A lot of golf headlines recently have involved players doing everything they can to bend the rules to their advantage.
Bryson DeChambeau’s efforts to argue the definition of a fence being a prime example, along with his later efforts to call a few ants a dangerous situation. Yesterday we saw a rare example of a player doing the opposite: being offered more relief via acceptable use of the rules, only to turn it down in favor of facing a stiffer penalty.
That’s what happened to Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship, when an approach shot found the rough. Without the usual army of marshals and spectators to both trample down rough (this is a positive to a lack of crowds, as players don’t get bailed out by being even more errant with their shots) and look for the ball, it wasn’t readily apparent where he should be looking. Those that were in attendance started to help with the search, including ESPN+ commentator and longtime LPGA pro Jane Crafter, who discovered where the ball had ended up, but not until she stepped on it.
Here’s Geoff Shackelford (on-site this week as part of the limited media contingent) with the details of what happened next:
“I didn’t see it, but I felt it,” Crafter said. She stepped on McIlroy’s ball as she approached.
When McIlroy and caddie Harry Diamond arrived, Crafter was told what had happened, according to Yechoor. He called for a ruling.
The task fell to Mark Dusbabek, a roving official working as part of the PGA of America’s rules team this week situated off the nearby 13th fairways. He is also a full-time PGA Tour rules official and before that, a former linebacker who played three years for the Minnesota Vikings.
Dusbabek told McIlroy that he was entitled to replace the ball under rule 14-2, which addresses a ball at rest moved by an outside agency. Since Crafter did not see the lie, Dusbabek told McIlroy that they had to “estimate what the lie was.”
This is where it got interesting, though, as how Rory initially placed the ball would have been acceptable (and, indeed, other, bulkier players likely wouldn’t have thought twice about it.) McIlroy, though, took a look and decided that it probably wasn’t anything close to how it had been sitting, if Crafter had stepped on it before she saw it.
Class act: reporter accidentally stepped on @McIlroyRory’s ball in 3rd green search, official Mark Dusbabek allows him to place, Rory isn’t comfortable with the lie because it’s too good. Resets it lower in rough. Makes bogey. @PGAChampionship pic.twitter.com/C8xXOXFSmu
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) August 7, 2020
In a tournament where the leaderboard is bunched together, making par instead of bogey there could end up being the difference between getting back into contention or coming up short on the weekend.
“He said he didn’t feel comfortable with it sitting on top like that,” Dusbabek said.
Dusbabek told McIlroy he could place it to how he thought it might have sat before the accidental embedding.
“No one really knew what the lie was, but if everyone is going around looking for it, it obviously wasn’t too good,” McIlroy said after the round. “So I placed it, I was like, that just doesn’t look right to me. So I just placed it down a little bit.”
Credit McIlroy, though, for actually doing what golf’s rules assume players will do.