How one of golf’s newest rules revisions saved Jon Rahm

July 9, 2017

Jon Rahm wasn’t penalized for playing his ball from the wrong spot during the final round of the Irish Open Sunday, and he has one of golf’s newest rules revisions to thank.

The ruling in question came when Rahm, who won the Irish Open by six, was marking his ball on the 6th green. First, he needed to get his mark out of the line of playing partner Daniel Im. So Rahm marked his ball to the right of it, moved it a putter head over, then watched Im putt. Video showed Rahm moving his ball a putter head back, but then placing his ball in front of the mark, not off to the side.

Rahm was told about the potential two-stroke penalty on the 13th tee by rules official Andy McFee, but after they spoke, McFee said no penalty.

Why not?

Because of Decision 34-3/10, which golf’s governing bodies announced, effective immediately, on April 25 (in the wake of Lexi Thompson’s four-stroke penalty at the ANA Inspiration).

Under the decision’s new standards announced in April, an official can rule that the player did “all that can be reasonably expected” to follow the rules, despite what video evidence shows. To make this judgment, an official can take several things into account, including the player’s explanation, body language, comments from playing partners and more.

Rahm was able to explain his reasoning Sunday (and Im backed him up).

“Knowingly, I put (the mark) on the side, which is kind of unconventional but the situation called for it, and it was raining so I kind of did it fast,” Rahm told Golf Channel after his round. “I moved the mark and put it back, and to my eyes I put the ball back exactly where it was. … I thought it was exactly the same place. Andy told me it was a very small difference. And he was just talking to me seeing if I knowingly did what I did. And I did. I thought I put it exactly back in the same spot.

“On 13 I did tell (Andy), ‘Listen, if it’s a penalty stroke let me know now, I’ll accept it. If I’ve done it I’ve done it. I know I knowingly put it on the side; I thought I put it back perfectly, but you guys have the video and I haven’t seen it,'” Rahm continued. “He told me I was alright.”

McFee explained Rahm’s ruling after the round.

“He hasn’t put it down directly to the side, he’s kind of off center a little bit,” he said. “On a clock face I equate that to 10 o’clock rather than 9 o’clock, which would be the right angle. So he’s slightly in front of that, and when he puts the ball back down, again to work on the clock face, he’s not put it down at 12 o’clock … he’s put it off to the left of that, which would be about 11 o’clock. So we are talking about 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock, a couple of millimeters.”

Rahm argued that he did his best to mark his ball properly, and not admitting a mistake helped his cause. If he says he played it from where he thought he should have, he’s then, according to the rules, doing his best to follow them.

“Do I think he’s got the ball back in exactly the right place? No I don’t,” McFee said. “I think the ball is slightly in the wrong place, but we are talking maybe a couple of millimeters here and there, so then that falls within the limitation of video evidence. And it comes down to: has the player made a reasonable judgment? And I believe he has.”

Despite the outlines of the rule and the decision made in Rahm’s case, it wasn’t a ruling that was universally agreed upon, and some argued the vagueness of the rule. Brandel Chamblee was among that crowd, believing that Rahm should have been penalized.