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  • Alistair Tait

Did Rahm get a raw rules deal?

Was the PGA Tour too quick to hand Jon Rahm a two-shot penalty in the final round of the Memorial Tournament? Or should the Spaniard have been given the benefit of the doubt?

Interesting take by good friend and former Golfweek colleague Alex Miceli on the Morning Read regarding Rahm’s two-shot penalty for allegedly moving his ball on the 16th hole in the final round. Miceli says Rahm got a raw deal because he clearly did not know the ball had moved before he chipped in for what he thought was a birdie two.

Rahm was later adjudged to have caused the ball to move at address and handed a two-shot penalty, thus turning the birdie into a bogey. The Spaniard still won by three shots to move to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

As I noted yesterday, Rahm needs to tread carefully with the laws that govern our game. This is the third rules ruckus he’s had in three seasons. Miceli believes Rahm shouldn’t have been penalised in this instance, and the governing bodies need to go back to the drawing board.

Miceli makes a good point. The R&A and USGA have actually sent out mixed messages on this issue. Rule 9.2a clearly states:

“A player’s ball at rest is treated as having moved only if it is known or virtually certain that it did.
“If the ball might have moved but this is not known or virtually certain, it is treated as not having moved and must be played as it lies.”

It seems fairly obvious from Rahm’s reaction he didn’t think the ball had moved. In other words, he was not virtually certain the ball had changed position.

Things get muddier when we introduce the Definitions.

It seems crystal clear when we read the definition of “Moved” that Rahm should not have been penalised. The definition of “Moved” is

“When a ball at rest has left its original spot and come to rest on any other spot, and this can be seen by the naked eye (whether or not anyone actually sees it do so).”

Clearly Rahm did not see the ball move with his naked eye.

Things become clear as muck when we get into the definition of Moved/2. The first paragraph states:

“When determining whether or not a ball at rest has moved, a player must make that judgement based on all the information reasonably available to him or her at the time, so that he or she can determine whether the ball must be replaced under the Rules. When the player’s ball has left its original position and come to rest in another place by an amount that was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time, a player’s determination that the ball has not moved is conclusive, even if that determination is later shown to be incorrect through the use of sophisticated technology.”

The above seems to suggest Rahm shouldn't have been penalised. However, just to create the sort of confusion we’ve seen in the past the definition goes on to say:

“On the other hand, if the Committee determines, based on all of the evidence it has available, that the ball changed its position by any amount that was reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time, the ball will be determined to have moved even though no-one actually saw it move.”

Got that? Me neither.

On the one hand the rules say a player must be virtually certain a ball has moved to be penalised, yet can be penalised because the Committee believes the player should have discerned its movement.


No wonder the rules of golf, even in a supposedly simplistic form from 1 January 2019, confuse ordinary golfers, never mind tour pros.

My understanding was that the rules introduced last year put a player’s intent at the forefront. Previously it was a question of fact whether a player was penalised. If video evidence caught a player double hitting a shot even though it was only captured on a slow-motion camera and the player had no reasonable way of knowing he or she had made a double hit, then said player was penalised.

That previous scenario was clearly preposterous, which is why the governing bodies did away with video evidence under the former rules. On 19 November 2013, they sent out a press release which stated:

“New Decision 18/4 provides that, where enhanced technological evidence (e.g. HDTV, digital recording or online visual media, etc.) shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”

What happened to that perfectly reasonable decision? Are we back to the days of video evidence replayed endlessly to determine rules violations, as happened at the Memorial?

I’m a stickler for the rules of golf, but Miceli has a point. The governing bodies need to provide clarification.

1 comment

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1 Comment

Jul 22, 2020

The rule doesn't say that the player has to be reasonably certain that the ball moved, it says that the ball is “…treated as having moved only if it is known or virtually certain that it did.” It was readily apparent, without Hi-def, zooming in, or slo-mo, that Rahm’s ball moved; the markings on the ball made the movement clearly visible. While the amount of movement was small, and could be argued to have had no effect on its playability, the rule is clear on the matter, and players must act within the rules as they currently stand, and not how they might like them to be.

The larger issue, in my eyes, is Rahm’s typical actions around a ball…

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