BROOKLINE, Mass. — Saturday at the U.S. Open is always going to be tough.
Justin Thomas didn’t like that his fourth hole got even tougher.
Thomas found the middle of the fairway at the long par-4 fourth. But when he got up to his ball he discovered that he’s drawn some bad luck: His ball had settled just to the right of a drain.
Thomas called for a rules official to discuss the possibility of getting free relief. But because the drain wasn’t deemed to interfere with his stance or his swing, he was forced to play on, awkward lie and all. He pulled pitching wedge from 165 yards (the shot was downwind) but caught it heavy.
“That was fat,” said announcer Peter Jacobsen on the broadcast. “That’s gotta go.”
Thomas’ ball didn’t go. Instead it fell into a bunker some 50 yards short of the green, leaving a devilish third. Thomas was incensed.
“That’s what pisses me off,” he told caddie Bones Mackay immediately after it landed. “Because so many other people would lie about being able to hit that, but it’s just like, I’m not going to hit it. That’s bulls—, man.”
NBC’s scramblers got to mics in time to obscure the rest of Thomas’ monologue, but you get the idea.
It wasn’t clear whether Thomas was frustrated that his ball had ended up there, frustrated by the fact that he hadn’t gotten a ruling, that others might have used the rules to their advantage to get one, or perhaps he was just blowing off steam after a disappointing shot. Maybe it was all of the above. But it was an important inflection point in Thomas’ round.
The USGA’s Craig Winter joined NBC’s broadcast to explain what the rules official had told Thomas.
“She had a conversation with Justin about whether or not he was going to hit that coming through, and based on what we heard it sounded like he said ‘probably not,'” Winter said. “And ultimately if you don’t have physical interference from the physical part of that drain, you’re not entitled to relief. May have been in his head a little bit, but mental interference doesn’t grant one relief.”
He explained that it’s ultimately a judgment call for the referee after hearing the player’s opinion.
“You could tell he was extremely upset,” Jacobsen said.
Justin Leonard said he didn’t think it was the drain itself, but the bad luck of the slopes around the drain.
“It just creates a really awkward stance and swing. Not that the drain there was in his way, but it created a very difficult condition for him,” he said. “Knowing him, that’ll fire him up. He’ll probably go over to 5 and make eagle.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. At No. 4, Thomas his his bunker shot to the front edge of the green and two-putted for bogey. At No. 5, he hit a nifty approach inside four feet but missed that putt. He three-putted No. 6, too, slipping to three over par for the tournament, suddenly eight shots off the lead. The U.S. Open is even tougher from there.