Rory McIlroy says volunteer stepped on his ball, adding to Patrick Reed saga

Rory McIlroy at the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday.

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Rory McIlroy didn’t sleep well Sunday night.

It wasn’t just his three late bogeys, which had sent him from T2 to T16, that had him uneasy. It was the scrutiny on his actions on No. 18 on Saturday, when he took relief from what he believed to be an embedded ball in the rough. Patrick Reed had landed squarely in golf fans’ crosshairs for taking relief from what seemed like a similar situation on No. 10, and once video showed that McIlroy’s ball — like Reed’s — had bounced, he started to question the relief he’d taken.

McIlroy landed under further scrutiny when a post from Reed’s Twitter account — which Patrick himself doesn’t typically post from — called him out in all caps.

Both players were cleared of any wrongdoing by the PGA Tour, and McIlroy mused after Sunday’s round that he was so certain his ball was embedded that he assumed it must have bounced and then come to rest in its initial pitch mark.

Still, later that evening he began to question what he’d seen.

“Did I do the right thing? Did I play by the rules? Did I see something that wasn’t there?” McIlroy wondered. “I just started to doubt myself a little bit, which is not like me. But I was convinced that it was an embedded ball.”

But then he heard a detail from the PGA Tour that painted the incident in an entirely different manner: On Monday, a volunteer had come forward to say he’d stepped on McIlroy’s ball while trying to find it that afternoon, suggesting that the ball may have embedded from his shoe rather than its own original pitch mark.

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“The Tour got an email on Monday that it had been stepped on and the volunteer said something like, ‘I’m so sorry that Rory is being dragged into this scenario, but I didn’t tell him that I
actually stood on his ball to find it.'”

That set his mind immediately at ease. He realized that he probably should have taken different relief — if a volunteer steps on a player’s ball, he can place it rather than drop it — but it allowed him to move on from the incident and focus on the week ahead.

McIlroy’s comments were, as always, revealing. “Doubt” is not always an emotion Tour pros reference, especially when it comes to following golf’s rules. His response also a marked contrast to Reed, who has only doubled down on the legality of his own drop.

Still, McIlroy didn’t blame his Ryder Cup rival for bringing more scrutiny to McIlroy’s doorstep.

“Not sure that was Patrick,” he said of the all-caps callout tweet. “Could have been someone from the Reed family, but I don’t think it was Patrick.”

McIlroy tees off Thursday in his first-ever Waste Management Phoenix Open, conscience clear.

“It’s funny how these things all work out in the end,” he concluded.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ 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.