LPGA investigates possible rules cover-up

Il Mi Chung (left) and Shi Hyun Ahn

Il Mi Chung (left) and Shi Hyun Ahn

There’s nothing particularly earthshaking about two competitors playing the wrong ball. It’s when talk surfaces of a possible cover-up that things heat up.

The LPGA is investigating an incident from the first round Aug. 26 at the CN Canadian Women’s Open regarding Il Mi Chung and Shi Hyun Ahn, two South Koreans who accidentally hit each other’s Titleist ball in the 18th fairway, signed for incorrect scorecards and were disqualified. The question LPGA officials will try to answer in the coming days is, When exactly did the two players discover the mistake?

Reports swirled around St. Charles Country Club in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that the two players realized they had each other’s ball on the 18th green and told their caddies to keep the incident quiet. Danielle Downey, the third player in the group, was unaware of the episode until she left dinner Thursday evening and ran into Chung, who told Downey that she realized the mistake while autographing what she thought was her ball for the walking scorer.

Chris Benz, Chung’s caddie for the past four events, noticed on the 18th green that his player had switched balls. He told Downey’s caddie his concerns.

Benz concedes he did not know the consequences of the rule (15-3b, “Wrong Ball”) and had no urgent reason to talk to Chung.

He approached Ahn and Chung after they left the scoring area and said they might have hit each other’s ball and should talk to rules officials. The players spoke to each other in Korean and told Benz they agreed. They then left for the rules trailer.

Chung’s agent, Young Song, confirmed through an interpreter that Il Mi noticed the mistake while signing the ball. Benz realizes he should’ve said something right away on No. 18 and “learned a big lesson.”

The accidental switch occurred in the fairway on the 18th hole after both players hit their drives on the same line as the flag, roughly 10 yards apart. Ahn’s caddie was out in front of the group and put her bag next to the first ball. Benz and Chung stood off to the side, discussing their plan for the approach while Ahn missed the green right. Chung walked to the other ball, without Benz, to hit her second shot onto the green.

On the putting surface, Benz noticed the same red dot to the right of the Titleist name, but thought Chung had switched from a No. 1 to a No. 6 three holes before. Now she was putting with a No. 1, and the word Titleist was not colored in, her usual marking.

“When did (the players) know?” Benz asked rhetorically. “It’s unknown.”

Chung signed for a 4-over 76, and Ahn a 72. The LPGA interviewed Chung on Monday morning. Asked about a possible cover-up, LPGA spokesman David Higdon said: “We are going to look closely to see if there’s any truth to it.”

Messages left by Golf360 with Ahn’s agent were not immediately returned. Her caddie also could not be reached. Chung, the oldest Korean player on tour at 38, was named a nonvoting member of the LPGA Player Director Board in 2009.

Ahn, 25, won the 2003 CJ Nine Bridges Classic before joining the tour and was the ’04 Louis Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year. Song said the incident has shaken his player. “She’s really upset about this.”

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