Jon Rahm fired an opening-round 69 at the British Open, but it wasn’t without incident. The Spaniard found himself in a rules-related mess for the second time in as many tournaments.
Just like the Irish Open two weeks ago, where whether Rahm had marked a ball legally was under investigation, his actions at Royal Birkdale drew official scrutiny.
Here’s what happened: Rahm approached his ball in the rough left of the 17th fairway. Seeing what he thought was a dead, detached vine alongside his ball, Rahm started to pick it up. It’s perfectly legal to remove loose impediments, as we know.
Unfortunately for Rahm, the vine wasn’t loose, it was live, still attached, and three-feet long. Playing partner Lee Westwood arrived on scene at this point and summoned a rules official.
The question at hand: Did Rahm, in moving the vine, improve the lie of his golf ball. If so, he’d incur a two-stroke penalty. In an interesting decision, the R&A official elected to provisionally penalize Rahm two strokes and review the incident after the round…something of the opposite of the Dustin Johnson situation at Oakmont two years ago.
He took a seven on the hole and then headed and signed for a one-over 71. Rahm then met with officials who reviewed the incident.
“The discussion was was it an improvement of the lie or not; that’s it. I explained my version of what happened. Unfortunately for me I was the only one who saw it; there were no cameras to back me up. That’s what happened and it was never on my lie, it was never on my line, it was never on my swing path, it was not going to bother me in any way,” Rahm told Golf Channel.
He was ultimately determined not to have improved his lie. However, there wasn’t evidence one way or another, as the incident wasn’t captured on video. Thus, Rahm’s account was all they had to work with. And, as we know, player integrity is the bedrock of the Rules of Golf.
“At the end of the day it’s not my call, honestly. I can describe what happened as honestly and truthfully as possible, and as detailed as can happen, and they make the judgment call. it’s up to them. They did say it was a very fine line, but the decision is up to them. I would’ve been fine with whatever. They’re the rules officials; they know the rules better than any of us, and it’s their call. I said the same two weeks ago.”
While Rahm is right that “it’s up to them,” he’s being a bit coy. While it was ultimately the officials’ decision, they had no information other than what he was giving them. Still, it’s not enough to call his integrity into question. His temper, though, now that is a real issue.