Rules Court: The Case That Has Always Bothered Jack

Jack Nicklaus at the 1979 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
Bob Thomas/Getty Images

THE DEFENDENT: Jack Nicklaus

THE SCENE: Final round of the 1979 British Open, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England

THE CASE: On the 15th hole, Nicklaus hit his ball into a bunker. "I was up against a fence, and I had to dig it out," he recalls. "Everything flew in the air, and a bunch of stuff came down on me — including, I thought, maybe the ball."

THE FACTS: Nicklaus asked the referee whether the ball had hit him. The ref said it hadn't. "But to this day," Nicklaus says, "I wonder whether it did or not."

THE VERDICT: The ref cleared Nicklaus of any wrongdoing, but what if the ball had nicked him? Under Rule 26-3a*, Nicklaus would've incurred a two-stroke penalty. "It didn't matter to the outcome of the tournament," Nicklaus says, "but it's the only time I've ever wondered if I got the rules incorrect." (*Note: This rule has changed. Today, the applicable rule is 19-2, with a one-shot penalty.)

This article originally appeared in Golf Magazine. Click here for a 30-day free trial of Golf Magazine and our tablet edition.