If Jon Rahm had been smart, he would have gone to the television truck – before he signed his scorecard – watched the ball-marking incident and called a two-stroke penalty on himself.
Even though he was absolved of any guilt by the rules official on the scene, assessing a self-imposed penalty would have cleared the air of any doubt surrounding his six-stroke victory Sunday at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.
As it stands, the 22-year-old Rahm’s first victory on the European Tour will leave a bad taste in the mouths of some who follow and comment and, yes, probably some who play the game for a living.
Because if Rahm had watched the video, he would have seen clear evidence that he mis-marked his ball on the sixth green in the final round of the Irish Open. Surely, he would have changed his mind. Because the bottom line is this: Rahm should have been penalized, and the European Tour was wrong in applying a new decision in the Rules of Golf.
On the sixth green Sunday, Rahm rolled a putt toward the hole, and his ball finished next to the ball marker of his playing competitor, Daniel Im. In order to sort things out, Rahm intentionally placed his ball marker to the side of the ball, which he is allowed to do under the rules. He then moved the marker one putter’s breadth to the right so that Im could putt.
It’s what happened next that troubles a number of observers, based on the Golf Channel broadcast and social-media reaction. After Im putted, Rahm moved the marker back one putter’s breadth and appeared to place the ball in front of the marker, rather than to the side. This would be a penalty for playing from the wrong spot, under Rule 20-6 (http://bit.ly/2t3ylAR).
Viewers e-mailed and called the European Tour, and chief referee Andy McFee reviewed the video.
“Now, it's not exactly 90 degrees to the side, because when I look at it pretty closely on the tape, I think I can see more of the ball in front of that 90-degree line,” McFee told the assembled media at Portstewart (Northern Ireland) Golf Club. “So, it's off-center, but he knows he's done that. And then when he puts the ball back, it looks like the ball is going back slightly in front of the coin rather than to the side. So, then you've got a question, well, has he put the ball back down in the right place?
“So, I'm looking at this quite minutely, and I wanted to get a second pair of eyes on it because it's quite – we're talking fine margins here. And the reason why there is no penalty is because I think Jon's made a reasonable judgment here.”
McFee came out to the 13th hole and confronted Rahm, who contended to McFee that he believed that he placed the ball where he thought to be exactly in the same spot.
“… When I replaced my ball, I thought it was in the same exact spot what I had picked it up,” Rahm told the media. “I really thought I had put it back on the same spot, and that was it for me. I didn't doubt myself twice.
“I told (McFee), Listen, if it's a penalty stroke, let me know now. I'll accept it.”
What’s at issue is something new to the Rules of Golf, Decision 34-3/10 (http://bit.ly/2q35AGM), which deals with the limits of the use of video evidence of potential rules violations. Part of the decision addresses replacing balls to accurate spots.
“So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgment will be accepted, even if later shown to be inaccurate by the use of video evidence,” the decision reads.
Be that as it may, many of those who watched wondered whether McFee had been looking at the same video. The rules violation was conclusive. Brandel Chamblee on Golf Channel said Rahm was 3 or 4 inches in the wrong, not a couple of millimeters off, as McFee determined.
If Rahm had been penalized – as he should have been – his five-shot lead at the time would have been reduced to three shots, and who knows what might have happened down the stretch.
But for the integrity of the game and his own peace of mind, Rahm could have – and should have – taken matters in his own hands. Not only would he have been universally applauded, but most of all, it would have been the right thing.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf