Much has been done lately to reconfigure the Rules of Golf to prevent unfair penalties. The USGA and R&A proposed some sweeping changes earlier this year (though they won’t take effect until 2019). Still, head-scratching rules fiascos continue to plague the pro tours, as evidenced most recently by the Lexi Thompson incident at the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of 2017.
But Lexi’s troubles were almost completely eclipsed on Sunday by an incident that could have cost Sergio Garcia the green jacket.
As Garcia and Justin Rose were playing the 14th hole in the final round, with Rose leading by one, rumors began to swirl on social media about a potential rules infraction by Garcia on the previous hole.
Garcia’s drive on the par-5 13th hole hooked left and came to rest under a cluster of thick bushes. The lie was unplayable, so he took a penalty stroke and placed his ball two club-lengths away in a bed of pine straw. A short video of the broadcast circulating on the Internet shows Garcia removing loose impediments from around the ball. The rumor was that Garcia had caused the ball to move, if ever so slightly.
Just saw it for the first time. Sergio’s ball DID move to a slightly different position…and then he let go.
— Bob Estes (@BobEstesPGA) April 9, 2017
Somewhere, Lexi Thompson is wondering how Sergio got away with causing his ball to move when he played with the pine straw around it on 13.
— Steve Warne™ (@TSNSteve) April 9, 2017
I can’t see Sergio’s ball move after his drop in the pine needles on 13.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) April 9, 2017
Below is the video in question
— Dave (@MooseWithFleas) April 9, 2017
According to Rule 18-2, if a player causes his ball to move, he incurs a one-stroke penalty and must return the ball to its original position. If that player fails to return the ball to its original position, as would have been the case with Garcia, he would incur a two-stroke penalty. If tournament officials had agreed with the TV viewers, Garcia almost certainly would not have made it into a playoff with Rose.
Fortunately for Garcia (not to mention Augusta National and, let’s be honest, the game at large) the tournament announced shortly thereafter that its rules committee had reviewed the video and deemed that no infraction had occurred.
From ANGC: Club Committee reviewed Sergio’s ball possibly moving on 13 in pine straw when he pulled pine needle and determined no penalty.
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) April 9, 2017
Later that evening, Garcia slipped on the green jacket, having narrowly avoided what would have been his most heartbreaking moment ever.