Hold onto your hats, daily fantasy warriors. Golfers of Slovakia, cover thine eyes. The PGA Tour has established itself as a place where bizarre disqualifications happen about as often as triple bogeys, but the DQ that came through on Thursday was the strangest we’ve seen come across the news wire in quite some time.
Shortly after the completion of Rory Sabbatini’s first round at the RSM Classic, a “DQ” appeared next to his name on the leaderboard. A few minutes after that, PGA Tour Communications sent out a tweet describing what had happened.
“Sabbatini had a non-conforming external attachment to the face of a club he used during the round,” the Tour tweeted.
Hmph. What on earth does that mean? Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard shed slightly more light on the matter.
“According to Tour official there was a sticker attached to his club face that is not allowed under the Rules of Golf,” he tweeted.
Still, more questions than answers. First let’s talk about this rule. Rule 4.1 covers “Clubs” which is fairly broad territory. And while the word “external” doesn’t actually appear in that section of the rules, 4.1 essentially spells out that players must play with “conforming clubs.”
Stickers make clubs non-conforming because they’re deemed an “attachment.” What possible advantage could a sticker provide? Your guess is as good as mine.
What were the stickers, then? Again, Hoggard is our key to the puzzle here. He spoke to John Munch, the Tour’s senior tournament director for equipment standards, who said that the stickers in question weren’t the kind you might put on the back of your laptop. Instead they were the tiny reflective stickers players use to optimize their measurements during practice testing. Sabbatini had them on his fairway wood, which he used on the very first hole.
“The players use them to track club head speed when they practice and he just didn’t take them off,” Munch told Hoggard.
Under the Rules, Sabbatini could have actually avoided punishment had he not actually used the club.
“There is no penalty under this Rule for merely having (but not making a stroke with) a non-conforming club,” states 4.1. So had Sabbatini noticed the stickers before he hit, he could have just kept the fairway wood in the bag all round and been no worse for wear.
Munch told Hoggard that Sabbatini self-reported the violation. Sometimes self-reporting seems to happen more when a player hasn’t performed well, but that’s hardly the case here: Sabbatini finished red-hot, making five birdies in his final six holes to post a round of four-under 68.
Interestingly, this isn’t even the first sticker-related DQ in Tour history. In 2017, before the rules simplified somewhat, Ben Crane received two four-shot penalties for stickers on his driver and six-iron. He was ultimately disqualified because one of the penalties came after he’d already signed his scorecard.
So if you had the Olympic silver medalist in your fantasy lineup this week, our thoughts are with you. And we feel for Sabbatini, too, who will enter the offseason on a sour note. Let’s hope this moment doesn’t stick with him too long.