‘Wasn’t trying to do anything like cheating’: Wyndham Clark denies rules wrongdoing

Wyndham Clark, John Ellis

Wyndham Clark and caddie John Ellis on Saturday at Bay Hill.

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Wyndham Clark, a short while after a sequence that flirted with a rules violation and had the golf world buzzing, said he wasn’t aware of any commotion in the moment.

He also said he wasn’t trying to cheat.  

The moment and the reaction came Saturday, during the Arnold Palmer Invitational’s third round, after Clark’s tee shot settled into thick rough right of the fairway on Bay Hill’s 18th hole. There, while he determined the play on his second shot, an NBC camera zoomed in and showed Clark placing an iron in the grass behind his ball for 2 seconds — and both his ball and the grass moved. 

Did Clark break a rule? Observers wondered that. To note, rule 8.1b (4) states that players are allowed to, “ground the club lightly right in front of or right behind the ball,” with “ground the club lightly” meaning, “allowing the weight of the club to be supported by the grass, soil, sand or other material on or above the ground surface.” Also, the rules of golf define “move” this way: “When a ball at rest has left its original spot and come to rest on any other spot, and this can be seen by the naked eye (whether or not anyone actually sees it do so). This applies whether the ball has gone up, down or horizontally in any direction away from its original spot. If the ball only wobbles (sometimes referred to as oscillating) and stays on or returns to its original spot, the ball has not moved.”

With that in mind, conversation started. On NBC’s broadcast, announcer Dan Hicks asked Mark Dusbabek, the PGA Tour lead TV rules and video analyst, for his interpretation — and Dusbabek said he believed Clark’s ball had moved, but came back to “its same spot.” Hicks then asked Dusbabek whether Clark was trying to improve his lie.  

“I know, Dan, that it looks bad, that maybe he’s trying to improve the area of his intended swing,” Dusbabek said on the broadcast. “It doesn’t look like there’s enough there. It’s just hard to say. A player is allowed to ground his club with the weight of the club against the ground. So, that’s basically what he’s doing right there.

“I feel his ball didn’t move, and I feel like he did nothing to affect the stroke.”

Three analysts also weighed in. On NBC’s broadcast, Brad Faxon believed that “it certainly didn’t look like it was just the weight of the club,” referencing rule 8.1b (4), while Luke Donald said that Clark needed to be more careful. A while later, on Golf Channel’s Golf Central show, Brandel Chamblee was more direct. 

“The ball clearly moved. He clearly didn’t ground the club lightly,” Chamblee said. “Why he was putting his club into the club so forcefully is beyond me.”

Chamblee then replayed the video of Clark addressing the ball — with this footage using a red circle drawn around the ball.

“You could see it without the circle,” Chamblee said. “I think he should have been penalized.”

PGA Tour rules officials disagreed. 

According to Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis, the video of Clark addressing the ball was sent to all members of the PGA Tour rules committee on site at Bay Hill, and that the committee decided not to penalize Clark. Lewis also reported that PGA Tour Chief Referee Ken Tackett told him the committee believed that the ball wobbled and returned to its original spot.

Also in play here was Rule 20.2c, which was adopted in 2017. That rule says this: “If the facts shown on the video could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye, that video evidence will be disregarded even if it indicates a breach of the rules.”

Clark, meanwhile, denied any wrongdoing. 

While he was not questioned about the incident during his post-round press conference, Espen Blaker of Eurosport asked Clark separately whether Clark thought his ball moved. He didn’t. Clark also said he was shown the video in the scoring tent — and that rules officials and playing partner Scottie Scheffler also didn’t think the ball moved. 

Here was the complete exchange, started by Blaker:

“There was some pictures from 18 where you got ready for your second shot, that it looked like the ball could have moved. Did you feel it moved?”

Said Clark: “I actually had no idea that that even happened. They told me in the scoring tent. Showed me the video. I wasn’t trying to do anything like cheating or anything like that or improve my lie. I just simply put my club down. And, you know, obviously they zoom in, [and] it makes it look worse. We all talked about it. Scottie and the rules officials, they didn’t think it moved. So fortunately that didn’t happen. So yeah, I was unaware of that until I got in.”

On Sunday, Clark started the API’s final round one shot out of the lead. 

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.