‘It’s a wrong drop’: Top pros clash over controversial drop at Players
Daniel Berger stood on the 16th fairway some 234 yards from the hole and four shots off the lead, hoping for some magic.
It didn’t come. Instead his second shot on the par-5 started at the green and peeled off to the right.
“That’s a water ball,” he lamented aloud.
But the details of that shot — where the ball started, how much it cut and where it ultimately entered the penalty area — became the subject of a tense exchange between Berger and his playing partners Joel Dahmen and Viktor Hovland.
Clashes between pros are rare on Tour given the nature of the sport, in which players generally call their own penalties or lean on rules officials for help. And players have discussions about where a ball entered a penalty area nearly every single round. But this week’s Players Championship is the largest purse in history. Add in days of rain delays plus every type of weather ever seen in Florida and tensions and stakes were both primed to run a little high.
Berger walked up relatively close to the green as he tried to settle on the correct line to drop and play his fourth. Dahmen and Hovland, meanwhile, congregated approximately 100 yards further back and consulted on where they’d seen it drop. ESPN+ Featured Group coverage picked up the exchange.
“I don’t think it crossed up there,” Hovland called up to Berger. With the wind up, it was difficult for either party to hear the other. Dahmen reiterated the same point.
“I don’t think it crossed up there,” he yelled. “I’m sure they caught it on camera…”
“You can call a rules official and a camera,” Berger said.
“I’ve got it back here as well,” Dahmen said, pointing to a similar spot to Hovland.
Berger responded and explained that he’d been hitting a cut, which in his view had crossed up near the green.
“I’m not going to take a drop that I don’t feel 100 percent correct about,” Berger said.
Eventually both parties met in the middle for an exchange of ideas. They called for a rules official, hoping to mediate the dispute. But when the official arrived, he put the onus back on the group.
“You guys had the best angle on it, so you’ll have to decide that amongst yourselves like you normally would,” he said.
“I just didn’t think it was slicing that much,” Dahmen said. “I thought it started kind of right at the pin.”
Hovland explained further. “If you were dropping all the way up there it would have had to cut 20 yards—”
“It had 20 yards of cut on it, just so you know,” Berger said.
“But not from this point,” Hovland responded. “I didn’t see the ball at the left side, I saw it more…”
Berger was adamant.
“I’ve never taken a bad drop in my life and I’m not about to take a bad one here,” he said.
“I’m not saying anything against that,” Hovland said.
The group went back and forth about various drop possibilities for a while. Hovland and Dahmen explained that they thought it was much further back, while Berger made it clear he did not agree.
“I mean, I don’t have it there,” he said. “It’s like, not even a question to me.”
Eventually they reached a standstill. The official proposed a compromise but seemed perplexed on how to proceed.
“You normally just work it out amongst yourselves,” he said.
Berger reiterated his point again. “This is a bad drop here, I’m telling you. I’ll drop here, if this is where you guys want me to drop. This is a bad drop … it’s way too far back.”
The official tried to broker a compromise by asking Berger where he thought the ball crossed, then asked if Hovland and Dahmen would be okay with that. Hovland looked uncomfortable.
“I’m not really okay with it being up there,” he said.
Next they talked angles and perspective; Hovland acknowledged that he’d seen things from a different angle than Berger. Dahmen, on the other said he’d been on a similar line to Berger. Finally the impasse came to a distinctly unsatisfying conclusion. Neither Hovland nor Dahmen looked pleased with the final drop, which Berger took 97 yards from the hole. Berger made his displeasure clear.
“I’m gonna drop here for the sake of you guys, but it’s wrong,” Berger said. “It’s a wrong drop. It’s way further up.”
Berger got the last word to the official.
“I’m not gonna just sit here … I am coming to a compromise, but this is the wrong drop.”
You can watch the entire exchange below:
In the end, Berger hit a tidy wedge shot to 12 feet, just missed the putt and settled for bogey. He made par at 17, par at 18, signed for a two-under 70 and a share of 15th place. After the round, both Berger and Dahmen declined to speak with the media. Hovland, on the other hand, opened up on the subject.
“From my perspective, obviously I was a little further left than Daniel, in my opinion I did not think the ball started very far left of the pin. It looked like it kind of started at the pin and then cut towards the end because the wind was also a little bit off the left.
“[Berger] obviously thought that he started it way left of the pin and then he kind of cut hard at the end, but that’s not what Joel and I saw. I’m not going to put words in Joel’s mouth, but he was closer to Daniel’s line, and we both saw the same thing, that it kind of started pretty close to the pin and then cut to the right at the end, therefore not really crossing all the way up there close to the green. We thought it was closer to the grass bunker there, just past it, and yeah, we had a little discussion about it.”
Why not let it go? Why stand your ground? Hovland made it clear that he thought it was important to say what he was convinced that he saw.
“Yeah, it’s not a fun conversation. Daniel’s game is great and I have massive respect for him as a player,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got to protect the field and protect all the other guys. It’s not a fun conversation, but when you strongly believe in something, you kind of have to stand your ground.”
Hovland added that there was no further discussion after the round.
“It’s not like we’re trying to dog on Daniel and trying to screw him over. It’s just, that’s what we believe, and he obviously felt strongly the other way. It’s just what it is. I’m not accusing him of anything.
“The golf ball is in the air for a couple seconds, so it’s tough to exactly pinpoint where it crossed or not. But Joel and I saw it in one way and he saw it differently.”