Jimmy Walker, for one, feels Jon Rahm violated the Rules of Golf in the course of his six-shot win at the Irish Open. Walker is hardly alone in this opinion.
Fortunately for Rahm, the European Tour was not of that mind and the Spaniard wasn’t penalized for the manner in which he marked his ball on Portstewart’s sixth green, Sunday. Chief referee Andy McFee cleared Rahm of any wrongdoing.
However Walker tweeted the European Tour, saying: “If we don’t have rules then we have nothing.”
The “rules” were modified in the wake of Lexi Thompson’s ball marking-debacle at the Ana Inspiration in April. Players “should not be held to the degree of precision that can sometimes be provided by video technology,” the USGA and R&A said at the time, placing the onus on a player’s “reasonable judgment.”
In view of this, McFee contended that since Rahm said he didn’t intend to advantage himself with his marking, no penalty was necessary.
“So long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination, the player’s reasonable judgement will be accepted, even if later shown to be wrong by the use of video evidence,” the governing bodies stated in April.
Well, in the minds of many, Rahm’s mark represents a placement of the ball that is “later shown to be wrong by the use of video evidence”.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Rahm had to remark his ball after moving it out of its original position to allow playing partner Daniel Im an unobstructed putting line. When Rahm put the ball back, he admits he placed the ball beside the marker, which is somewhat curious.
“I knowingly put my marker on the side of my ball. I know it’s a little suspicious sometimes but I knowingly did it,” Rahm said. “I moved my marker so it was not in the way of Daniel’s and put it back, and when I replaced my ball I thought it was in the same exact spot.”
So Rahm thought he put the ball back in the same spot. Rules official Andy McFee said he believed the golfer intended to return the ball to the same spot but acknowledged there was a slight difference in the spot.
Perhaps predictably, Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee climbed onto his moral high horse to lambaste the decision.
“The integrity of the competition was certainly at risk, and the dynamic of the competition completely changed from what it should have been to one person’s interpretation, and in my opinion, a wrong interpretation of it,” Chamblee said.
“Andy McFee certainly has a great reputation administering the rules in a fair manner, but I believe he got this one wrong. It wasn’t millimeters. It was inches, probably two, three inches that this ball was misplaced. So, he broke the rule. He should have been penalized, which means he wouldn’t have been playing with a five-shot lead. He would have been playing with a three-shot lead.”
All of this may be true. But if Rahm states he intended to replace the ball in the same spot, the new rule, with its emphasis on player integrity, compels rules officials to accept his word.
But while Chamblee is off-base, there is a case to be made that, from an integrity standpoint, even if Rahm didn’t intend to gain advantage from the position where he set his golf ball down beside his coin, if video shows he did set it down closer, Rahm ought to retroactively call a penalty on himself.
Were he to do so, he wouldn’t be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, as the Rules now only mandate a two-stroke penalty for the offense. Thus, he’d still emerge from the affair as the winner of the Irish Open, the “integrity of the competition” would be upheld, and Rahm could repair the growing damage his displays of temper are doing to his reputation.