PORTSTEWART, Northern Ireland – Jon Rahm survived a Lexi Thompson-type rules scare in the $7 million Dubai Duty Free Irish Open after European Tour chief referee Andy McFee decided Rahm did not intentionally replace his ball incorrectly on the sixth green.
Rahm won by six shots but thought his victory was in danger when he got a shock on the 13th hole. He was in full flow and in charge of the tournament when McFee paid him a visit about how Rahm marked his ball on the sixth green.
Rahm originally marked his ball to the side, and then moved his marker one putter head away so his marker wasn’t on Daniel Im’s line. However, when Rahm replaced the ball, he appeared to mark the ball in front of the marker.
The European Tour received four emails from TV viewers but was already aware of the possible infraction. After reviewing the incident, McFee talked with Rahm and Im when they walked off the 13th green and cleared the former Arizona State player of any infringement.
“We’re talking fine margins here,” McFee explained. “The reason why there’s no penalty is because I think Jon’s made a reasonable judgement. He’s marked the ball at say 10 o’clock. When he’s put the ball back down, he’s definitely not back down in front of the ball marker which would be 12 o’clock. We’re talking about the difference between the ball being lifted at 10 o’clock on the ball marker and put back at 11 o’clock, which is not a problem.”
“Secondly, we’re talking about a player moving his ball marker off to the side to get out of the way of his fellow competitor and then moving it back again. Now there’s always going to be a small margin of error in this.”
Thompson incorrectly replaced her ball on the 17th green in the third round of the ANA Inspiration earlier this year. The infringement only came to light after she’d completed her third round. She was assessed a two-shot penalty and another two shots for an incorrect scorecard. Thompson lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.
The R&A and USGA issued a new decision in April to limit the use of video evidence following the Thompson incident.
“One of the points in the new decision is that the outcome depends a lot on what the player says and his explanation of the events,” McFee said. “Jon said: ‘I knew I marked it to the side and then I was trying to make an effort to put it back to the side.’ He’s definitely made the effort.
“We’re talking about the difference between the ball being lifted at 10 o’clock on the ball marker and put back at 11 o’clock which is not a problem.
“The new decision the R&A and USGA crafted, with the full knowledge from the PGA Tour and ourselves, is all about trying to eliminate these fine margins and get to a position where if a player has made a reasonable judgement then the game will accept it if it’s slightly wrong.
“I don’t think the ball was put down in exactly the right place, but I think it falls within the player’s made a reasonable judgement to put it back so that’s why there’s no penalty.”
It couldn’t just be a runaway victory for Rahm on Sunday at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. This is golf, after all.