SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Jon Rahm thought he was moving a loose twig, didn’t realize he had violated a rule and eventually was cleared of a penalty in the opening round of the British Open.
It was the second straight tournament in which Rahm was caught up in a rules dispute.
This one occurred on the 17th hole on Thursday when he was playing his second shot out of deep grass. Rahm noticed what he thought was a loose impediment to the right of his ball and went to move it. But it was a vine growing just above the ground with thorns. Lee Westwood noticed and mentioned to Rahm that he was violating Rule 13-2 for improving the area of his intended swing.
The walking rules official was called over and after a brief discussion, Rahm was assessed a two-shot penalty.
That changed in the scoring area when the 22-year-old Spaniard met with David Rickman, the rules director of the R&A.
“It would not have affected my swing unless I hit a 50-yard slice, which was not the case for any player in the world in that situation,” Rahm said.
Why move it if it wasn’t in the way of his swing? Rahm said it was a reflex because he thought it was a dead twig, similar to a player moving away leaves or other loose impediments as a visual distraction.
There was no video of the incident, and Westwood and Patrick Reed were not close enough to him to see for themselves. Rickman, through an R&A official, said he weighed the balance of facts and rescinded the two-shot penalty. The bogey became a birdie. Rahm’s 71 became a 69.
“At the end of the day, it’s not my call, honestly,” Rahm said. “I can describe what happened as honestly and truthfully as possible, as detailed as can happen. And they make the judgment call. It’s up to them. They did say it’s a very fine line. I would have been fine with whatever the rules official … they know the rules better than any of us and it’s their call.”
Two weeks ago at the Irish Open, Rahm avoided a two-shot penalty in the final round for replacing his ball incorrectly on the sixth green after the European Tour received emails and calls from TV viewers. Andy McFee, chief referee of the European Tour, said Rahm made a “reasonable judgment” after having moved his marker one putter head to the side to get it off the line of his playing partner.
Rahm won the Irish Open by six shots. He teed off for Round 2 of the Open early this morning. Follow his round here.