Possibly, but Walker and Miller appeared to have ruled that out, along with the procedures for relief there.  

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— How would Walker proceed under the uncertainty of the ball likely being in the water? Rule 17.1c covers this, when it says: “If a player’s ball has not been found and it is known or virtually certain that the ball came to rest in a penalty area: The player may take penalty relief under Rule 17.1d or 17.2.”

Walker and Miller were talking about this. 

“We’re trying … to have virtual certainty that the ball is in the penalty area,” Tour rules official Mark Dusbabek said on the broadcast. “So we’re talking to the marshals, we’re talking to anybody around there, looking at the TV views here.”

If Walker’s ball was “virtually certain” to have been in the water, he would get three forms of relief: stroke-and-distance (replaying the shot); back-on-the-line (going back on a line between the hole and where the ball entered the penalty area); or lateral (dropping the ball two club lengths laterally). 

But what does “known or virtually certain” mean? The rules define it this way: “[It] means more than just possible or probable. It means that either: There is conclusive evidence that the event in question happened to the player’s ball, such as when the player or other witnesses saw it happen, or Although there is a very small degree of doubt, all reasonably available information shows that it is at least 95% likely that the event in question happened. ‘All reasonably available information’ includes all information the player knows and all other information he or she can get with reasonable effort and without unreasonable delay.”

At this point, Walker and Miller appeared to have settled on dropping the ball to the left of the water, believing his ball had crossed the penalty area in that area. The lie would have been poor — water, trees; he likely would have had to just punch out 90 degrees to the right. 

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— But what if the ball had been believed to be lost? Walker would have had to hit from his original spot

— Then Scheffler walked over. He was near the tree where Walker, his playing partner, had started his search. He pointed up. He shouted. 

“Hey, Dottie. Dottie,” he called to CBS’ Pepper. “Were they saying it crossed on that side? It had to hit this tree. I think it hit this one. It was too high to hit those.”

“It would have definitely hit this tree right here,” Ted Scott, Scheffler’s caddie, said. 

“There’s no way it hit that,” Scheffler said.  

And Walker, Miller and a host of others walked over to Scheffler. After a talk, all believed that the ball had crossed there — and that it was not lost, nor in a tree, nor on the left side of the water. The drop there gave Walker a lie with a shot at hitting the green or past it; he had to cover some water and a greenside bunker. 

“As bad of a break as it was to hit the tree,” Pepper said on the broadcast, “it’s a good break to have gotten that vote of confidence about where the ball did get into the penalty area.”

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From there, Walker took his penalty stroke, dropped, hit over the green and next to the grandstand — and unlocked another rule and another drop — chipped on and dropped a 7-footer for a bogey six. 

But back to Scheffler. 

He could have just focused on his third shot. Like Walker, he’s in contention — both players will start Sunday’s final round three back of leader Matt Fitzpatrick

Scheffler could have said nothing. 

Instead, he helped give him perhaps the best scenario, outside of finding his ball. Notably, he did something similar three weeks ago, at the WGC-Match Play. There, his opponent, Jason Day, had hooked a tee shot left and toward a penalty area, but was uncertain if his ball had crossed into it and was going to hit a provisional ball, with the thought it could be lost. 

Scheffler and Scott stopped him. 

They saw it cross over. 

“I just love that sportsmanship,” on-course analyst Notah Begay said on the NBC broadcast. 

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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.