There was a stretch during Sunday’s final round at the Memorial where Jon Rahm looked like he would run away with a victory.
In very difficult conditions, Rahm shot -2 on the front nine, and with plenty of cushion and no one else on the leaderboard doing much of anything, it looked like a fairly boring afternoon of golf was ahead. (Especially factoring in a rain delay.) Then, thankfully for everyone but Rahm himself, things got more interesting. After bogeying 10, Rahm double-bogeyed the par 5 11th. Another bogey at 14 looked like a sign of a full-blown imminent collapse, and when Rahm put himself in a terrible position a the par 3 16th things felt even more precarious, despite still holding a three-shot lead.
Then the Spaniard pulled this off, one of the most impressive shots of the (admittedly odd) year:
UNBELIEVABLE!@JonRahmPGA holes out for birdie on 16.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 19, 2020
Palmer went on to bogey 17, and Rahm cruised to what the leaderboard said was a five shot win.
Except it wasn’t! As seemingly everyone but the players themselves knew, Rahm was probably looking at a two-shot penalty as the ball moved prior to him making that birdie.
— Barry W (@sacoomba) July 19, 2020
Yeah, that moved. It’s not impossible that Rahm didn’t notice it; we can’t see where his eyes are here obviously. This isn’t a Patrick Reed bunker excavation situation. But with two holes to play, the lead was actually just two shots, not four. Rahm’s ridiculous birdie would have been a still-ridiculous bogey, but without the confidence boost and the feeling of security that came with it. Palmer, meanwhile, would have gone from basically out of contention to very much in it, with a (likely fuming) Rahm leaking more oil.
But they weren’t told about it at all. This wasn’t just Twitter lighting up, either; the CBS broadcast went into detail on it, to their credit.
Jon Rahm was assessed a two-stroke penalty for a violation of Rule 9.4 after a ball at rest moved.
His score on the par-3 16th has been adjusted from a 2 to a 4. pic.twitter.com/HWbIN2woTr
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 20, 2020
(That the PGA Tour account tweeted out the discussion is also worth a slight plaudit, given how reticent they usually are about anything that might make their players look even slightly bad. Though that tweet didn’t come out until after 10 PM.)
So, with Rahm walking off the course for the customary post-round victory interview with Amanda Balionis, he was maybe the last person to learn that his birdie was about to officially be turned into a bogey. All credit to Balionis and CBS for bringing it up, too:
.@Amanda_Balionis caught up with Jon Rahm to discuss his shot on 16, being world No. 1 and what this win means to him.
? | CBS pic.twitter.com/FMTcph0Tlm
— GOLFonCBS (@GOLFonCBS) July 19, 2020
That’s not an easy situation to be in for anyone there, both player and reporter handled it extremely well, all things considered. There were actually people who were mad at Balionis for asking the question, which is absurd; not bringing up that situation would have been an incredible disservice to viewers. Rahm, to his credit, had no issue with the penalty once he saw the video.
Jon Rahm watched the video and agreed the ball moved and should be a penalty on 16. “It’s unfortunate to have an asterisk on an unbelievable shot.”
— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) July 20, 2020
(Also there’s not an asterisk, Jon! The hole-out became even more important in light of the two shot penalty!)
If there’s anything to critique here it’s the decision to not inform the players that a penalty was coming. That could have had an impact on the final two holes, for both Rahm and Palmer. Imagine an NBA game coming down to the final two minutes with one team having a four-point lead on the scoreboard, but a two-point lead in reality, with the broadcast and viewers knowing the true score while the players don’t.
Will be interesting if someone from the tour notifies Rahm that they're looking into this before he tees off on 18. He should know that his lead *might* be two less than he thinks it is.
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) July 19, 2020
That’s not a perfect analogy (score dictates strategy a lot more in basketball), but there doesn’t seem to be any reason why an official wouldn’t have let Rahm and Palmer know at some point on 17 or even 18 that a penalty was likely coming.
There’s no reason he should have learned of the situation during the interview, but that means the question was even more vital. And hey, it really was a hell of a shot.