KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Ben Cook and Webb Simpson were strolling up the 16th at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course on Saturday when they saw something ominous: A golf cart driving the wrong direction back down the fairway.
They were witnessing the collapse of a fine round of golf. Brendan Steele was sitting shotgun in the cart, halfway through a quintuple-bogey 10.
So, what happened?
Let’s start at the beginning of his day. Steele teed off at 8:30 a.m. alongside Talor Gooch. He was five over par for the tournament and had made the weekend on the cut line, but Saturday morning was warm and still. Perfect scoring conditions.
The twosome took advantage of fresh greens early on; Steele birdied 6, 7 and 9 to turn at three-under 33. He was climbing the leaderboard. But the par-5s on the back nine treated him unkindly.
First, there was an unfortunate double bogey at 11, which included a hack-out and a lay-up. But you’re here to read about No. 16, so let’s get to it.
Steele’s tee shot sailed right, in the general direction of the beach. Bad start. But he was able to find that ball and chop it 76 yards down the fairway, leaving him 270 from the flagstick.
That’s when the real trouble began. Steele pulled out a fairway wood and hit it hard, just left of the green, where it settled in an unfortunate lie in the long grass. At least, that’s what it looked like it did. A spotter located a Bridgestone in the scrub, Steele hit that Bridgestone and only then did he realize what he’d done: played the wrong ball.
It’s fairly rare to see a wrong-ball penalty on the PGA Tour. One, these guys are meticulous in nearly every way. Two, they have spotters. Three, they know their own golf balls so well they’d unlikely make that mistake — and they can check to make sure. Four, they just don’t hit the ball into mysterious, unknown, lost ball-strewn locations terribly often.
The rules changes in 2019 made it easier to identify your ball, even in a bad lie, without fear of penalty. Dustin Johnson learned his lesson after running into a similar situation in early 2019. But how often will a pro find the same brand of golf ball in exactly the wrong spot? You could call this the perfect storm.
Whatever you call it, suddenly it was penalty-counting time for Steele.
First there was a two-stroke penalty for playing the wrong ball. (4, 5.) Then there was the stroke-and-distance penalty. (6.) Then there was the cart ride back to the fairway, 270 yards from the flag, where he played his seventh shot.
Steele hit this one left again, not far from where he played his mysterious lost ball. This time he found it, splashed it to eight feet and two-putted from there. Yikes.
If a pro outside contention makes a 10 on a Saturday, does it make a sound? Just a little one, maybe. Murmurs ran through the gallery gathered on the ocean side of the hole. Plenty had gathered to watch the group behind, which featured Simpson and Cook, each three under for their round at the time.
Gooch, meanwhile, had putted out for his par amidst the chaos. As the two walked onto the 17th tee, Steele caught up to him.
“What’d you make there?” he asked.
“Five,” Gooch said.
“Nice,” Steele said. “I made 10.”