Iowa takes big rankings hit after bizarre disqualification

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Iowa takes big rankings hit after bizarre disqualification

College

Iowa takes big rankings hit after bizarre disqualification

Iowa dropped 35 spots in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin Men’s College Rankings on Thursday after a bizarre disqualification three days earlier at the Marquette Intercollegiate.

A mid-round injury coupled with the disqualification of another player after a rare – and confusing – ruling left the Hawkeyes with just three counting scores for the second round at Erin Hills. In college golf’s typical five-count-four format, teams can throw out one score each round but must turn in four counting scores. Due to bizarre circumstances, Iowa couldn’t and was disqualified as a team.

“I’ve never seen something like this happen before,” Iowa head coach Tyler Stith said. “Not even close.”

During Monday’s second round, Iowa senior Matthew Walker injured himself, and by the ninth hole couldn’t play on and withdrew. Not long after, freshman Gonzalo Leal, who was tied for the lead at 5 under, hit his tee ball right at the par-4 12th hole, which features a blind tee shot and long native grass along the right side.

After thinking his first tee shot could be lost, Leal hit a provisional ball, which also looked a little right. When he got up to the landing area, there were two balls in sight, one of which his group presumed to be that of Northwestern’s Lucas Becht. There was also a hazard nearby.

Leal thought his first ball ended up in the hazard, but his group couldn’t come to a consensus. He then decided to play two balls under Rule 3-3, which states that “in stroke play only, if a competitor is doubtful of his rights or the correct procedure during the play of a hole, he may, without penalty, complete the hole with two balls.” The two balls, in this case, were his provisional ball and the replacement for the ball that he thought went in the hazard.

While Leal was taking his drop from the hazard, Becht hit his second shot onto the green. Leal then hit his dropped ball and his provisional ball, both onto the putting surface.

But when the players arrived on the green, they noticed three of Leal’s balls. After some discussion, they determined that Becht had actually hit Leal’s provisional ball and the ball that Leal thought was his provisional was actually his first ball.

While Becht took a two-shot penalty for hitting the wrong ball and went back to replay his second shot, Leal abandoned the ball he had dropped from the hazard and putted out his original ball. No problem, he thought. However, he had already invoked Rule 3-3, deciding to play two balls, neither of which was the ball that he putted out with.

Rule 3-3 also states that “if the competitor commits a serious breach in the play of one ball, the score with the other ball counts despite the fact that the rules do not permit the procedure used for that ball.”

Leal, though, was determined to have committed a serious breach with both balls.

“By hitting his original ball, he actually hit the ‘wrong’ ball,” Stith said. “And since he didn’t correct the mistake and abandoned the other ball, he had no score for the hole and was disqualified.”

It was unfortunate for the young Leal, who might have avoided disqualification if he had also finished out with his dropped ball or invoked Rule 3-3 again.

“But I don’t know what 18-year-old kid is going to know to do that in that situation,” Stith said. “I know what happened and it’s been three days, and I’m still not entirely sure what I would’ve done in that situation.”

Stith said it took about an hour and several phone calls for an experienced and highly-regarded USGA rules official on site to make a decision. He hopes this incident sheds light on how difficult some of the rules can be to interpret. He also thinks this particular rule is “overly complicated and unnecessarily punitive.”

“Give the player the benefit of the doubt,” Stith said. “He wasn’t trying to gain an advantage. He thought he was doing everything correct. Give him a two-shot penalty and just move on. It would make things a lot easier.”

This particular penalty didn’t just end with Leal being disqualified, either. Instead of contending for a victory after a promising start to the season, the Hawkeyes were saddled with a last-place finish in the 11-team field and handed 10 head-to-head losses and a 39-over team score (by rule, one more stroke than the next-to-last-place team – and 45 shots worse than Northwestern, which went on to win at 6 under) to count toward the rankings.

Ranked 14th entering Marquette’s event, Iowa is now 49th with a 25-13 head-to-head record.

“We respect the decision that was made and respect the outcome, but this is something that needs to be looked at,” Stith said. “To be disqualified was punishment enough. The guys were devastated. But to then take a loss to everyone in the field, it’s going to be hard for us to overcome that – impossible, actually.”

What happened to Iowa is rare, but it is not unprecedented.

Josh Gregory, who coached Augusta State to national championships in 2010 and 2011, had a similar incident happen to his Jaguars team during the 2010-11 season. Playing in UCLA’s fall event at CordeValle, Augusta State’s top player Patrick Reed got hurt in the final round and No. 3 player Carter Newman signed an incorrect scorecard and was disqualified.

The Jaguars finished last in the 12-team event and received head-to-head losses to 11 teams, including Long Beach State and Lamar. Augusta State was ranked in the top 5 at the time, but nearly fell out of the top 15 after the Gifford.

“It really hurt as one of our goals was to be No. 1 in the nation,” Gregory said.

Iowa’s disqualification not only affects the Hawkeyes, but every team they have played or will play against this season. Oklahoma and Texas, two teams that beat Iowa at the Gopher Invitational, will take a rankings hit, as will Arkansas State, which topped the Hawkeyes at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.

The NCAA committee could choose to look at this instance with Iowa and discuss whether tournaments should be excluded from a team’s ranking if it is determined that a bizarre occurrence took place. More likely to happen is the expansion of the substitution rule to include regular-season tournaments.

The sub rule was first put into place for match play at the 2017 NCAA Men’s Championship and last year was in play for all postseason events. While this rule wouldn’t have helped Iowa, as Walker was mid-round at the time of his injury, it could help teams who want to replace an injured or sick player before a round.

That would limit the probability of a situation like what happened to Iowa and Augusta State happening again.

“The sub rule is there to protect coach programs and players from crazy circumstances,” said Oklahoma head coach Ryan Hybl, who has helped lead the sub rule movement.

On the bus ride back to campus, Stith and his teammates talked about quickly moving on from their crazy circumstance. They have to. Their next tournament, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Classic, begins Sunday in South Bend, Ind.

“We certainly don’t want this to disrupt our momentum,” Stith said. “We know what kind of team we are capable of being this season and we’re not going to let this get in our way.

“The guys are anxious to get back out and compete and put this behind us.”

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