‘It literally moved, like, a dimple’: Rickie Fowler suffers brutal penalty

Rickie Fowler ran into a prickly situation on his fifth hole at the WM Phoenix Open.

Rickie Fowler ran into a prickly situation on his fifth hole at the WM Phoenix Open.

Golf Channel

This week’s episode of the Rickie Fowler Comeback Tour centers on Scottsdale, Ariz., where they water the fairways with half-empty Coors Lights and the crowds are famously loud, even drowning out Fowler’s pink cactus-print shirt.

We join our hero beside a prickly pear in the sand well left of the fifth fairway at TPC Scottsdale, where Fowler sits even par four holes into the 2022 WM Phoenix Open. (The tournament has been rebranded from the Waste Management Phoenix Open this year, which saves a whole bunch of letters, though technically zero syllables.)

There’s Fowler, his ball beside the cactus, moving little rocks from behind his ball, scratching carefully away at the sand. But then he flinches, just for a moment, after one such scratch, a freeze surely accompanied by the sinking feeling, knowing his golf ball has changed positions.

If your buddy faced the same situation, it’s unlikely that they would handle it the same way Fowler does. It’s tough for Fowler to get away with saying, “Meh, that barely moved,” because his sand-scratching takes place in front of thousands of fans and several cameras beaming high-definition video of the incident around the world. Not to mention that skirting the rules would be a look unbecoming of the former No. 1-ranked person on the National League of Junior Cotillion’s list of “Best-Mannered People.” (Yes, real thing.)

Instead, Fowler calls over a rules official for consultation. It’s tough to hear what the rules official tells him, exactly, but we can take a guess: The official likely tells him that, according to the Rules of Golf, he has incurred a one-stroke penalty.

Colt Knost is there, reporting on the ground for Golf Channel.

“Guys I just spoke to Rickie Fowler; his ball actually moved on [the fifth] when he was trying to move some rocks, and he got a one-shot penalty,” Knost says. “He said it literally moved, like, a dimple.”

If his ball has moved, he should replace it, although since it hasn’t moved more than a dimple, there’s not much replacing to do.

If the rules official had more time, he could also tell Fowler that under the 2019 Rules changes, (explained here by the USGA) there would be no penalty if he’d accidentally moved his ball while he was looking for it, if an outside force moved it (like a playing partner or animal) or if it was on the green, where just about anything goes. But none of this information seems particularly relevant and their conversation seems quite brief, so I’m including it mostly for your own edification.

Knost seems to hold Fowler in the same stead as does the NLJC.

“He does everything with class,” Knost says. “I asked him about the ruling and he said, ‘Yep, well, what’re you gonna do?'”

The announcers may feel worse for Fowler than Fowler does for himself.

“I mean, he just needs to catch a break,” Knost says.

“It’s almost like when it rains, it pours,” Trevor Immelman adds.

They’re not talking about the dimple moving. They’re not talking about this round. They’re talking about Fowler’s career trajectory, and they’re talking about the fact that we, as ticket-holders to the Comeback Tour, are waiting for the show to start.

Fowler reached a career high of No. 4 in the world in 2016. He has slipped each year since, eventually falling outside the top 100 last summer. A T3 at the CJ Cup this fall was heartening — and boosted him to No. 82 in the world — but he’s begun 2022 with two missed cuts. Now, thanks to the cactus and the rock and the one-stroke penalty, a third begins to loom.

He misses the green at No. 7 and makes bogey from the sand. He misses the fairway at No. 8, hacks out left-handed and makes bogey again. He heads to the back nine at three over, scorecard damaged but character intact. The fans await. The Comeback Tour rolls on.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.