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  • Alistair Tait

Why Rahm needs to tread carefully

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

As impressive as it is to see Jon Rahm reach the top of the Official World Golf Ranking after winning the Memorial Tournament, attaining that spot comes with a wee bit of advice.

Tread carefully around the rules of golf.

Perhaps Rahm needs to give the laws that govern our game another read after suffering a two-shot penalty in the final round of the Memorial. This is the third time in three years the Spaniard has been involved in a rules imbroglio.

Before I get emails accusing me of focusing on the negative and not the positive aspects of Rahm reaching world number one at the age of 26, just the second Spaniard since Seve Ballesteros to do so, there is obviously much to admire about the man from the Basque town of Barrika. That’s a fourth PGA Tour win to go with six European Tour victories for the 2019 European Tour number one.

Rahm’s talent and explosive power is apparent. So is his will to win. His singles’ victory over Tiger Woods in the last Ryder Cup proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he’s a true competitor. While nothing is guaranteed in this game, major victories look certain to come his way. It seems ridiculous to think he’ll have to wait as long as compatriot Sergio Garcia to notch his first major – Garcia was 37 when he won the Masters. It also doesn’t seem a stretch to think the former Arizona State player has the ability to better Ballesteros’ haul of five majors.

A two-shot penalty for causing his ball to move slightly spoiled Rahm’s Memorial victory. He had enough of a cushion to absorb the penalty and still win by three strokes.

The Spaniard’s chip-in two at the 16th became a bogey four when TV coverage showed his ball had moved in the rough as he’d addressed it. Rule 9-1 came into play, which clearly states:

“A player’s balls at rest on the course must be played as it lies…”

Perhaps the R&A and USGA might want to change the rule slightly and capitalise “MUST.” After all, playing the ball as it lies is one of the basic tenets of this great game. Yet how many times do we see a minority of players look careless in placing a club behind a ball in the rough? Worse still, how many times do we see players, again a minority, place the club numerous times behind the ball before playing the shot.

To his credit, Rahm accepted the penalty without hesitation.

“I didn’t see it. You know, I promised open honesty and I’m a loyal person, and I don’t want to win by cheating.”
“The Rules of Golf are clear. Had I seen it, I would have said something.”

Rahm won the Irish Open at Portstewart three years ago and was also subject to a rules review. He marked his ball slightly incorrectly on the sixth green. The Spaniard was cleared of the infringement because European Tour chief referee Andy McFee said there was no intent by Rahm to gain any advantage.

“We’re talking fine margins here,” McFee said. “The reason why there’s no penalty is because I think Jon’s made a reasonable judgement. He’s marked the ball at say 10 o’clock. When he’s put the ball back down, he’s definitely not back down in front of the ball marker which would be 12 o’clock. We're talking about the difference between the ball being lifted at 10 o'clock on the ball marker and put back at 11 o’clock which is not a problem.”

Two weeks later, Lee Westwood challenged Rahm for moving a vine during first round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Rahm was given a provisional two-shot penalty which was later rescinded because there was no video evidence. Rahm also declared his innocence on both occasions.

"I'm an honest player,” Rahm said at Birkdale. “We're all golfers, it's one of the things that golf teaches you. We're all role models and none of us are here are trying to cheat."

No one is saying Rahm is. Certainly not me, but three rules incidents in three years is odd: most players go their entire careers without being involved in three such situations.

Rahm just needs to tread a wee bit carefully, and perhaps freshen up his knowledge of the rules of golf.

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