Analysts question PGA Tour’s controversial ‘mud’ decision, Tour explains

Cam Young's approach on 11 sailed some 50 yards right due to mud.

NBC Golf

On No. 3, it looked like Scottie Scheffler shanked his approach shot.

Then he did the same thing on the next par-5, No. 6.

No, the World No. 2 didn’t forget how to hit a fairway wood during the third round of the Hero World Challenge. His golf ball kept getting covered in mud.

Perhaps no example was more egregious Saturday than on No. 11 when Cam Young attempted to reach the par-5 in two from some 250 yards out. Young appeared to be trying to hit a hook to ride the right-to-left wind, but the ball flared out to the right and disappeared in the native area, 50 or 60 yards off his target line.

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He declared the ball lost and made a bogey, cutting his two-shot lead in half.

That’s when the broadcast crew, many former players themselves, opened up on the PGA Tour’s decision to play the ball down for the first time this week after heavy rain drenched the golf course earlier in the week.

“I just had that conversation with Scottie Scheffler and he just kind of scratched his head and just was a little puzzled by the decision. So obviously it’s not resonating with the very well players,” analyst Notah Begay III reported when play-by-play man Dan Hicks asked about the conditions. “I think [the PGA Tour] going to be hearing some complaints at the end of the round. Just, it’s been a little tough out here on the guys.”

Then Paul Azinger chimed in, saying PGA Tour Chief Referee Stephen Cox told him players were actually complaining about the decision to forgo preferred lies, which were in play for the first two rounds of the tournaments.

“It’s a real mental challenge for them to have to deal with the, you know, the elements, obviously, and maybe the bad break,” Azinger said.

But Begay pointed out just how out of character Young’s shot on 11 was given he had birdied six of the first 10 holes and hadn’t made a bogey yet on the day.

“That first shot [Young] hit was 50 yards right of where he was aimed,” Begay said. “I just think with so much mud, luck becomes too much part of the equation.”

“I just don’t think they’re going to make their decision based on players’ opinions,” Azinger replied after Young hit a provisional. “I mean, these guys that run the Tour, they know this is an outdoor sport and the conditions can be tough. It’s never supposed to be perfect, you know … if it becomes a luck factor, then they might have missed the mark.”

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John Wood, who was following Young and Viktor Hovland’s group as the on-course reporter, added one more point.

“I think the players would say [the decision] was a day early,” said Wood, who also saw Hovland hit a wild hook with his approach on the 6th hole.

It wasn’t long after Young’s shot when tournament host Tiger Woods entered the broadcast booth for a scheduled appearance during the 3 o’clock hour.

It didn’t take long for the 15-time major winner to weigh in on the decision when Hicks asked him to compare the course conditions from the day prior, which featured gusty winds.

“It’s a different challenge,” Woods said. “The wind stopped blowing as hard. It’s not as gusty, but I’d much rather have it blow like it did yesterday than have mudballs. Man, you just can’t control them.”

Through a PGA Tour spokesperson, Cox provided a statement to GOLF.com about the decision to play the ball down on Saturday which read, “After our assessment of the golf course and two full days of drying, we [PGA Tour Rules Committee] didn’t feel that it would be extreme in nature all the way through the golf course.”

The spokesperson also referred GOLF.com to the PGA Tour’s preferred lies policy relevant to Saturday’s decision:

“In unusual circumstances following a period of adverse weather, a course can experience extreme mud conditions without temporary water being prevalent. In cases where extreme mud affects a majority of the course, the Committee may invoke the Preferred Lies Local Rule. It is important to note that the Committee will not use this Preferred Lies Local Rule simply because the ball may occasionally pick up mud or other debris some of the time.”

Jack Hirsh

Golf.com Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at jack.hirsh@golf.com.